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Burnt Cabins Historic District

The Burnt Cabins Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Text below was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [] Adaptaion copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.


Located in the northeastern corner of Fulton County, Burnt Cabins is a linear village oriented to an 18th century road that has been twice bypassed by newer alignments. The Burnt Cabins Historic District contains 44 contributing buildings, one contributing structure and seven non-contributing buildings ranging in age from the late 18th through the mid 20th centuries. The buildings are aligned along Three Mountain Road (LR 29035) constructed in 1771, and the Forbes Road an early route across the mountains improved by General Forbes in the frontier period. The Forbes Road and the Three Mountain Road merged at Burnt Cabins. The Three Mountain Road and Forbes Road also intersect with U.S. Route 522 at Burnt Cabins, placing the village at the junction of three early roads. Although the village is known for its colonial period history, when settlers' cabins were destroyed by provincial authorities in 1750 after complaints by Indians, most of what is visible today in Burnt Cabins dates from the mid-19th century or later. The buildings are arranged in linear fashion and include mostly residences with a hotel building, a few stores, post office and shop and industrial buildings, and, most prominently eight buildings and one site associated with the still-functional Burnt Cabins Grist Mill, listed in the National Register in 1980. Burnt Cabins is bordered on its south side by the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which creates a logical southern boundary for the district. The village is bisected by the south branch of Little Aughwick Creek which flows in a northwesterly direction, crossing beneath Three Mountain Road west of the Burnt Cabins Grist Mill and just east of the junction with the Forbes Road. The village extends for about one mile in length, clearly oriented to the 18th century Three Mountain and Forbes Roads. West of Burnt Cabins, Forbes Road followed the present path of U.S. Route 522 west to Ft. Littleton. Older buildings in the village are generally of log or brick construction, two stories high, three-six bays in length and side gabled. They represent vernacular interpretations of the Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival styles as well as traditional building forms. Later buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are of balloon frame construction and often gable fronted. The small number of non-contributing properties, attests to the overall high level of integrity of Burnt Cabins.

Fulton County is located in south-central Pennsylvania, immediately west of Tuscarora Mountain, the leading edge of the Appalachian Ridges of western Pennsylvania. The terrain is generally rugged with steep ridges separated by narrow stream valleys. Burnt Cabins is located just north of the head of one of the county's most prominent land features, the Big Cove, a fertile limestone valley running north-south through Dublin, Ayr and Todd Townships in the eastern third of the county. The village is located adjacent to the Huntingdon County line on a section of 18th century road that runs almost due east-west. The road, known as the Forbes Road was constructed in 1755, but some sort of crude trail had already been in existence. In 1771, the Three Mountain Road was constructed directly east from Burnt Cabins shortening the route of Forbes Road, which turned to the south and detoured around the mountains. Immediately south of the village, the topography rises sharply to Sidneys Knob, a pinnacle of 2115 feet. To the north are a series of smaller knolls in the 1100 foot range. Most of the buildings in Burnt Cabins are aligned along the 900 foot-above-sea-level line. Although none of the extant buildings appears to date to the 1750s-60s period of the town's origins, they do depict a variety of architectural types from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Remnants of the Forbes Road, which diverged from the Three Mountain Road just west of Little Aughwick Creek can still be seen as a road leading to the southeast. After the Three Mountain and Forbes Road merge to form the main road through the Burnt Cabins Historic District, a remnant of the 18th century road can be seen running parallel and above the current road to its south.

The most prominent architectural expressions in Burnt Cabins are influenced by the Greek Revival and Victorian Gothic styles. Some buildings such as the Presbyterian Church, built in 1851 and the brick house, known as the Joseph Kelly Residence on the 1877 Atlas map of Burnt Cabins, also said to date from 1851, are clearly derived from Greek Revival stylistic origins. Other buildings are older, such as the Jamison Kelly Residence (1877 Atlas), also known as the Naugle House which is a 1790-1810 period log house renovated in the mid 19th century, introducing Greek Revival style features. This large early log building, two and a half stories high with an exposed basement and six bays wide, suggests a type of commercial function, such as a hotel, which according to local tradition it was.

In addition to this building is another hotel, the "Burnt Cabins Hotel." According to the 1877 Atlas Map of Fulton County, it was a hotel owned by Joseph Kelly and operated by P. Gordon. It is a large, eight bay-wide frame building resting on stone foundations and appears to date from the mid 19th century or later.

The business activity in Burnt Cabins in the 19th century suggests that the east-west Three Mountain Road was prominent. Later commercial buildings (not within the district) seem to have been oriented to U.S. Route 522 which veered north from the old road at Burnt Cabins and headed toward Mt. Union.

With the 1941 arrival of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and decline of the old Three Mountain Road as a major thoroughfare, Burnt Cabins receded as stopping point and travel center. The town is thus preserved essentially as it appeared in the first half of the 20th century.

The linear character of Burnt Cabins along the Three Mountain and Forbes Roads links it with the development, prosperity and decline of the use of these roads. In the early 20th century, roads within the Burnt Cabins Historic District became local in nature, superseded by the Lincoln Highway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Burnt Cabins remained a small residential community, with a few businesses to serve local residents. Approximately 25% of the extant buildings date from the mid-19th century or earlier, including those in the grist mill property previously listed. The older buildings are in the eastern half of the district. The remainder are from the late 19th or early 20th century. Commercial buildings in the Burnt Cabins Historic District are of the late 19th or early 20th century. They are recognizable by their storefront windows and usually gable-fronted orientation. Approximately 35-40% of the buildings date from the late 19th century. While buildings of all ages are mixed throughout the district, older buildings are concentrated between US Route 522 and the grist mill. There are only seven non-contributing buildings, scattered through the Burnt Cabins Historic District and include mobile homes, houses of recent vintage, a new storage building and a garage.

There have been alterations to buildings, particularly the application of sidings, and changes to windows, throughout the district, but overall, the level of integrity remains very high.


Burnt Cabins Historic District is significant for its examples of regional vernacular village architecture representing three centuries. The village reflects the development of the frontier from the mid 18th century to the time of effective settlement in the later 18th century, to a time of renewal and localized prosperity in the mid 19th century, because of the significance of the Three Mountain Road as a drovers route, followed by a period of quiet seclusion as transportation routes shifted in the 20th century. The village was twice bypassed by newer transportation routes, in the 19th and 20th centuries, contributing to its particular character. The previously listed grist mill complex was identified as significant in the area of commerce and engineering for the period 1800-1899. In this nomination the engineering and commerce areas of significance apply only to the mill. The Burnt Cabins Historic District, aligned along the 18th century Forbes Road together with the later Three Mountain Road was a major east-west corridor through the state until superseded later by the Lincoln Highway. The roads brought commercial and travel related development, ie. hotels, and the mill. The Burnt Cabins Historic District in its lay-out and architectural characteristics conveys its orientation to travel and travellers along the Forbes Road and Three Mountain Road. It, therefore, meets registration requirements as a historic district in the multiple property listing for the Lincoln Highway, U.S. Route 30 Transportation Corridor. The continuum over time showing the evolution of the village as transportation systems shifted are illustrated by a period of significance which extends to 1941 when the village was bypassed by the Pennsylvania Turnpike which forms the southern boundary of the district. After 1941, the village became essentially a residential community. In the area of architecture the Burnt Cabins Historic District has examples from the three main phases of its history: early mid-19th century (Neoclassical) late 19th (Queen Anne and vernacular Victorian Gothic) and early and mid 20th century (Foursquare, Bungalow and Cape Cod); and construction types such as log vs. light frame, brick and stone construction which are organized temporally.

Historic Context

General context of the history and development of the Forbes Road is found in the Multiple Property Documentation form for Historic Resources of the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania. The following paragraphs cover the background historical summary of Fulton County and the village of Burnt Cabins.

Settlement of Fulton County was directed by natural resource availability, and accessibility. The Tuscarora Mountains on the eastern edge of the county are very steep and crossing them with horse and wagon was a formidable task. Once over the Tuscaroras, settlers found the fertile Big Cove and steep hills separated by narrow valleys. The valleys provided accommodating sites for settlement. Streams gave drinking water, created fertile alluvial soil and ultimately made prime locations for water powered industry such as tanning and milling. Some of the settlements that took advantage of such locations were Big Cove Tannery, Websters Mills, Cove Mills, McConnellsburg, Warfordsburg, Burnt Cabins and Sipes Mill.

The first settlers from the east were Scots-Irish who arrived in the 1730s and '40s. Many of these people came from the nearby, prosperous, Scots-Irish settlement of Chamberstown (Chambersburg) located on the Conococheague Creek. These settlers traveled the Philadelphia Road and the Forbes Road through Cowan's Gap into the Great Cove. The Forbes Road was upgraded during the French and Indian War (1754-60) as a supply route to General Braddock's men stationed at Fort Duquesne. The Forbes Road was named for General Forbes, who at the request of General Braddock opened a wagon road from Carlisle to Braddock's camp near Fort Duquesne about 1757. The road generally followed an earlier pack horse route that led from Carlisle to Shippensburg, Fort Loudon, then northwest through Path Valley to Cowan's Gap and down the present Aliens Valley Road to Burnt Cabins and on to Fort Littleton and points west. In 1771 the Three Mountain Road was laid out. It parted from the Forbes Road at the east end of Burnt Cabins, went directly east past the grist mill, and on across three mountain ridges to Shippensburg, a significant short cut for eastbound traffic.

Due to increased westward expansion, better east-west roads eventually were needed, despite the development of the Three Mountain Road. The planning of a toll-road from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh had begun as early as 1806.[1] The section of the road to pass through Fulton County would not follow the already established Forbes Road, or the Three Mountain Road. Instead, the road would follow an existing route that linked McConnellsburg and Fort Loudon.[2] By 1815, the Chambersburg and Bedford Turnpike Company was established. This company was responsible for the construction of the 55 mile section of the turnpike between Chambersburg and Bedford. Once completed it cost $2.92 in tolls to travel through Fulton County. Much revenue was gained as the turnpike brought many settlers into the Great Cove, and as many more passed through on their way west. The state took over the road in the early 20th century, and it became the Lincoln Highway. The Chambersburg and Bedford Turnpike took much of the traffic that had previously used the Three Mountain and Forbes Road. This competition prevented settlements along the Forbes and Three Mountain Roads such as Burnt Cabins and Fannettsburg to the east and Fort Littleton to the west from developing into large towns. The Three Mountain Road did however experience a renaissance in the mid 19th Century as drovers used the older road to avoid tolls on the Turnpike.

The steep hills and narrow fertile stream valleys of Fulton County provided settlers a delicate balance between raw materials and industry. The variety of soil types and land forms provide good land for both farming and timber. Therefore, the two main industries in Fulton County historically have been crop raising and lumber production. With these industries came many related businesses such as saw milling, grist milling and tanning. Difficulty in transporting bulk grain further encouraged refining industries to create more easily transportable products. Grist mills, therefore, came with early settlement in the county. The fast-moving streams in Fulton County are prime sources for water power for grist mills. According to the U.S. Direct Tax of 1798 Records for Fulton County there were 24 grist mills already in existence in Fulton County. Mill sites could be found along streams throughout the county. Several 19th century mills are still intact: The John Baldwin Mill ca. 1840 (Burnt Cabins), Elysian Mill ca. 1846, Maun Mill, and the Charles Weller Mill, now a private residence. The Burnt Cabins Grist Mill continues to produce flour on a commercial basis.

The creeks not only produced water power for grist mills but provided power for saw mills as well. Saw mills were also in demand early in the history of Fulton County due to the harvesting of lumber in the region. As more settlers came, the need for building materials rose. Saw milling immediately became a prosperous industry. The Fulton County U.S. Direct Tax of 1798 recorded 28 saw mills in Fulton County. Additionally, many grist mills also had saw mills connected to them. This provided for year-round income from the same power source.

The village of Burnt Cabins was first established prior to 1750 along an early pack horse route into the frontier. The Great Cove, at the north end of which Burnt Cabins is situated, along with all lands west of the Kittochtinny Mountains were until 1758 in possession of Indians who viewed white settlers as intruders. Upon complaints by members of the Iroquois Six Nations, Provincial officials were dispatched to western Cumberland County (which then included present day Fulton County) to expel the intruding settlers. According to correspondence from Mr. Richard Peters, Secretary of the Province to James Hamilton, Governor of Pennsylvania, Peters along with Cumberland County magistrates, and delegates from the Six Nations, carried out the eviction of the settlers illegally inhabiting western lands. To underscore their resolve, the Provincial agents burned some of the habitations of the pioneers in each of the settlements. This was done, according to Peters, with the knowledge, consent and occasionally with the help of the settlers. According to Peter's correspondence "The...proceedings at Big Cove...against Andrew Donnaldson, John MacClelland, Charles Stewart, James Downey, John MacMean, Robert Kendall, Samuel Brown, William Shepperd, Roger Murphy, Robert Smith, William Dickey, William Millican, William MacConnell, Alexander MacConnell, James Campbell, William Carrell, John Martin, John Jamison, Hans Patter, John MacCollin, James Wilson and John Wilson; who coming before the magistrates, were convicted on their own confession, of the like trespasses as in former cases and were all bound over in like recognizances and executed the like bond to the Proprietaries. Three (waste cabins of no value) were burnt at the north end of the Cove by the persons that claimed a right to them."[3] The exact location of these cabins is not known.

After the land was legally purchased from the Indians in 1758, settlement resumed, mostly after the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. The settlement at the north end of the Big Cove was named "Burnt Cabins" as a reminder of the events that occurred there.

The village of Burnt Cabins was able to maintain a steady population with some growth through the 19th century. Local industries were present such as a grist and flour mill and a tannery, as well as hotels, taverns and stores and a post office to serve travelers and the local community. Burnt Cabins saw a period of growth and prosperity related to transportation in the mid-19th century when the Three Mountain Road was used by drovers to bypass the toll roads.

Businesses listed for Burnt Cabins in the 1884 History of Bedford, Somerset, and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania, include two general merchandise stores, two blacksmith's shops, one wagon shop, one undertaker's shop, and two churches (Presbyterian and Methodist). The 1877 Atlas map shows also a tannery and a school.

The linear form of the village with its interspersed hotels and the mill complex links the formation and growth of Burnt Cabins with the travel and commerce on the Forbes/Three Mountain Road. According to a manuscript entitled "The Three Mountain Road" by John G. Orr (1905), "The busiest period [of use of the road] was between 1827 and 1861. During these years, cattle, mules, sheep, horses, and other stock passed over Three Mountain Road to Philadelphia and New York markets in large numbers. The feeding of the stock, the boarding of the drovers, and other business incidental to the stock traffic, helped to make trade for the taverns and stores, and profited the people generally along the road by making a steady home market for all their products. The stock traffic reached its height in 1854, and then grew less steadily. ...The cattle were kept as much as possible off the turnpike, because of the saving of toll, and because it was easier on the feet of the stock to use dirt roads, and part of the time branched off from the road because of pasture. ...[ T]he largest percentage of them came across the mountains by Fort Littleton, Burnt Cabins, Fannettsurg, Horse Valley, passing into the Cumberland Valley at Strasburg"...and on to Harrisburg. "The number of cattle that passed over the Three Mountain Road in a season was about 175,000..." The Three Mountain Road shortened the distance from Burnt Cabins east to Shippensburg, by cutting a straighter course than the more winding Forbes Road that dipped south by way of Fort Loudoun. At the east end of Burnt Cabins, the Three Mountain Road, laid out in 1771, rejoined the older Forbes Road and continued west.

In addition to the development of the Lincoln Highway (US Route 30), the Pennsylvania Turnpike was constructed in the 1940s, passing just south of the village. Without an exit at Burnt Cabins, the turnpike provides a strong visual presence but does not alter the economy or appearance of the village.

Two churches were established in Burnt Cabins, Presbyterian and Methodist, both dating from 1851. The presence of these two denominations attests to the Scots-Irish and English origins of the community.

Resource Analysis

Exploration/Settlement and Transportation

Although U.S. Route 522 is a major north-south route through Fulton County and passes through the western part of the village, the orientation of the village of Burnt Cabins is clearly to the older Three Mountain and Forbes Road, which U.S. Route 522 follows from Burnt Cabins west to Fort Littleton.

The earlier extant buildings of Burnt Cabins reflect the importance of the Forbes/Three Mountain Road as a commercial route during the early and mid 19th century. All principal buildings in the village are aligned to the road and there is no development of side or cross streets. Unlike other Forbes Road communities like Fort Littleton or Fort Loudoun, Burnt Cabins was not initiated around a frontier fort; nor is it a crossroads community. Burnt Cabins developed in a linear pattern along the Forbes Road, at the foot of Tuscarora Mountain at Cissna's Gap. The village is distinctly and uniquely related to the Forbes Road and the Three Mountain Road and the commerce they fostered.

This 18th century road system was bypassed by turnpikes in the early 19th century and in the mid 20th century. However, despite the competition from the Chambersburg-Bedford Turnpike to the south which was part of a better route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in the early 19th century, the Three Mountain Road offered a cheaper and easier route for drovers during the 19th century. The importance of this alternative route is reflected in the significant number and character of buildings in Burnt Cabins representing the early and mid 19th century.


The buildings in the Burnt Cabins Historic District represent three major architectural periods. They are various vernacular interpretations, most prominently influenced by the Greek Revival style for the early period, Queen Anne and vernacular Victorian Gothic for the late 19th century and Foursquares and Bungalows of the early 20th century. Together, these stylistic representations portray Burnt Cabin's development and history from a travel center on an important early road, to a village catering to drovers, to a small residential community in the early-mid 20th century, serving the local population.

The architectural expression is conservative, Greek Revival is portrayed with pronounced wooden lintels, broad transoms and sidelights over the doors; the later Victorian period is seen in polygonal projecting bays and irregular plan; and finally, the more "modern" Foursquares and Bungalows with simple lines and forms.

Combined with these stylistic interpretations, are other architectural representations. Early log buildings, such as the Kerlin House which retains early siding portrays the prominence of log construction and habit of covering it with siding, the norm in south central Pennsylvania. Later wooden buildings are of light frame construction and this switch in structural systems from log to frame is a good time marker. Also represented is brick and stone construction. These more substantial materials were used principally in the early and mid 19th century, a time period which seems to have marked the village's greatest prosperity.


The essence of Burnt Cabins is its orientation to and association with the historic Forbes and Three Mountain Roads and the pattern of development portrayed, from the earliest surviving buildings, to a time of prosperity in the mid 19th century when the road figured prominently as a route for drovers seeking to avoid tolls, to a quiet residential community of the 20th century. This continuity of time is well marked on the landscape. The village meets registration requirements of the Multiple Property Documentation form, "Historic Resources of the Lincoln Highway/US Route 30 Transportation Corridor: Franklin, Fulton, Bedford, Somerset, Westmoreland Counties, PA"


  1. Down the Pike. Mcconnellsburg, PA: Fulton County Historical Society, Inc., 1989, p.12.
  2. Down the Pike. Mcconnellsburg, PA: Fulton County Historical Society, Inc., 1989, p.12.
  3. Letter from Richard Peters to James Hamilton, Governor of Pennsylvania, July 2, 1750, as quoted in The History and Topography of Dauphin, Cumberland, Franklin, Bedford, Adams, and Perry Counties, Gilbert Hills: Lancaster (1846) p.382.


Fulton County Historical Society, My Home is Fulton County, Mcconnellsburg, PA: Keystone Printing, 1992.

History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania, Chicago: Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1884.

Map of Fulton County, 1877.

Nelson John H. Fulton County, Copperhead Country, McConellsburg, PA: Keystone Printing Co., 1996.

Reed, Paula S., Burn Cabins Historic District, nomination document, 1997, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Orr, John G. "The Three Mountain Road," 1905.

Rupp, I.D. History of Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, Bedford, Adams and Franklin Counties. PA, Lancaster, PA: Gilbert Hills, 1846.

Reed, Paula S., 1997, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Burnt Cabins Historic District Map

Street Names
Great Cove Road • Route 522

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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