Amity Heritage Society
P.O. Box 151
Earlville, PA 19519
610-582-2070
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Settler’s Cabin or Dawdy Haus?

Small ancillary houses, such as the one found on the High Farm of Poplar Neck, are frequently found on the historic farms of Berks County. Many architectural historians not grounded in local heritage, have mistakenly assumed that all of these small houses were the original settler’s cabins. Many most certainly were. Yet a number of others were built years after the “big house” to serve as grandparents’ homes, called “dawdy hauses” in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.

Frequently, these little ancillary houses served multiple purposes. They provided living quarters for aging parents, who had turned their farms over to younger generations. Some doubled as extra work buildings, with an area for butchering or possibly a springhouse on their lower levels. Many had smoking chambers, while others had granaries, in their attics.

Complicating the distinction between the original settler’s cabin and the “dawdy haus,” is the fact that many small settler’s cabins were converted to other uses, including housing grandparents, after larger family houses were constructed on area farms. Careful examination of construction materials and methods, coupled with deed research, and reading of wills and estate inventories, can often positively determine which of the areas small ancillary houses were indeed settler’s cabins. Yet, because Berks Countians continued to employ traditional building methods contemporarily with newer methods, a positive identification can be difficult at times.

As multi-generational family farming began to fade in the twentieth century, many of Berks County’s larger ancillary houses were converted to tenant houses, while the smaller ones were put to other uses or left to ruin. However, the plain people of Pennsylvania and beyond, still practice traditional family farming and continue to construct “dawdy hauses.” The modern “dawdy haus” is more likely to be a comfortable ranch home than the multi-purpose stone or log cabin of centuries past. Yet, the mutual benefit of the arrangement, to both generations, remains.