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Depreciation Lands Museum: A Great Place to Learn about 19th-Century Life in Western PA

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Over the many years I’ve been uncovering Pennsylvania, I’ve visited several spots that seek to tell the story of living on PA’s frontier. However, even if you’ve visited some of these other sites, there’s nowhere else quite like the Depreciation Lands Museum and Park in Allegheny County.

Located less than a 30-minute drive north of downtown Pittsburgh, the Depreciation Lands Museum is a small living history museum that focuses on life in the region in the early 19th century.

The Depreciation Lands were set up by the Pennsylvania legislature and were the acres of land within the southern part of the “V” formed by the Allegheny River and the Ohio River. This land was surveyed in the mid-1780s, with the goal of giving the land to Revolutionary War soldiers to settle debts owed to them or selling the land to settlers to help pay those same soldiers due to the depreciation of the paper currency they had earned in the war.

Historic schoolhouse at the Depreciation Lands Museum in Allegheny County PA
Learn about early 19th-century life at the Depreciation Lands Museum.

The land was quickly sold and settled but the lack of infrastructure and Native American hostilities toward westward expansion made life hard for those who settled in this area in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Still, this land laid the foundation for the western PA we know today.

Today, the Depreciation Lands Museum tells the story of these 700,000 acres of land and what life was like for the people who settled them over two hundred years ago.

The site consists of roughly 10 buildings and structures just off Route 8 and, in 2023, celebrated its 50th anniversary as a living-history tourist attraction.

Armstrong Log House at the Depreciation Lands Museum in Allison Park PA
The historic Armstrong Log House built in 1803.

The 1837 Covenanter Church is original to the property and also features a historic cemetery that is part of the Depreciation Lands Museum. Another historic building, the Armstrong Log House, was built in 1803 and was moved to the site to preserve it during the construction of the nearby Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The rest of the buildings on site were built specifically for the museum, but are designed to look and feel like buildings would have looked in this part of Pennsylvania in the early 19th century.

Exterior of the Covenanter Church at the Depreciation Lands Museum in Hampton Township PA
The Covenanter Church serves as both a museum and the visitor center.

Visits to the Depreciation Lands Museum start in the historic church. It has been modernized a bit over the years but still offers a nice look into what would have been quite a modern church at the time of its construction.

Inside, you’ll find a collection of displays that represent the only typical museum portion at Depreciation Lands. These displays are quite well done with very good signage and offer insight into both settler life and the Native Americans that lived in the region.

A red display case filled with items at the Depreciation Lands Museum in Allegheny County Pennsylvania
Displays inside the historic church.

During my visit, I also had a chance to see some women in period clothes working with some of the textile tools in the space.

As you make your way through the rest of the park, you’ll encounter more people in period clothing highlighting various trades or offering to tell you about some of the buildings around the property.

It’s worth noting that while they are a wealth of knowledge and really add to the experience, they don’t pretend to be a character in the time period in their dialogue with visitors. This obviously has its positives and negatives, but, overall, the interpreters definitely add a lot to the visit.

Blacksmith in period clothing works on a nail at the Depreciation Lands Museum near Pittsburgh PA
Costumed interpreters do a great job bringing the area’s history to life.

For example, during my time at the Depreciation Lands Museum, I got to see people in both the blacksmith shop and the woodshop crafting items in the same way they were made in the early 19th century. Not only was it great to see how items used to be made, but they also did a great job explaining as they went about their work.

Another interesting area was the mercantile. In this space, a shopkeeper offers insight into how goods were paid for in the store, and how the relative value of deer skins played a major role in the economy of western PA.

Honestly, though, every spot I visited during my time at the Depreciation Lands Museum was interesting, and there are other topics like home life, school, and Native Americans that are covered at various places around the property.

Wigwam and a campfire at the Depreciation Lands Museum in Allison Park Pennsylvania
A wigwam sits in the woods near the main buildings.

While I visited this spot on my own, I definitely think my kids would have also had a good time. In fact, I saw a few kids during my visit, and the interpreters did a great job speaking to them and teaching them some aspects of life in the village.

Ultimately, the Depreciation Lands is a really neat spot to visit in Allegheny County. While their limited hours (only Sunday afternoons) can potentially make this a difficult spot to check out, if you are interested in history and can visit when they are open, this is definitely a neat living-history museum to check out.

Looking for more things to do nearby? Check out the Tour-Ed Coal Mine, the North Park Water Tower, Fall Run Falls, and Old Economy Village.


Depreciation Lands Museum

Hours: Sundays: 1pm-4pm
Open May-October

Cost: Adults: $5, Children: $3

Website: DLMuseum.org

Address: 4743 S Pioneer Rd
Allison Park, PA 15101

 

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