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The McGills
The Ancestral Home—Built in 1802—Standing in Good Repair 1908

Major Roger Alden, who is mentioned as an adjoiner on the South of Patrick McGill in place of John Fredebaugh, the original occupant of the jungle, was a man highly esteemed in military, social and financial circles. He was connected with the Army—had been a soldier of some renown in the Revolution and had served on the staff of General Washington and General Greene, and filled several responsible positions in the war. His career had been distinguished and honorable. He was the first Agent of the Holland Land Company in this county and acquired local celebrity by being one of the principals in the only duel ever fought, according to the code, in the county.

He acquired possession of the Fredebaugh lands with a view to the erection of mills at this point, which was, and is, the best mill site on French Creek. The natural place for a dam was just south of the Patrick McGill line. The east bank below the intersection of this line with the river fell away and the adjacent territory was liable to overflow in high water times, and would become more liable after the building of the dam. Alden therefore, for the successful operation of the proposed improvement, wanted more and higher land in its vicinity, and the land exactly suited to the purpose belonged to Patrick McGill. Now the erection of mills was a prime necessity to the success of the settlement, and in consideration of this and a liberal price paid in cash, Patrick sold his park to Major Alden and lived to see it converted into a log yard. The amount of land sold was two hundred acres and the transfer took place in 1802. This left Patrick three hundred and fifty acres including the vacant strip heretofore mentioned and was a good transaction for the pioneer. The mills were built in good shape and the value of the remaining tract was increased four-fold.

The locality had heretofore been known as the "McGill Settlement," but the name was now very properly changed to "Alden's Mills," and as such it was known all over Western Pennsylvania and beyond. In very dry times people came from afar and camped around, waiting for the grinding of their grain.

Major Alden was a good friend of the McGills and they esteemed him highly.

It was not far from this time (1802) that Patrick McGill's house burned down. The loss was considerable, not on account of the value of the goods destroyed, but by reason of the difficulty of replacing them and it was thus that the first house erected on the present site of the borough of Saegerstown went out of existence. Another house, however, was immediately built and is still standing, the most ancient dwelling in the historic valley of French Creek.

This second house was of hewn logs of uniform size, dove-tailed at the corners and was a good story and a half high. The chimney was in the center of the building with a fireplace opening into each room large enough to take in four-foot wood. This stone stack with center back wall was carried up square to the top of the first story where the back wall or partition was discontinued, and from thence one flue of smaller dimensions built of brick gave vent to both furnaces below. Great stone hearths were laid even with the floors and iron cranes, secured in the masonry, swung back and forth laden with hooks, kettles and pots. On each side of the chimney there was a passage way, the one being utilized for an abrupt stairway leading to the rooms in the upper story, and the other for the ordinary purpose of passing from one room to the other. The space under the stairs was partitioned off for a closet in which stood sundry utensils for culinary purposes. The floors were laid with wide matched pine flooring, which I suppose was of the earliest product of the mill. Now it so happened that the boards contained many sound pine knots and as the pine knot is eternal and the surrounding wood is soft and pliable, readily yielding to rough shod tread, and the wear and tear of scrub-broom and brush, the knots, in the course of time, became prominent in the floors of our ancestral halls.

To the north side a cellar was built, over which was a lien one story high and wide enough to furnish a kitchen and bedroom. On the front, facing south, was a porch extending the whole length of the building.

With pioneers, the spring is always a ruling factor in locating the dwelling. We have seen how the great spring lured Arthur to the site of his castle, and a spring was not wanting in the case of Patrick. It bubbled up strong and pure from the bank of the creek, and at the building of the dam was protected from pollution by a sycamore gum. When this ceased to be effective a well was dug in front of the porch, and walled with flat stones, a curb constructed and a sweep mounted on a fork from which dangled "the old oaken bucket." This in turn gave way to the great pump-log, with ponderous iron handle and nicely rounded cap all painted red-a thing of beauty to youthful eyes, but the remorseless march of progress would not spare even the beautiful red pump and it had to give way to the clatter of the chain device, and it to the force pump, all in front of that old porch, covering a period of more than one hundred years. The porch I know is still there, but what has become of all those pumps I do not know.

My earliest recollection of the inclosure is of a strong rail fence with a stile over which youth and beauty vaulted with nimble feet, but the rails decayed and became food for the outdoor oven. Then the ground was graded smooth and a high close board fence was built that shut from outside view the beauties enclosed, and hid from the sight of boys and men the large ripe apples that strewed the ground, but the winds beat hard against this wooden barrier and it became warped and twisted and anything but attractive in appearance, and finally toppled over and also went to the bake oven. Then a very fair open barred board fence, with swinging gate and spring steel latch was substituted that outlived the age of gates and then went out of existence, leaving an open lawn.

About fifty years ago, or more, it became necessary to grade for a sidewalk in front of the premises and in making the necessary excavations the ashes and burned stone foundations of the original cabin built in 1796 were unearthed, fixing the exact location which was directly in front of the present old building.

The original barns and outbuildings on the premises were of the roughest and crudest kind, constructed of great round logs, built up in cribs with a view to shelter only, and placed where most convenient, without any regard to harmony of proportions or astronomical bearings; and it could not well be otherwise when we consider that necessity was the architect and master builder, and want of means financed the job. They were, however, large, commodious and filled the bill, but one can well imagine their uncouth appearance and the singular view the group presented to traveler or tourist passing that way. Those old structures are long since gone, torn down, destroyed-yes, forgotten; for there are very few men living now who were cotemporaneous with the last days of the old log barn.

At an early date the old house was weather boarded and painted and has undergone many changes and repairs, but being built of sound timber on solid foundations it has withstood the ravages of time, and although out of fashion still presents a respectable appearance. Its quaint gables and scanty verge tell tales of the passing years, but they do not grumble or shrink from the appointed task of affording shelter to the generations of men. Few people would suspect that those heavy walls were built of solid oak. I know of no building of greater age in the French Creek valley, and there was certainly no private dwelling of greater local celebrity than this in the early years of the last century. During grandfather's lifetime it was the home of hospitality, that did not give but shared the good things of life with friend and wayfarer alike. There was always plenty around the board flavored with the good will of the host. True, there was no money in sight and markets were far away, but the earth yielded of its abundance and the larder was rich from the forest and stream and no cry of want ever went up from the hospitable roof, nor was the door ever closed to the wayfarer, be he white, black or red.

After the war the tide of immigration was renewed from the old Antrim-land, and many came and "tarried a bit wid Paddy McGill," while they looked up a suitable location on which to establish the home, and among them were men who in after years became prominent in local affairs, and some of their descendants have been heard from in matters of importance to the state and nation.

Another line of population came in from other portions of the Green Isle representing a different class of Celts. These were the Catholic Irish, who, near the beginning of the Nineteenth century settled on the upper Cussewago - near the great divide, some eight or ten miles northwest of the McGill settlement. What good genius guided their wandering footsteps to this beautifully secluded vale we will probably never know, but they came and made good their claims to land against the rapacity of Foreign Land Thieves, and this one fact sufficiently explains why their history has never been written or their names inscribed on the maps published under the auspices of the representatives of the Dutch Despoilers. These predatory cabals had no use for such men as they. They were poor - they were Irish - they were Catholics! These three reasons were sufficient for the fake historians hired by the representatives of the old gang of thieves to consign them to oblivion. But they made good their lands, and their descendants, now widely peopling this and adjoining counties, will have something to say as to who shall pose as the great benefactor of the people they robbed or tried to rob.

These men came straggling in as they could, just as all our old Celtic ancestors did, and their road to the divide was by the door of our old ancestral home, and many a weary Celt was rested, fed and warmed and sent rejoicing on his way to the "beyant." The rites of hospitality were sacred within those old walls as long as the old pioneer lived.

And the old place is memorable for other reasons - great men have been born beneath that hospitable roof - men known to history, and from thence descendants have gone out to the Atlantic shores and others dwell far away on the great Pacific Strand - a strong, proud, prolific race have spread out across the continent, each working out his destiny as God has appointed him to do all looking back to the old house by the placid little river as the starting point of our people in this great New World.

Venerable eyes of past generations have been forever closed, as well as those of youth and beauty under this ancient roof - tree - joys and sorrows have been blended - and within its old walls prayers have been said - songs sung - the cheery laughter of merry childhood heard, and bitter tears shed. Men and women have been born, lived their allotted time and died, but the old house remains a monument to the crude handicraft of a dead century.

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