The Extended Overholt Family Foundation
Karen Rose Overholt Critchfield, Founder

   
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About Us
The Extended Overholt Family Foundation is a new organization taking its first steps toward achieving a working nonprofit status. We are just beginning the process of building an advisory board, a board of directors, and everything else needed for a modern nonprofit organization. Publishing this web site on the World Wide Web, hosted by Karen's Branches, is our first step in a long journey.

We invite the interest and participation of all who feel called to the kind of personal ministry described in these pages, whether you are a leaf on the Overholt family tree, or a public-spirited member of the general public. Your spirit will be the driving force in this enterprise.

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Our Logo
Seen above, our logo depicts the leaves and acorns of a white oak tree (Quercus alba), which is native to eastern North America, and used to be found in great numbers in huge areas all over Western Pennsylvania. Our pioneering families valued this pre-eminent hardwood for home construction, interior finishing, and agricultural implements. White oak was especially valued for its water-resistant and rot-resistant qualities, which made it perfect for making barrels, and prized for aging and transporting whiskey.

At West Overton, master distiller Abraham Overholt normally employed several coopers at a time, just to make whiskey barrels for his product, and the need for barrels grew exponentially with the additional, larger distillery complex at Broad Ford. We have evidence that Abraham's youngest brother, Christian, sold his share of their father's farm specifically so that he could purchase a white oak forest in the Smithton area. There, Christian built a duplicate of Abraham's new Homestead House for his own wife and children (Elizabeth Stauffer was a sister of Abraham's wife Maria), and he and his sons began a decades-long concern to supply lumber to West Overton. Christian's house still stands on that property, but the white oak forest is long gone.

Aside from a robust distilling industry in Western Pennsylvania, the advancement of the Industrial Revolution increased the demand for lumber in the coal, coke and railroad industries. Forests in our area were decimated, and local stands of white oak just disappeared. In our time, the white oak is considered to be endangered, along with several other tree populations that once thrived here. We hope to support remedies to this sad situation, so that one day, the white oak and other endangered native trees will be planted and preserved in the soil that once supported lifespans of several hundred years.


Our To-Do List
If this foundation becomes successful, with contributions and memberships funding our efforts, we wish to engage in the following activities.

West Overton: We wish to support the general welfare of the historic site currently known as West Overton Village and West Overton Museums. This includes supporting efforts of preserving and renovating the existing buildings, and ultimate reclamation of the land that once was part of the Overholt property. We wish to promote the agricultural use of the land, and reduce residential, business, and highway encroachment.

Broad Ford: We wish to support the general welfare of the historic site of the A. Overholt and Company Distillery at Broad Ford. This includes supporting efforts of preserving and renovating the existing buildings, and the reclamation of the land that was included in the Overholt property. We wish to support the general welfare of the water resources of the Youghiogheny River adjoining the property.

Broad Ford Bridge: We wish to support a project to rebuild a footbridge across the Youghiogheny River at the site of the original Broad Ford Swinging Bridge that will enable visitor access to Broad Ford from the opposite bank, and connect area wilderness trails and bicycle trails along the Youghiogheny River. This includes supporting the maintenance of the bridge and the preservation of the existing stone piers.

Overholt Whiskey Festival: We wish to promote and support a festival to be held each year in the early autumn at West Overton and, when viable, at Broad Ford. We wish to support the appreciation of our European immigrant ancestors, and the pioneering families who settled the "wild lands" of Western Pennsylvania, and the agricultural and business enterprises of ancestors who contributed to the success of our communities. This includes supporting the contributions of The Overholt Family of West Overton and The Extended Overholt Family, with special attention given to Abraham Overholt and Overholt Whiskey.

Overholt Family Genealogy: We wish to support historical and genealogical research of The Overholt Family of West Overton and The Extended Overholt Family, in order to enumerate their contributions to the area and clarify their importance to the region. This includes collecting and preserving published and unpublished documents, pictures, photographs, and other artifacts. Also included is support for disseminating information to interested parties by various means, such as publishing via the Internet, print and broadcast media. We wish to give special attention to the work of Karen Rose Overholt Critchfield and her web site, The Overholt Family Tree ~~ Karen's Branches.

Our Family Cemeteries: We wish to support the renewal and maintenance of the gravesites and stone monuments of members of The Overholt Family and The Extended Overholt Family who were laid to rest at local cemeteries and elsewhere. This includes individual sites at West Overton, and sections of Alverton Cemetery, Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Scottdale Cemetery, and the Old Mennonite (Alte Menist) Cemetery. We wish to support the care and maintenance of the Deep Run East Cemetery of Perkasie, PA (Bedminster Township, Bucks County), where many Overholt ancestors are buried.

White Oak Forestry: We wish to support the reintroduction of white oak trees into the West Overton and Broad Ford area, along with other native trees considered to be endangered. This includes promoting the study of these trees, with special attention given to the germination, planting and maintenance of new growth white oak forests.


Our Founder
Karen Rose Overholt was born in the summer of 1949, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, daughter of Frederic John Overholt and Rose Joann Plocido. She is a great-great-great granddaughter of Abraham Overholt, master distiller. In the course of her father's military career, she and her siblings grew up on Air Force bases in many locations, including two foreign countries. By the time she graduated from high school in 1967, she had attended eight different schools.

In her early 20s, Karen attended the University of South Florida, and there earned a BA in Speech Communication-English Education. A decade later, she earned an MA in Religion for Christian Education at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She visited West Overton for the first time in the autumn of 1984, and fell in love with the place and the family history it represented. She felt called to find some way to help preserve what was left of West Overton and Abraham Overholt's Homestead House, but she had no other resource than an ability to write.

Marriage and Family

In Pittsburgh, the day after Christmas 1987, Karen married local actor James Critchfield. Both had been members of the choir at Church of the Ascension, and had known each other for about two years before their first date. Two years after the wedding, four days before Christmas, their son Matthew was Karen's "miracle baby," the happy result of her only pregnancy and coming "late in life" -- six months into her 40th year. Over the course of a 20-year marriage, Karen supported her husband's theatrical and teaching careers, and was instrumental in the success of their small production company, Actors Civic Theater. She used her degrees in education to raise up a remarkable son, who became a visual artist and a talented musical theater performer in his own right. When Matthew was in grade school, Karen introduced him to computers at the Carrick branch of the Carnegie Library, and while he played the early generations of computer games, she did Internet research on her family roots, hoping to find some long-lost relatives.

Starting Karen's Branches

It was February 9, 1999, when Karen launched her first web page on AOL Hometown -- THE OVERHOLT FAMILY TREE Karen's Branches. With the addition of a couple tildes, and a few more pages, the project became THE OVERHOLT FAMILY TREE ~~ Karen's Branches. Later that year (on July 20, 1999), she launched The Overholt Family Tree ~~ Karen's Branches.2, at Yahoo! GeoCities, which became the preferred platform. Karen kept both sites going until cancelling the AOL service (April 8, 2005), whereupon the GeoCities site became her only venue. When Yahoo! shut down GeoCities (October 26, 2009), Karen was prepared to enter the world of web hosting, and her own URL, www.karensbranches.com, was launched the very next day.

Over the years, Karen used her genealogical research to craft articles about the history of Abraham Overholt, Overholt Whiskey, and members of The Extended Overholt Family of West Overton. Curiosity about the A. Overholt and Company distillery at Broad Ford led to her exploration of the site on May 17, 2004. She was entranced by enormity of the structures, but alarmed by the vandalism, the weather-damaged buildings, and overall disastrous condition of the historic site. Karen decided to work toward the reclamation of the land and renovation of the remaining distillery buildings. However, as with the goal to help West Overton, her only asset was writing, and her only arsenal was the recorded history of her family. It was time to find out how mighty "the pen" could be.

Making Nominations

Immediately upon visiting Broad Ford, Karen nominated the A. Overholt and Company Distillery to appear in Preservation Pennsylvania's annual listing of the Commonwealth's Most Endangered Historic Properties, putting together a report with photographs, and mailing the package before the ultimate 2004 entry deadline. When the Summer 2004 newsletter was published, the Most Endangered list included the Overholt Distillery.

While continuing her Internet work, Karen twice nominated the distillery site to the America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list published each year by National Trust for Historic Preservation, but both tries (2006 & 2007) failed. Deciding that Broad Ford was more important to Western Pennsylvania, she nominated the site to the 2007 Top Ten Best Historic Preservation Opportunities in the Pittsburgh Area, published each year by Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh. The 2007 nomination failed, but that year's list did include West Overton Museums, nominated by the folks at West Overton.

The following year, Karen's nomination to the 2008 YPA list succeeded. Local newspapers ran several articles that highlighted each property on the list, and Karen was quoted in a few of them.

Starting a Foundation

Karen wanted to create an organization that would support good works to benefit both West Overton and Broad Ford, so effective April 19, 2006, The Extended Overholt Family Foundation was launched. That day was chosen because Abraham Overholt had been born on April 19, 1784. Despite the corporate name, this was not intended to be a typical "family foundation," created and ruled by the members of a single family. Rather, it was to be a non-profit corporation that would depend upon funding from the general public -- those who wished to support the historic preservation of West Overton and Broad Ford -- and upon memberships, with the hope of drawing together both those who were genetically linked to the Overholts of West Overton (i.e., today's Extended Overholt Family), and those who wished to solidify the significance of the family, their business enterprises, and their most famous product, Overholt Whiskey, in the tapestry of Western Pennsylvania history.

For the next several years, the whole foundation project remained frozen, waiting for a time when other people might be ready to help develop and run things. In the year 2011, two important things happened that made Karen wonder if perhaps it was time to get serious about The Extended Overholt Family Foundation. First, the folks at West Overton Museums hired a new Executive Director who seemed to appreciate the point of view expressed by the Karen's Branches articles. Second, a group of individuals formed around the prospect of acquiring the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery properties, with plans to preserve and renovate the buildings for new businesses. This web site represents a tentative step in the direction of hope for the future, but The Extended Overholt Family Foundation will succeed only if people begin to volunteer to help.

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