Broad Ford Autumn
Written & Compiled by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, 3-8-2008
Photographs by Jeffrey Antol



"Broad Ford Autumn" - Panorama Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007


Brittle Leaves Underfoot

Broad Ford in November is a haunting place, indeed. Gone are the brilliant reds and yellows showing off in the crisp atmosphere of early autumn days. In local farming communities, anything worth harvesting has been taken in for storage or taken to market. This part of the season is a time of loss -- trees lose their color, their leaves, their vibrance. The wind rustles through the forest and moans the loss, loss, loss. The sky loses its color, too, giving up fluffy white cumulus, now favoring fog in the morning and the evening, hanging low gray clouds throughout the day. The warmth of summer seems far away, soon to be a faded memory, as faded as the forest surrounding the seriously fading Overholt whiskey distillery.


When Yellow Brick Looks Burnt Orange

Over the past several years, contributions from Internet friends and correspondents have been instrumental to my understanding of what the A. Overholt & Company Distillery at Broad Ford looked like over time. Early in my journey, Thomas Ridenour passed along to me the impresive black and white photo taken circa 1942, which shows the distillery at the height of its success. Go to my list of Found Bottles & Artifacts to see a large version of this marvelous photo. Later on, Allen Anthony sent a photo taken by Hubert Riedman, with whom he shared a mid-winter canoe trip along the Youghiogheny River in 1978. That photo appears in a companion piece to this web page, Broad Ford Winters (see A. Overholt & Company Distillery, Broad Ford, PA, by Hubert Riedman, January 1978).

Jeffrey Antol sent me jpegs of an old National Park Service document he had been saving for posterity -- the 1990 Broad Ford HABS/HAER Report, which was published on my web site in 2006. This report showed the distillery buildings in remarkably good shape, as compared to how they were found during my 2004 visit (see Broad Ford Safari). Taken together and added to this new collection of pictures, it is easy to judge how sad a state the site has been allowed devolve into. However, there is a powerful beauty to be seen, as well.

Here we discover what Broad Ford looked like this past November, from both sides of the river. Those of us who still hope to change the course of Broad Ford's history look at these tough old exteriors (we cannot get permission to examine their interiors) and see clearly what is still possible, if we manage to move fast enough. Please take a few minutes to look over the remarkable photographs below. They speak volumes to me, and perhaps will do the same for you. My thanks to Jeffrey Antol and his son for taking the time to trek out there for us.



Background Detail 1: A. Overholt & Company Buildings - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007



Closeup 1: A. Overholt & Company Buildings - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007



Background Detail 2: A. Overholt & Company Buildings - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007



Background Detail 3: A. Overholt & Company Buildings - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007



Closeup 2: A. Overholt & Company Buildings - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007



"Broad Ford Bridge Supports" - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007



Closeup 5: Broad Ford Bridge Supports - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007



"Broad Ford Bridge Support System" - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007



Closeup 4: Broad Ford Bridge Support System - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007


When the vegetation no longer obscures the details, it is easier to see the strength and beauty of these buildings. Harder to grasp are the huge dimensions. Also plainly revealed is the evidence of abandonment, the fault of past owners. For more than a year, the current owner has been trying to sell the site in parcels -- a building here, a few buildings there. If the plan is successful, a prospective buyer might take one look, decide a building is not worth the price of renovation and arrange to tear it down, which is just one of my several worst fears. Other haunting worries are the ongoing damage made by wind, rain and snow, and damage from seasonal floods that occur along the Youghiogheny River.



"Granery Bins & Boiler House" - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007



"Granery Bins" - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007



Closeup 3: Granery Bins - Photograph by Jeffrey Antol, 11-11-2007


Off the Beaten Path

Forgive me, but I must add an aside. Whenever I begin to construct a web page, I take a great deal of time deciding on backgrounds and color schemes, and obsessing about which photos to use and where to put them. Part of the process is mapping out sections for text, and before there is any text to put into these spaces, I fill them with paragraphs of a sentence people often use to practice their typing, something used during WWII to train office personnel. "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country," was the optimal sentence, because it required the use of so many common combinations of letters, plus it served to reinforce a person's patriotism. Of course, my version, "Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country," is a little more politically correct, but what is my point? Well, as I reviewed these amazing pictures and pondered how to end this web page, it occurred to me that my "fall-back" paragraph says exactly what I wish to say, namely that now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of Broad Ford.

The abandonment of this "small industrial complex" is only one example of the plight of many sites in many corners of our country, where in times past, visionaries came together with grand ideas and harnessed muscle and bone to erect great buildings to house an impressive enterprise. Then time went by, and some economic base shrank to nothing, or some corporate takeover grabbed the reins of a vibrant company with the sole purpose of eliminating "the competition." Whatever the reason, it does not take long for a business (or a school, a hospital or whatever) to decline and their buildings to end up suddenly abandoned. It does not take very long before neglect leads to vandalism, and vadalism leads to structural damage. Pretty soon, anything of any value is stolen or destroyed "for the fun of it." Broken windows are always hard to bear, for if the eyes are "windows to soul," what do shattered windows represent on a subliminal level?

Anyway, dear reader, while you may not be from Western Pennsylvania, or live anywhere near here, chances are good that you know of some wonderful building that is neglected or abandoned, a place you believe should be saved. As for me, I want to save what is left of the A. Overholt & Company Distillery at Broad Ford. I fell in love with the buildings the first time I set eyes on them, was captured by the history of the place, felt connected to it on an emotional level, and cannot shake the belief that it is my responsibility to work toward saving all of it. West Overton affects me in a similar way, but the situation is different there. The success of Broad Ford will impact positively on the future of West Overton, and that is something to look forward to. Until then:

Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country. Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country. Now is the time -- well, my point is made.


See the third page in this series, Broad Ford Winters.


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