and Descriptive Data
Historic American Buildings Survey
National Park Service
Department of the Interior
From Their Report on West Overton, Westmoreland County,
Notes by K. R. Overholt Critchfield
© August 8, 2004
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Location: West Overton,
Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
West Overton is a small company town originating in the early nineteenth century. Through the history of this community and its physical fabric, consisting of surviving brick worker's houses, managerial mansion, store, distillery building, and outbuildings, the growth and change of a small industry can be charted.
Henry Overholt, who established a farm here in 1803, along with two stills, bequeathed it to his son Abraham, beginning a long tradition of family control. Abraham was responsible for expanding the family enterprise from agriculture to distillery, and integrating the distillery to include tasks prior and subsequent to the distilling itself: chopping the grain before it was cooked, and feeding the waste to hogs afterward.
The next generation of the family professionalized the business and became the true managerial class. Abraham's son, Henry S. Overholt, joined with his father in partnership to form the A. & H. S. Overholt Company in 1854, and ran the works as manager until both their deaths in 1870. During this time, a skilled working class as well as laborers became established in the village of West Overton, working for the company and renting houses from it. Although a hierarchy among the classes of laborer, artisan, and manager -- and sometimes within them -- existed, lines were often crossed. West Overton was a small community of workers probably familiar to each other, but they exhibited little attachment to the company and moved on fairly rapidly.
By 1874, Aaron S. R. Overholt -- the next generation -- began to diversify the company's operations, as well as integrate them. Coal had been discovered on the land and in that year a line of sixty-four coke ovens was built along Felgars Run. Foreign immigrants soon joined the native Pennsylvianians in West Overton, creating a larger and more diverse community. The coking operation closed in the early twentieth centry, and the distillery [at West Overton] was shut down during prohibition. Several of the surviving buildings in West Overton have operated as a museum since 1927. Although the museum has been traditionally interpreted as the home of Henry Clay Frick, the village is of interest as the site of an early, family-run industry, with buildings that offer rare insights into business practices and quality of life in a mid-nineteeth-century company town.
FARM AND DISTILLERY
The complex at West Overton grew out of the family farm established in 1803 by Henry Overholt, who had recently brought his family and others from Bucks County in the eastern part of Pennsylvania to Westmoreland County. The cluster of businesses eventually established by the family constitutes the major early example of industrial enterprise in the Township of East . . . .
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Huntington [sic], and the surviving buildings are the earliest remaining examples in the area as well. Nearly a third of the township businesses were begun and operated by the family. Separate buildings were constructed for a malt shop and a cooperage, in addition to the large flouring mill and distillery. Furthermore, Abraham's brother Henry (and later Henry's son Martin) ran a weaving operation nearby sizable enough in 1850 to be called a "coverlid (coverlet) factory" by the assessors.
All the products of these business are the types, however, commonly secondary to the main business of agriculture on the typical early nineteenth-century family farm. Many farmers would augment their incomes in the off season with auxiliary craft skills -- be it shoemaking or blacksmithing -- and such shops were as small-scale as they were commonplace. The distilling business was well established in western Pennsylvania well before any Overholts arrived (as witnessed by the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, centered at Brownsville, Fayette County), and the first property purchased by the Overholts, the 260 acres William Newell sold to Henry Overholt (father of Abraham) on June 7, 1803, could have contained a small farm still. In any event, the first tax records for the property in 1811 record 230 acres of land valued at $1,840, five horses valued at $125, six cows valued at $48, and two stills with a 150-gallon capacity at $112.50. With a net worth of $2,125, the Overholt farm was already a substantial one and ranked in acreage in the top 17 percent of landowners in the township in 1811. The small capacity of two stills was well within the limits of a part-time family operation -- a side line to the main farm.
In 1813 Henry Overholt's children and heirs sold the farm to two of his sons, Christian and Abraham, and full ownership passed to Abraham in 1818. He began the process of expanding the industrial enterprises immediately, increasing the capacity of the stills to 168 gallons in 1814, to 212 gallons in 1823, to 324 gallons in 1826, and to a "Distillery, 4 stills" in 1829. The evaluation for this distillery jumped from $400 to $1,000 only three years later in 1832, possibly indicating the construction of a "new stone building." A grist mill worth $2,000 was first mentioned in the 1838 records, and a "new brick building house" (the mansion) was recorded the next year, in 1839. Despite the growing importance of the distillery, Abraham Overholt continued to be listed in the tax rolls as a "farmer" until 1857 (two years before building the large steam mill), after which he was called "old" or "retired" until his death in 1870. Only the census of 1860 called him a "manufacturer."
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Abraham Overholt rapidly and consistently expanded the industrial aspect of the farm. Despite his continuing designation as "farmer," it is clear that the transition away from agriculture alone and toward industrial enterprise had begun. The mention of a grist mill in 1850 is the first example of Abraham's expanding the family operation beyond distilling, vertically integrating that business to include the tasks prior and subsequent to the distillation itself: the grain must be chopped before it is cooked, and something must be done with the spent mash afterwards. To this end a grist mill allowed the Overholts to chop their own grain (thereby saving the expense of hauling their grain to Jacobs Creek, and then paying someone else to chop it); it also provided them with the supplementary income of grinding the flour, "middlings," "shorts," "bran," and other mill products for the neighborhood. The assessor did not record the source of power, but we can assume it was water. The records for 1850 and thereafter do specify steam.
The tax records also note a "malt house" for the first time in 1850, which the U.S. Census of Manufacturers listed as producing 7,000 bushels of malt in that year. Grain must be very dry and hard in order for it to be cut (ground or chopped) in a mill, but it must be softened with water (made into malt) before it will ferment. The building of the malt house gives further evidence of the increased capacity of the Overholt operation; this process would previously have been caried out in the distillery itself.
The problem of the waste mash (malt after it is heated and ferments) was not solved until 1856, when "hog pens" were added to the tax assessment line for the distillery, also adding $1,000 to its evaluation. The atlas maps show them as a long line extending south from the distillery, as built in 1859. this aspect of the works also turned a profit, for in addition to eating up the waste, the swine grew fat and could be sold. Between May 29 and September 24, 1862, the company ledger records that Abraham and Henry bought 249 stock hogs and sold them after they had nearly doubled in size.
A cooper shop to make the barrels was present by at least 1850, when it produced 12,000 casks. The company ledger records only minor numbers of barrels being sold to locals, for more than enough of them were used by the distillery (2,750 barrels in 1850) and the flour mill (10,800 barrels). In 1850 the distillery was listed as entailing a capital investment of $13,000, producing a gross income of $17,990 and employing three men. the mill acquired an investment of only $3,000, but brought in $32,000.
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In 1859 the firm added a large five-and-a-half-story brick building, combining the grist mill and distillery in one building. The building is proudly adorned with two inscriptions on the door lintels: one identifies the company and date: "A. & H. S. Overholt Co., Overton Mills, Built 1859"; the other names those responsible: "Built by D. P. Patterson, millwright; M. Miller, senr., carpenter, (Alex) Gilbert and (Andrew) Dillon, bricklayers." By 1870 the distillery had outstripped the flour mill in economic importance, producing $40,512 gross whiskey income, as compared to $25,000 for the mill. The mill and the distillery occupied distinct sections of the enlarged building, with whiskey at the south end (as even the sign on the building indicated as late as a photograph taken about 1890). They were described in the tax records on separate lines until 1874, after which the combined designation reverted to "grist mill," despite an increase in whiskey revenue. The attention the assessors gave to the mill slackened in the very year that coke works were first mentioned, presaging the dominance of the coke industry.
The idea of integration of the whiskey distilling operations is interesting in two regards, first in its tangential relation to West Overton's most famous resident, and secondly in its source in Mennonite heritage. Integration is usually applied to the later capitalist expansions of big industry. Alfred D. Chandler describes this change in economic strategy as a managerial revolution that initially took place in the railroad business, and then was adopted by other industries, especially iron and steel. It is only coincidence that one of the captains of this latter industry, to whom such innovations are often in part attributed, was in fact the grandson of Abraham Overholt, Henry Clay Frick. Strong family traditions assert he was born in the springhouse of the mansion house, a small stone building identified as a dwelling on the Sanborn survey of whiskey distilleries of 1890. Henry Clay Frick was 10 years old when the large . . . .
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combination mill and distillery of his grandfather was built. He lived in West Overton during his early teenage years, and nearby throughout his youth. He had his first clerking job at the Christian S. Overholt Store in West Overton, and his second with the Martin Overholt Store in Mt. Pleasant. It is possible that he absorbed the benefits of controlling all aspects of an industrial or commercial process from his family, before applying it at such a larger scale in his own coke works, and then at an even larger scale, with Andrew Carnegie and the steelworks.
As capitalistic and aggressive as the Overholts' economic strategy may seem to be, at the level of Abraham Overholt's farm/distillery, it can also be seen as a direct outgrowth of the Mennonite farming heritage. The German immigrants to Pennsylvania have been cited as exemplary farmers ever since the eighteenth century in America, and the Mennonites in particular as innovators and progressives, having almost magically effective techniques, for nearly a century earlier in Europe. The concept of "stewardship" of the soil runs very deep in Mennonite traditon, dating to their experience in applying alpine dairying techniques to marginal lowland terrain after the Thirty Years War in Europe. They found that in making this transition the hay crops, which grew naturally in the mountains, needed to be seeded and nurtured with manure in order to survive in the lowlands. They also noticed the revitalizing effect of the legume hay crops such as clover on the soil. Thus the concepts of recycling wastes back into the production cycle, as fertilizer or profits, has a long heritage in the Overholts' Mennonite ancestry. Many of the processes integrated into Abraham's farm may be seen as just such recycling, especially the feeding of the waste to hogs.
Even as they were expanding and industrializing the distilling and other businesses at West Overton, the farm, of which these businesses were a part, remained important and progressive as well. The company ledger for 1862 records two telling actions of David Holmes, a local farmer who sold his grain crop to the Overholt distillery and did some hauling, usually to Broadford [sic], for them as well. On May 21, he sold $40.66 worth of clover seed (surely a large amount) to the firm, which either used it to replenish its own fields or sold it to eastern markets -- thus partaking in or enabling this process of passive fertilization. The company also had the latest farming machinery -- a reaper. On July 10 Holmes needed a knife (costing $6) to replace one on his . . . .
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"Buckeye Reaper." A "Buckeye Mowing Machine" was listed in the inventory of Henry S. Overholt, along with a "bunching Machine," and a "patent boreing [sic] machine." The reapers in particular were extremely advanced items in 1862, McCormick and Hussy having gotten their inventions to work effectively and into production as recently as 1852. Ivan Glick, a Mennonite and agricultural historican in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, has described its use that early as equivalent to [having] a private helicopter today.
DISTILLERY AND COMMUNITY
With construction of the large distillery building in 1859, the distillery aspect of the Overholt operations dominated the village of West Overton, physically as well as economically. As Abraham Overholt's sons, nephews, and grandsons took over the business, they professionalized it. West Overton became stratified, as the Overholts emerged into a managerial class and their employees divided subtly into skilled workers and laborers. The quality of life among these classes will be examined through several lenses: income, expenses, personal possessions, food, donations, and even reading material. The village was ruled by fluctuating work patterns, balanced by fluctuating income and expenses. Ultimately, the work force itself fluctuated, exhibiting little permanance. The workers moved on, and the distillery community evolved into one dominated by coal and coke production.
The Overholt Company was first and foremost a family business. Abraham's son Henry S. Overholt was first called "Distiller" in the tax records in 1853, and joined with his father in partnership to form the A. & H. S. Overholt Company in 1854. He ran the works as "manager" after 1866 ("manufacturer" in the census) until both their deaths in 1870. A two-and-a-half-story brick house, crisply Greek Revival in style and with a ten-room extended "two-thirds Georgian" plan and a finished basement, was built for Henry about 1846; his brother Christian received a similar combination house and store in 1854. Henry's nephew Jacob O. Tinstman became head distiller by 1867, and took over the store from "Uncle Chriss" [sic] in 1865. Henry's son Benjamin F. Overholt became "manager" upon his father's death in 1870, and lived in his father Henry's house after his death, but removed to Scottdale. Cousin Christian S. R. Overholt became "assistant distiller" by 1867 and "manager" by 1876. His brother John S. R. Overholt was assistant distiller by 1867, while a third brother, Aaron S. R. Overholt, began as clerk in the mill by 1862, became "agent of Factory" by 1870, and managing partner after that, living in the mansion house after Abraham's widow's death in 1874. Benjamin's younger brother Abraham C. Overholt . . . .
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became director of the company by 1879. The company name thus changed from A. & H. S. Overholt Co. to A. S. R. Overholt & Co. to A. C. Overholt & Co. As part of their managerial expansion, [in 1856] the Overholts also established another distillery at Broadford [sic], Fayette County, which produced 100 bushels of Old Overholt rye whiskey per day. As at West Overton, Abraham took on his sons and son-in-law as partners. By 1894 the complex [at West Overton] included four brick warehouses, four cattle pens, fourteen frame double houses, a brick boarding house, and coke ovens. Whiskey production continued into the twentieth century, except for a hiatus during prohibition. In 1948 the Overholt Company was acquired by National Distillers, and Old Overholt whiskey is still made in Kentucky.
When the patriarch Abraham entered his partnership in Overton Mills with his son Henry in 1854, the deed conveying the 1/2 interest in the whole mentioned the "houses, outhouses, griss merchant mill, distillery, barns, stables and the village of West Overton" (emphasis added). The New Illustrated Westmoreland County Atlas for 1876 provides a remarkable image of this village, with the mansion and family houses in the nearer foreground, and the prim dwellings of the workers marching up the hill to the horizon. Much of this image remains intact on the ground and in reasonable condition to this day.
The majority of people living in the village at this time worked for and rented from the A. & H. S. Overholt Company. Only one family, Lloyd Shallenberger, probably another Overholt in-law, seems to have been an independent farmer, paying rent and selling a little grain. The renting company employees ranged from Eli S. Hoover, chief miller (who made more than A. S. R. Overholt did as clerk) to J. W. Frick, the assistant miller who married Elizabeth Overholt, to Christian Haberly, who ran the malt house, to several coopers, to ordinary laborers and a watchman. In 1862 there was one man, Jacob Hauser, who dug coal. There were also several men who boarded, both at Henry S. Overholt's ample house and with employee renters, such as at cooper Jacob Kough's. These boarders included both artisans and laborers. During the harvest Theodore Harshman, recently set up in his own rental house, also took in several other Harshmans as boarders.
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The West Overton records are dominated by males, as no women were employed at the mill or distillery. The only woman to be listed as a head of household was Margaret Hait in 1870, whose occupation was listed as "tollgate keeper," and Rebecca Kough ran a boarding house after her husband died. Single women often worked as domestic servants, living at their place of employment. Mostly, though, women's work and fortunes were closely tied to their husbands, and vice versa. No man could run a house by himself; each had a wife, or else he boarded with a couple. The women cared not only for their husbands, but also for four or five children, various relatives, and sometimes single boarders. A couple's income and expenses were united, as were their possessions. The only woman listed as owning real estate was Tinsman E. Gardner, whose husband, Joseph, a farmer, owned none in 1870. West Overton had about an equal number of men and women in 1860, single male laborers being offset by single female domestic servants. Despite the company records, West Overton was not a village of males alone.
An analysis of the income and expenses of selected residents of West Overton suggests the social hierarchy that was developing in the village. For while the Overholts themselves were gradually but ineluctably setting themselves apart from their workers by simple virtue of the mass of their wealth, a skilled class was also pulling away from the lowest, the simple laborers. These skilled workers were specialized in their tasks and included those who were paid wages, even being docked for time lost, as well as artisans who worked by the piece. Included in this group were the millers and malter, the engineer who ran the steam power for the whole, and the coopers, who were paid by the barrel. The millers at West Overton were making as much money as the lower order of "managers," and the artisans were not far behind. Both groups lagged slightly behind the local farmers, especially the ones who hauled for the Overholts on the side.
For instance, the young A. S. R. Overholt, who was later to direct the company's fortunes into coal and coke production, and lived in the mansion after Mariah [sic] Stauffer Overholt, Abraham's widow, died, was paid a salary of $30 a month as clerk. The very same amount was paid to Jacob Booher, who tended the engine at the mill and owned his own house and ten acres nearby, and to John W. Frick, the sudden in-law who tended the mill. Christian Haverty was paid $28.50 a month to tend the malt house, and Eli S. Hoover, head miller, got $41.66. (The total amounts of their incomes as listed in the chart vary slightly due to extra sources, such as slaughtering a cow or selling a wagon.) Thus the total income for miller Frick came to $178 and that for cooper Daniel Nicewanger to $177.59; other coopers actually made slightly more, Theodore Harshman and Fred Hunker both in the mid $180's. Even Jacob Hauser the coal digger -- a less intellectual metier than running an engine, say, but nevertheless specialized and consistent -- was able to make a comparable income of $173.96 for this same six months.
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By contrast, the laborers made substantially less. Peter Rowan, for instance, did general labor, fed the hogs, and later in the year became "watchman" at the mill. He made $21 a month feeding and $22 watching, but his total recorded income for the six months of April to October was only $56, due to an inconsistent pace. Another Fred Hunker (a miller, not the cooper) sometimes tended the engine and was paid extra for it, but was normally a laborer, paid variably, sometimes at $24 a month and sometimes as low as $16. David Wurtz, of whom we know nothing else, was paid at the rate of only $12.50 per month for his few days' work; perhaps he was a teenager, for Daniel Nicewanger's son Dan (aged 16 in 1862) was paid at the rate of $11.50 a month for thirteen days of feeding the hogs. David Hepler's son Emanuel was paid only $6.50 a month; surely he was younger yet. Jacob Leasure, a boarder at Kough's who made $96 for the previous six months as watchman at the mill, made only $82.46 (a full $100 less than the artisans), even with extra days of overtime (our word) paid at a higher rate ($.75 a day). Intermittent work kept fellow-boarder Daniel Reece's carpentry earnings down to $74.43 for the six-month period; his rate was $.87 a day, which could have amounted to $22.60 a month and $135 for the six months at full steady work.
Skill and experience distinguished individuals within the professions, or at least the coopers. Daniel Nicewanger, at age 51, was clearly the master cooper of the village, making an average of $31.05 a month. This income was only marginally greater than either coopers; in fact, he was paid at the same rate per barrel ($.60) as the others. However, his experience was greater and he was given the unusual orders that came into the shop: the "whiskey tub" and the "great tub," the "6 rectifyers," the "low wine tub at $2.50," the "five gallon kegs" and the "half barrel," the "21 butter kegs," or "3 horse baskets," or "molasses stands" and "molasses barrels." Other coopers made an occassional molasses barrel, but most made whiskey barrels, at $.55 apiece until late May and at $.60 thereafter, day in and day out.
The demand for barrels at both the distillery and the flour mill was such that the company also bought barrels from farmers who lived outside of town, as for instance Joseph Pore and Weldon R. Strickler. The latter came into the mills regularly every two weeks with exactly twenty-five "Iron bound whiskey barrels" for which he was paid $40.00. Strickler then spent the same amount, often to the penny, on supplies of flour and horse feed, as well as hoop iron, . . . .
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rivets, or even indigo, ginger or vermifuge, each item earmarked for either himself or another (presumably a neighbor, distant like himself).
Individual expenditures also show some indication of the quality of life these wages afforded. Though the proportions of money spent on the staple foods of flour and meat are reasonably equivalent in the three groups, splurging on other foods such as sugar or even apples and cider is not. Spending on wheat flour and corn meal ranged from 5.3 percent of total expenditures by Eli Hoover, head miller and highest wage earner, to 13 percent by Fred Hunker, cooper. Spending on meat seems to be based more on personal preference than on income; though both laborers on the chart (Reece and Rowan) bought very little, several of the coopers and Eli Hoover again bought small proportions of meat, as well. Spending for other foods, even such necessities as salt, varied with class: the two laborers' "luxuries" are miniscule percentages (1 percent and .3 percent of total expenses), while most of the others allotted between 3 percent and 6 percent of their expenses to these goods.
There are very few references in the ledger to fresh fruit and none to fresh vegetables; one must assume that even the renting laborers had kitchen gardens for their own use. Meat was available intermittently; a hog, heifer or calf was slaughtered (usually by Henry Ridenour, cooper, who got an extra $1 for it) approximately once a week in high summer, but about once a month otherwise. Purchases of salt just after buying meat probably indicated an effort to stretch the meat out by thus preserving it. The beef seemed to be available all year, but the veal was concentrated in late summer, and the one hog in October, in tune with seasonal growth cycles.
One other product showed a similar seasonal spurt in consumption: whiskey. "Normal" drinking seemed to range from none for Ridenour and Daniel Nicewanger to about one gallon a month for Fred Hunker and Christian Haberly; Abraham Overholt himself was said to have been sparing in his libations. [Karen's emphasis.] But from mid-June to late July, whiskey-buying skyrocketed, with some individuals buying from four to ten gallons at once. People were probably using seasonal fruits (not recorded, possibly some foraged) and making flavored liquors or "bounce" for use all year. A pair of entries for H. S. Overholt makes this habit clear: on July 5 and 15 he bought cherries (spending $4.17 total at a time when a hearty meal cost $.10), and on the latter day spent another $7.17 on twenty gallons of whiskey "to make bounce."
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Local farmers were quite prosperous, making as much as $88 in a month if they both sold grain to the Overholts and hauled the whiskey away from them as well. Da nielTroxell did just that, hauling between eight and twelve barrels every four or five days in late spring and selling grain then, too. His income peaked in May ($88), but averaged $51 a month, considerably more than even the most highly paid professional in the village (Eli Hoover, head miller, $41.66).
Despite the disparity in incomes and expenses between the skilled workers and laborers in the village, those who came out ahead financially were evenly distributed among the two groups; in other words, most of them managed to live within their means. While it is tempting to view the profits as savings, the seasonal fluctuations of earnings meant that these profits may have been only a hedge against less employment in the winter months. Savings/debt is shown in the last column of the chart in Appendix D; on average the people analyzed were able to save $11.11. Among the poorest, Peter Rowan was substantially in debt at the end of the six months, but Jacob Leasure (who had few expenses as boarder) broke virtually even (saved 34 cents), and Daniel Reece, the laborer just learning the carpenter trade, managed to save $14.80. Most of the skilled workers saved (up to $76.49 for Fred Hunker), although Jacob Booher, who tended engine and owned his own house, lost $16, and cooper Daniel Nicewanger lost only $6.17.
The biggest debt incurred was by cooper Theodore Harshman: $63.38. However, the particular period of analysis coincided exactly with Harshman's setting up a house of his own: in February and March, he paid board to Nicewanger every four or five days (unlike those who paid Rebecca Kough in six-month installments, indicating he had just moved to the village), but starting in April he paid rent ($6.25 per three months) to the firm. On April 4 he bought a "cook stove and trimmings" and "8 joints of stove pipe," paying a substantial $28.67 for the lot. On April 15 he cajoled two people into fronting the money for furniture: he borrowed $8.87 from cooper Thomas McLain for a "set of Chairs" ($5), a "rocking chair" ($1.37), and a "dough tray" ($3.50), chipping in his last remaining dollar to the total of $9.87; he also borrowed $34 from a John Smithly for a "bureau" ($14), a "corner cupboard" ($10), a "table" ($5), and a "bedstead" ($5). The full total of these setup costs come to $72.54, or a little more than his debt six months later. Had he not had these one-time costs, he would have saved $9.16.
Thus it is clear that most of the workers in the village were making a living, and not working themselves into debt. This accords well with the situation A. F. C. Wallace described for . . . .
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a comparable early industrial community in eastern Pennsylvania: the cotton textile village of Rockdale. It contrasts sharply to the picture Billy Smith has described for artisans in urban Philadelphia in the eighteenth century; his evidence indicates that shoemakers and cordwainers in that city at that time were just scraping by.
The greatest disparity in income and quality of life in the village was between the workers -- both skilled and unskilled -- and the managers, that is, the owning Overholts. The 1870 census recorded Abraham Overholt's real estate at a value of $198,000 and his personal estate at $202,000, while his partner, his son Henry, had $137,000 worth of real estate. Such vast wealth was in stark contrast to thier employees, who owned no real estate and whose personal estate was measured in three digits.
The family's legends of the managerial class include several anecdotes suggesting Abraham Overholt's continuing Mennonite faith, his generosity, his sobriety, and his fairness. In one of these, for instance, he fell into a cellar hole on a Pittsburgh sidewalk, but refused to sue the negligent party. He supported the establishment of public schools in the township and contributed real money as well, making a $200 donation the first entry to the 1862 ledger; and was very likely a founding partner in the Western Pennsylvania Classical and Scientific Institute in Mt. Pleasant (C. S. Overholt and B. F. Overholt were on the Board by 1880). Henry S. Overholt continued the family tradition of charity, subscribing a dollar "to buy an arm for a soldier (in Brownsville)" and more substantially paid $725.31 "to Anne Carpenter for maintaining the children of Thomas Carpenter, decd." But it has also recently been pointed out that Abraham's avid interest in politics (he had portraits of the presidents Adams, Jefferson and Monroe on his walls), his coolness to traditional Mennonite practices such as footwashing, and even the success of his distilling and other commercial enterprises -- his entrepreneurialism, in short -- were fundamentally against the grain of Mennonite culture and contributed directly to the decline of that traditional community. As entrepreneurs and businessmen the drift away from Mennonite values was ineluctable; none of the Overholt children joined the faith of their father, and certain of their grandchilren may be said to have violated those tenets profoundly (e.g., H. C. Frick's role in the violence at Homestead).
[HABS report continued on next page -- see URL below.]
Throughout the body of the HABS report, I have underlined the names of individuals.
West Overton was founded by Henry Oberholtzer and his extended family of sons and daughters, and their spouses and children. In the year 1800, he led them in a train of Conestoga wagons from Eastern Pennsylvania's Bucks County, to Western Pennsylvania's East Huntingdon Township in Westmoreland County.
With their arrival, Henry was reunited with another branch of his family, for in 1796, his younger brother, Martin Oberholtzer, had led his own wagon train of extended family (including 13 children born in Bucks County) into the neighboring Alverton in East Huntingdon Township. Together with other pioneering families, the "Overholts" made their own contributions toward building a thriving farming community, eventually adding a flouring mill, a blanket weaving company, and an expanded whiskey enterprise.
Extended Family Times Two
The first ring of Martin's extended family included the surnames Welty, Stauffer, Von Grundy, Burchfield, Naffzinger, Mumma, Conrad, Crites, Kline, and later (when his 14th child Anna married) Weimer.
Henry's first ring of extended family included in-laws with the surnames Fretz, Myers, Detweiler, Loucks, Overholt (not related), Durstine, and no less than three Stauffers.
Swiss Roots/German Connections
As I learned from the introduction pages of Barbara Ford's The Oberholtzer Book, prior to coming to America, the Oberholzer ancestors lived for many centuries in northern Switzerland, where a small village named Oberholz still exists about 40 miles southeast of Zurich (just east of a line that separates Canton Zurich from Canton St. Gallen) and northeast of Wald. The name means "above the woods," because the people of Wald referred to them as "das bauers im Oberholz" (the farmers who live above the woods).
It is interesting to note that included in the work of a well-known Swiss genealogist are "over 2200 Oberholtzer names covering 148 pages" showing the majority of Oberholtzer families living in or near the town of Wald, Canton Zurich. The pertinent data begins with Jakob Oberholtzer (born c. 1537), whose grandson Marti Oberholzer (b. 1595) married Margaretha Schellenberger and produced nine children.
The Protestant Reformation incited by Martin Luther brought terrible hardship throughout Europe, but in Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli was the great reformer, advocating strict adhearance to scripture and absolute control of both church and state. Zwingli's system acknowledged infant baptism. The Anabaptists did not believe in infant baptism, believing instead that it took an adult decision to become a baptized Christian. These and other differences between the sects resulted in violence against the Anabaptists, culminating in religious persecutions, including incidents of torture, imprisonment, selling people as galley slaves, burnings, beheadings, and drownings.
Records in the University of Zurich archives show Marti Oberholzer, an "Anabaptist Preacher," was "drowned by the Zwinglians." Little wonder that shortly thereafter, Marti's sons (Hans Jakob, Marx and Samuel) were listed in the archives of exit permits (1650-1663), identified as being among the members of the Oberholtzer extended family who left Switzerland to farm lands in "Odenwald" (or "Palatinate"). It was noted they were "Taufers," from the derogatory "Wiedertaufer" or "re-baptizers." This happened shortly after the end of the Thirty Years War, a series of religious conflicts (1618-1648), which left much of Germany desolate and in ruins, with millions dead. Tenant farmers were needed and invited, especially excellent farmers, like the Oberholtzers. Thereafter, records document Oberholtzers living in eight different German villages in the Sinsheim region.
When a series of new wars and religious persecutions enveloped the German Palatinate, the Anabaptists sought another possibility for peaceful coexistence, which luckily presented itself when land agents for England's William Penn began advertising and selling large blocks of land in Pennsylvania. In the Amsterdam archives is a letter dated June 24, 1710, signed by Martin Oberholzer, who is believed to be the earliest Oberholzer emigrant to reach Pennsylvania via the ship Mary Hope, which sailed from London with 94 passengers aboard. The letter describes the trials of the journey to London and the expectations regarding the upcoming voyage to America.
At the English Public Record Office, there is the first Board of Trade List (dated 5/6/1709), which includes the name "Oberholtzer, Mark w/3 sons, 2 daus." While it is unclear how or exactly when this family reached America, by circa 1711, they were defrauded by a Thomas Fairman, who pretended to sell them land in Chester County, Pennsylvania. It was succeeding generations of the Mark Oberholtzer family who migrated to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and then "numerously populated" the region.
By the time Henry Oberholtzer/"Overholt" joins his younger brother's family in Westmoreland County, they are referred to as German (probably because they spoke the Swiss version of the German language), and then Pennsylvania Dutch. Whereas I've noticed the Frick family are keen on identifying their roots as Swiss, the same can be said of the Overholts, at least when identifying our ancestral roots. Also, I have noticed that a high percentage of the families the Overholts married into were of Swiss extraction, especially if they came to America as Mennonites.
-from The Oberholtzer Book: A Foundation Book of Oberholtzer Immigrants and Unestablished Lines, Barbara B. Ford, Compiler and Editor; The Overholser Family Association, c. 1995
[See URLs below for more historical information.]
The Planting of Civilization
"Some further impressions of the varied character of the immigration to the region between 1790 and 1820 can be gained by noting a few of the individuals who rose to leadership during the period or later . . . Abraham Overholt, of Pennsylvania-German stock, who removed with his parents from Berks [sic] County to Westmoreland in 1800 and became a leading farmer, miller, and distiller at West Overton . . . ."
-from The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania, by Solon Justus Buck & Elizabeth Hawthorn Buck, p. 224; University of Pittsburgh Press, c. 1939; Historic Pittsburgh Digital Research Library, University of Pittsburgh
Hardly a "Coincidence"
Young Clay Frick (self-proclaimed the favorite grandson) must have learned a great deal from his community. Many of the managerial "innovations" he employed in his own enterprises certainly must have been variations on a theme composed and illustrated by the creative minds of Abraham Overholt and his extended family.
Just a Few Family Relations: Their Sons
*[The Jacob S. R. Overholt family moved to Illinois in 1855.]
*[Henry & his father Martin were weavers.]
In the Year 1856
Jacob Stauffer Overholt (son of Abraham Overholt) and his cousin Henry O. Overholt build a distillery at Broad Ford, Pennsylvania, and produce Monongahela Whiskey, until Jacob's death in 1859, whereupon Abraham buys Jacob's 2/3 interest.
A New Wrinkle: Canadian Rye
Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey is made by Jim Beam Brands, which owns the trademark and presumably distills it in Kentucky. Jim Beam also bottles its own brand of rye whiskey. The new wrinkle: recently I have seen Old Overholt on the Internet being advertised as "Canadian Rye Whiskey," and I really wonder why!
"Sanborn's Survey of the Whiskey Warehouses of Pennsylvania . . . , 1894, revised in 1913. Henry Clay Frick's connection to Abraham Overholt is via his mother, Elizabeth Overholt, Abraham's daughter. She married John W. Frick, who was a miller at the flour mill. The marriage connection to the daughter of the founder (already a rich man by community standards) did not do J. W. Frick as much good as we might have imagined. Karl Frick Overholt records his grandfather's life itinerary to have included many stops, moving every two to four years until he was 44 years old, or after he had worked for the Overholts twenty years. Abraham clearly did not give him preferrential treatment, despite his fondness for J. W.'s first daughter Maria. In fact, Abraham's will (probated 1870, Westmoreland County Courthouse, Greensburg) conspicuously omits any mention of John Frick, even though he gave $2,000 (more than to anyone else) to Maria. the explanation for this hostility may be found in the circumstances of marriage itself: it took place on October 19, 1847, and Maria was born February 9, 1848, less than four months later."
-from HABS Footnote #11
When Elizabeth Married John
On the day of her marriage, Elizabeth was 28+ years old, and 2½ years older than John Frick. Also, she was at least 5 months along in her first pregnancy. As a daughter of Abraham Overholt, Elizabeth must have been a very eligible young woman for all her years since reaching puberty, yet she had remained unmarried. Either she had not been interested in marriage, or she had been waiting for someone she really loved to be available for marriage. But something unexpected happened around the time of June 2, 1847, the day of her 28th birthday.
How long did it take for Elizabeth's family to come to terms with the miller, John Frick? Had he felt pressured into the marriage? Had they offered him money or a good position? Had he been insulted by the offers? Had delays occurred because he wanted it to be perfectly clear he was not the father of the expected child? Also, if he was a man who looked forward to having a large family, did he believe Elizabeth was too old for that?
Whatever gave rise to the animosity between Abraham Overholt and John Frick, I am inclined to fault Frick and whatever really happened the day Abraham decided to remove 4½-year-old Maria from the Frick household. Clay was 2 ¾ years old at the time.
Abraham took granddaughter Maria into his house to raise her there for a good reason, and while we may never have the full story, history suggests Abraham was not a man prone to rash judgements. He believed little Maria was better off living with her grandparents, and John Frick never altered this arrangement.
As it turned out, Elizabeth brought five Frick children into the world -- the last, Sallie, born March 1862, arrived shortly before Elizabeth's 43rd birthday. She gave John Frick a handsome family, endured all the hardships that accompanied being the wife of a working man, and lived long enough to see her oldest son acclaimed Coke King and suffer his own tribulations.
Abraham and Maria Overholt may have felt estranged from their daughter Elizabeth, but nothing kept them from helping the Frick children -- especially young Clay, whom they educated and nursed at every stage of his life and through every bout of sickness suffered, even into adulthood. It should be noted that Abraham provided a nice inheritance for both Elizabeth and young Maria, upon his death. And it was their inheritance that 20-year-old Henry Clay Frick borrowed to support his plans for a future in the coal and coke industry.
1862 Ledger List
The HABS report includes a footnote showing data from a 1862 Ledger listing men making whiskey purchases from June 13 to July 16. I have abbreviated the data below.
6/13 & 14: Fred Hunker, 1 gallon each day; 6/16: George Fry, 4 gallons; 6/17: James Crosby, 3 ½ gallons; 6/20: Jack Smith, 4 gallons; 6/26: Wm Douglas, 10 gallons; 6/26: James Wake, 7 ½ gallons; 6/28: Solomon Howard, 5 gallons; 6/30: John Fretz, 6 gallons; 7/5: Wm Pool, 2 ½ gallons; 7/5: Daniel Felgars, 5 gallons; 7/5: Samuel Shupe, 5 gallons; 7/8: Samuel Detwiler, 6 gallons; 7/16: David Holmes, 5 ½ gallons.
In addition, Jacob
Zandact and Wm. Thorendel each bought 1 to 3
barrels whiskey (21 gallons each) "contracted for
new year;" the regular dealers, Shippen &
Detwiler, also continued their purchases.
-from HABS footnote #37
From APPENDIX A: West Overton in the 1860s
A business directory for West Overton on page 23 of the 1867 Beers Atlas gave a succinct list of the men who held the salaried jobs, plus a few of the artisans:
Distillers, and Grain Dealers:
Principal Clerk and
-from HABS Report, APPENDIX A, p.27
West Overton in the 1860s
Ledgers of the A. & H. S. Overholt Company listed those who were renting company-owned houses in the village in 1862 (listed in ascending order of cost of rent):
Name/Rent per 3 months/Occupation or task/Pay per month
Peter Rowan/$3.00/Labor, fed hogs, Watchman at Mill, a little harvesting/$21 (feeding), $22 (watching)
Israel Shorrow/$6.25/Labor, cleaned boilers, Gatherer, sold cherries/$18.00
Henry M. Ridenour/$6.25/Cooper, Butcher/ave. $20.30
Jacob Hauser/$6.25/Coal Digger, comes up for harvest/ave. $30.22
Christian Haverty/$6.25/Tended mash house/$28.50
Jacob Kough/Rebecca Kough/$8.75/Jacob: Cooper, Rebecca: takes in boarders/Jacob: $29.10, Rebecca: $41.50
Frederick Hunker/$10.00/Cooper, helps in harvest/$30.28
Daniel Nicewanger/$10.00/Cooper, planted a little/$31.05
J. Lloyd Shallenberger/$12.50/Farmer, sold wheat to distillery/?
John W. Frick/$12.50/Tended mill/$30.00
Eli S. Hoover/$12.50/Tended mill/$41.66
In addition, Jacob Booher owned ten acres and a house nearby, for which he was assessed $462. He "tended Engine" at the mill and was paid $30 a month. Furthermore, the ledger identified ten people who boarded within the village, principally at Henry S. Overholt's and Rebecca Kough's.
-from HABS Report, APPENDIX A, p. 27-28
Mennonite Church History
"The Mennonites -- The Mennonites of Westmoreland are found mostly in and around Scottdale. Among the early people of this church in that section were the Stauffers and Sherricks, who came from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1790. The Louckses and Frettzses [sic] followed in 1800, the latter coming from Bucks county. Other families who came with them and later on are the Tinsmans [sic], Overholts, Stoners, Funks, Rists, Rosenbergers, Strohms, Dillingers, Foxes, Shellenbergers, Basslers, Stricklers, Ruths, Myers, Durstines, Lanes, Shupes, Mumaws, Shelys, Bans, Landises and Bachtels. . . ."
"During the early years of the church the congregation grew from a few members to a body of at least two hundred. As many as thirty persons were baptized and received into the church at one time. This growth continued till about 1840, when it reached the highest point. After that, fewer members were added and some who were members found it more convenient to join other churces, which they did. Others moved away and others died, so that in 1892 there were but sixteen members left, and these were nearly all old people. One cause of this was the use of the German language before a congregation whose members spoke English. Another was the neglect of special efforts to reach and hold the young people, while other churches all around them were alive to new methods of church work."
-from Old and New Westmoreland, Vol. 2, by John N. Boucher, 1918; pp. 324 & 326. Historic Pittsburgh Digital Research Library, University of Pittsburgh
Read More About the Early German/French/Swiss Immigration to "the Eden of Pennsylvania"
the Palatine Imigration to America, as written by Daniel
Speaking Immigrants Settled in Pennsylvania
Germans to new York in 1710, by Peter Ashby
Emigration, by Kraig Ruckel
Start Your Research on Swiss Genealogy on the Internet
Genealogy on the Internet
Estates of Swiss (Zürich) Anabaptist Persons (1640-1678)
List of All
Old Citizen Families of Canton Zürich (Prior to 1800)
(Oberholzer Listed: Cossau ZH, Hombrechtikon ZH, Turbenthal ZH, & Wald ZH)
End of Page One of the HABS West Overton Report.
Go on to Page Two, or return to the first page of Karen's Branches.