Cooper Cabin Pioneer Homestead
Nancy Jane Cooper
31 AUG 1861 - 9 JAN 1963
Artist: Bruce Grieg
Half-Sponsor by: NexTier Bank
Building Owner: Domenick DeFrancisis
Mural located at 226 N Main Street, Butler, PA
Walldog Organizer: Scott “Cornbread” Lindley
2016 Butler Brush-Up hosted by the Butler County Historical Society
The Cooper Cabin Pioneer Homestead is located on a Land Patent obtained by Samuel Cooper in 1817. Samuel was born on February 16, 1783 in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. He was a single man when he came to Butler County with his brothers and by 1806 he was here, working hard to improve and maintain his land. Men like Cooper worked diligently to erect a cabin and create a homestead in the wilderness. The sites of cabins were, “usually selected with reference to a good water supply. It was often by a never-failing spring, or if such could not be found in a location otherwise desirable, it was not uncommon to first dig a well.” The building of a cabin was the first task of a pioneer, so that they could gain ownership of the land.
Cooper’s cabin was a simple, rectangular shape with two windows and a door, and while there was no second floor there was a loft. This was very common for the time, having various purposes; most commonly to provide hospitality and bedding for guests. All cooking at the cabin was done in the fireplace until an outdoor oven was later constructed. Two acres were immediately cleared to further complete the requirements for ownership of this pioneer homestead. The property had a stream running through it and a spring house was built to have cold storage for food items. As the years progressed, a barn was built to store grain and animals on their farm.
On September 5, 1811, Samuel Cooper married Rebekah Elliott. Rebekah was born in 1794, the daughter of Robert and Jane Wilson Elliott. Together on this pioneer homestead they raised 8 children, 4 boys and 4 girls. Due to the growth of the family, a spinning house was built that attached to the outside oven, giving double use to the chimney, since there was a fireplace on the opposite side of the oven, in the spinning house. This addition along with other outbuildings provided more room to accommodate all the family’s activities as well as provide room for meals and sleeping.
In 1814, Samuel enlisted as a private in the 138th PA Militia. He served over 2 months, letting Rebecca file for his service pension in 1866. Samuel died in 1844 and the land was divided into thirds, a third each to three of his sons, John and Robert, and the final third went to his wife, Rebekah, to hold for their son Samuel when he turned twenty-one. Their son William was given another piece of land that Samuel had bought years after the homestead. John’s part of Samuel’s land had the cabin on it and when John died in 1883, he left his farm to his three daughters, Margaret, Martha, and Nancy Jane. Nancy purchased her half-sisters’ shares and was able to remain in the cabin.
Nancy was a strong, independent pioneer woman. She married John Armstrong Stepp on November 17, 1880 but family stories claim she never spent a night with him. Wanting to dissolve their marriage, she walked from Cabot to the Butler County Courthouse to file for a divorce. They had one daughter, Alice, born in 1881. Nancy took great pride in her home where every year she white washed the great oak beams. To decorate her home, Nancy covered some of the windows with cardboard and had wallpapered the rooms, covering the cardboard. Her decorating touches helped insulate the cabin from some of the cold weather in the winter.
Nancy never enjoyed the things we take for granted in our daily lives. To this day there has never been running water in the house and it was not until 1959 that she had electricity for a refrigerator, light bulb, and hot plate. Until this time she had to go to the spring house to refrigerate her food and fire up her coal stove to cook. Although she enjoyed the ease that the refrigerator and the hot plate provided she was not a fan of the two light bulbs that were located in the house and on the porch. Many recall her saying that the light bulb bothered her eyes and that she would only read by a kerosene lamp. She hauled water from the spring house for many years, until a well was drilled. Family members and neighbors took care of cutting wood and bringing coal for her fireplaces.
In 1955 she sold the land she had lived on all her life with a living estate agreement to her grandson, Paul Muder. She lived alone in the cabin until the age of 100 where she stayed active maintaining her beautiful flowers and garden, taking great care not to walk through the garden. She remained at the cabin until 1962 where she fell and broke her hip. Due to her injury she left the cabin and stayed with her great nephew Ivan Morris until her death on January 9, 1963, at the age of 101 and is buried in the Hannahstown Cemetery, a mile from her home.
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