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Timber by timber, Waynesboro's Burns Cabin being refurbished

December 02, 1998

Burns CabinBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photos: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

WAYNESBORO. Pa. - Burns Cabin, Waynesboro's oldest and most well-known building, has for the last year been mostly a pile of rubble on the hill overlooking East Main Street and Roadside Avenue. Now it's looking like a building once again.

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Burns Cabin, or Bourns Cabin, depending on which history one reads, was built in 1780 by John Burns, a local blacksmith and sawmill owner, as a school house for his 11 children.

It subsequently was used by church groups for services and from the 1860s to the early 20th century as a private dwelling. At one time a local woman raised 10 children in it.


It has been empty at least since the early 1920s.

In 1997 the Waynesboro Benevolent Associate, a nearly century-old philanthropic group that raised money to build Waynesboro Hospital in 1922, put out bids for the cabin's reconstruction.

Area school children also helped by raising about $4,000 toward the renovation.

Burns CabinTerry Pelton, 47, a local preservationist who restored more than half of the Fahnestock House, the Fahnestock Barn, a smokehouse and a milk house at Renfrew Museum and Park, offered to restore the cabin for from $14,000 to $19,000.

He got the contract and in the summer of 1997 the association gave Pelton about $12,000 to buy materials and begin the work.

Pelton promised to have the cabin finished by that fall, but several factors contributed to the delays: Pelton's inability to work steadily on the project, the discovery that the cabin was in worse condition than anyone had anticipated, difficulties caused by heavy mud last spring in getting a cache of old logs from a cabin being razed at the site of the Prime Outlets mall in Hagerstown, and the painstakingly slow work of hewing new logs by hand with 18th century tools.

By mid-summer, Pelton had returned to his work in earnest and progress was beginning to show, said Robert Davis, an association member.

"It's looking good now," Davis said Tuesday at the work site where Pelton and David Gibney, a local mason, were filling the chinks between the logs with a "mud" made of sand and lime with a little cement mixed in for toughness. Pelton said the formula allows for flexibility between the logs.

"The original mud was mostly cement. It wasn't flexible enough," Pelton said.

Davis praised Pelton's work on the new shingled roof and the window and door casings.

Pelton said he will have the cabin finished by the end of the month. Remaining to be done are mud dubbing the interior walls, installing windows and doors, floors and the siding on both gable ends, Pelton said.

"We're getting to the exciting part now. It's all coming together," he said.

When finished, the building will be available for area schools for use in special projects during the warmer months. The building will not be heated.

Shop students will make benches for the cabin and home economics students said they would make curtains.

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