~~ Page Three ~~

Written by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005
~~ Originally Published on Hometown AOL ~~
~~ Updated January 5, 2005 ~~

Overholt Homestead House/Public Entrance
Photographs by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, 1999

The Overholt Family and West Overton, PA ~~ continued

Without documentation to suggest otherwise, I can only assume that the coal and coke industries were to blame for the diaspora of the Extended Overholt Family. When the coal mines and the beehive ovens began to take over the surrounding region at the onset of America's Industrial Revolution, the land soon became unfit for farming and families. Additionally, in 1881, just as a new Federal Trademark Law allowed producers to register and protect brand names, a rising Henry Clay Frick (one of the grandchildren of Abraham and Maria Overholt) acquired the "temporary" right to use the name A. Overholt and Company for the unlikely sum of one dollar. Shortly thereafter, Frick gained possession of the Broad Ford distillery, the land it was built on, and the trademark rights to the Family name. As a result, the heirs of Abraham Overholt were prevented from benefiting from his legacy, for they could not use the name Overholt on any other whiskey product. In a very short period of time, Frick literally owned everything -- lock, stock and barrel (whiskey barrels) -- and it was from him that the ownership of the Broad Ford distillery and the whiskey business passed out of the Family. Little wonder then that the Overholts left their homes, their town and their expectations, and went looking for a better life elsewhere.

Relic Sign of the Broad Ford Distillery

It appears a few families remained in the vicinity, in nearby small towns, like Mount Pleasant. In 1908, George Washington Overholt, my great grandfather, died unexpectedly and at a very early age. Subsequently, his son was forced carry the burden of supporting himself, his mother and sister. At age 16, George Frederick Overholt (1892-1966) organized a small orchestra and began a musical career that spanned the next 58 years. George Overholt was a virtuoso on a piano, and he became well-known in show business circles around Pittsburgh. He also married more than once, but it was his wife Esther Mae Willis (1896-c.1928) who gave birth to Frederic John Overholt (1924-1985), whom Esther called Arthur, and Ralph Edward Overholt (1927-1990).

Esther was British and had been a showgirl who appeared in George White's Scandals. Sadly, her little Arthur was only three or four years old, and Ralph was just a baby, when she fell down a flight of stairs and was killed. Since George was constantly "on the road," he put the two small boys first into a Pittsburgh orphanage, and then into the care of a family named Gallagher, who lived somewhere around Pittsburgh, and possibly were the folks who owned Gallagher's, a famous pub that used to be located downtown, and a place where George often appeared as a jazz pianist.

I have memories of three small photographs. One was of Esther, which was taken from a poster featuring her for some big show, which my father always kept in his wallet. She was very beautiful. One photo was of two small, sad-looking boys sitting on a porch step, each holding onto an Easter basket that seemed totally unappetizing to them. They were my father and his brother in a picture taken not long after they lost their mother. The other photo showed a group of Army G.I. Joes -- all young, fresh faces -- taken during World War II. The Overholt brothers were two of those young soldiers. My dad ended up on the Burma Road shortly thereafter, ultimately surviving the war to become the father of five children. But that was just the beginning of his military career in the Army, and then later, the Air Force. As for our Uncle Ralph, to the best of my knowledge, none of us kids ever met him. Only recently have I learned more about Ralph, his own long military career, and his family. [I have written more about my family in articles that appear on my GeoCities web site.]

The Corner of Overholt & West Overton

In 1922, Helen Clay Frick began buying the buildings in West Overton, and it is she who is acknowledged as the benefactor and the founder of the organization that operates and maintains the site. Their brochure proudly states, "In 1985, West Overton Village was named to the National Register of Historic Districts as an outstanding example of a 19th century rural industrial village." In truth, West Overton is not even considered a real town by the locals, and it is hardly a shadow of what it once was. But should the site ever be fully restored, it just may be known as an excellent example of a late 19th century industrialized agrarian community, which is what it was in its finer days. It is my firm belief that members of today's Extended Overholt Family need to be involved with West Overton, actively helping to forge an agenda that serves to recreate the best of its past, but also moves the site forward toward its unexplored future.

Matthew & G-G-G-G-Grandfather Abraham

West Overton is located on PA 819, between Mount Pleasant and Scottdale, and is about 1 hours southeast
of the city of Pittsburgh, if you take the "scenic route" along country highways;
however, the Pennsylvania Turnpike makes the trip shorter.

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