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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Depreciation Lands Museum
Hours: Sundays: 1pm-4pm
Cost: Adults: $5, Children: $3
Address: 4743 S Pioneer Rd