Changing the Course of History
Nomination of Broad Ford for Endangered Status
Notification Letter from Preservation Pennsylvania
Written by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, August 16, 2004
~~ Updated October 2, 2008 ~~

A. Overholt & Co. Distillery at Broad Ford, PA, circa 1942.

Backstory to Planning the Safari

It was the March 27 e-mail from Allen Anthony that enervated me and generated a plan for a Broad Ford safari. His interest in the site was genuine, having grown up nearby, having family ties to the area and a few cousins still living there. His maternal grandfather, William Gerke, owned the general store and was once the mayor of Broad Ford.

He wrote, "I found the 1935 article on the Overholt Family/Old Overholt Whiskey/Southwestern PA history on your website absolutely fascinating! I came across it when a newly discovered "long lost" relative contacted me regarding the termination of operations at Broad Ford. I actually knew very little about it, so I thought I'd see what I could find on the Internet. As great an article as yours was, it did not answer my primary question: What happened to the Overholt Distillery at Broad Ford, PA, after 1935? . . . . Anything you can offer as to the time-lines, sequence of events, sale of the company, transfer of operations to Kentucky (I find it interesting that the label on Old Overholt states "Distilled in Kentucky," but has the Pennsylvania Keystone at all 4 corners of the label) would be very helpful and greatly appreciated."

Of course, I would love to uncover anything that touches on many mysteries -- how Henry Clay Frick managed to gain control of the land and distillery at Broad Ford, when and how the property changed hands over the years, and what exactly led to the demise of a huge and profitable business in Western Pennsylvania. People often write to me, asking if anyone still makes or sells Old Overholt. Other e-mails are sent just to let me know that the whiskey remains (after a lifetime of enjoyment) the best rye money can buy.

Ruins of the Overholt Distillery as seen from the Youghiogheny River
Photo by Hubert Riedman, January 1978

In a subsequent e-mail, Allen Anthony attached a copy of the photo above (reduced in size for this publication) and wrote, "As promised, I have attached the photo of the Overholt Distillery at Broad Ford, PA, as it looked from the Youghiogheny River in January of 1978. The photograph was taken by Hubert Riedman, a passenger in my canoe, as we paddled from Connellsville to Dawson in the middle of winter. Perhaps you could use it in building future web pages?

"You will notice in the middle far left, the remains of the "Swinging Bridge" across the river. This was a suspension foot bridge built to allow Overholt employees (who lived on the west side of the river in the village of Adelaide) to commute back and forth (walk) to work. Many of my mother's work buddies were ladies who lived in Adelaide. Also notice the trees and ice line on the river just preceeding (upstream from) the bridge. They appear to be the west bank of the river, but they are not. They are actually on the west bank of an island that sits directly across from the main part of the distillery. . . .

"Many times since my mother passed away, I have wished she were here to say something [about Broad Ford] or to ask [her] questions. She could have told you just about everything you wanted to know about that distillery. It was right in her backyard for 37 years. I know she was proud to have worked there."

Even after several weeks of planning for the safari, not one person invited to go along could make it. Even Allen Anthony bowed out because he had to work that weekend. So I almost never went to Broad Ford. But then I did. When Susan Karas and I started out, I was feeling like I was about to change history, a premonition which may in time prove to be correct.

  Maps? Oh, I made maps! I pulled out our Microsoft Streets & Trips and created maps for the journey from Pittsburgh to Scottdale, from Scottdale to Broadford [sic] Road, and from Broadford Road to Distillery Road. I even worked in two side trips -- one to West Overton (where we surprised Grant Gerlich on his lunch break) and one to the Stauffer Homestead House (where I took a lot of great pictures that I'll publish in another web page).

Susan and I had a brief, but very nice visit with Grant Gerlich, the new director of West Overton Museums. Normally, I would have wanted to spend hours there, just wandering around the place, but I had a greater mission that day. I did get a couple very good pictures -- a new shot of the Relic Sign, and evidence of another portrait like the one featured in Lion Found Bottle (In a Portrait). This copy was found somewhere on the premises. I wonder how many more will surface?

Supporting the painting is a wooden box marked with a famous address, and a small collection of old bottles, but not all were Overholt whiskey.

So, we found Distillery Road, and we trekked the length of the site, taking pictures until the film ran out. Then we backtracked to Scottdale, had something to eat at a small diner there, and then tried to get back to Pittsburgh in time for Susan to meet with a friend she was tutoring. The weather stayed beautiful for our safari, but light rain hit us a few miles from home. It was raining when I dropped off Susan at her house, but I did not go straight home. Instead, I went to get my film developed. I was anxious to see the pictures I had taken that day, hoping they would be good enough for . . . the report I would soon be sending to Scott Doyle at the Bureau for Historic Preservation, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, PA.

Pennsylvania's Endangered Historic Properties List

When I was working so hard to put together an impressive safari to Broad Ford -- the one that did not happen -- I spent some time surfing the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission web site. And I happened upon the National Register Program, and chanced to click on the link that described Pennsylvania at Risk.

Endangered Properties

Created in 1992 by Preservation Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania at Risk represents a list of the Commonwealth's most endangered historic properties. The list is a representative sampling of the variety and richness of our Commonwealth' s historic properties. It is an opportunity to spotlight examples of Pennsylvania heritage threatened by neglect, deterioration, lack of maintenance, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy. The annual Pennsylvania At Risk is published to increase awareness of the richness of our heritage and of the role that historic preservation can play in revitalization and economic development of endangered historic properties.

We are presently requesting nominations for the 2004 Pennsylvania at Risk.

Please download a nomination form and submit by March 31, 2004.

The list is compiled by Preservation Pennsylvania in partnership with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, local preservation organizations, and concerned citizens from across the Commonwealth.

In evaluating properties for inclusion on the list, Preservation Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission look for the following:

  • The property is listed or determined eligible for the listing in the National Register of Historic Places,

  • The property is considered a contributing resource in a National Register historic District,

  • The property is designated by local government,

  • The property is faced with imminent, recognized endangerment either from overt action, neglect, incompatible use, or loss of context.

Please submit any photographs, related news stories and contact information that are helpful in the evaluation process. We welcome updates on any properties that were listed in previous issues of Pennsylvania At Risk. For questions concerning the eligibility of a historic property or suggestions for the endangered list, please contact Scott Doyle (717-783-6012) of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's Bureau for Historic Preservation.

This looked good! This looked bad! This looked like what I was looking for, BUT I had found it a month past the submission deadline! On April 27, I phoned Scott Doyle's office and left a message. He phoned back and patiently listened to my story about the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery. He asked to see some data on the subject, and I e-mailed him photos and URLs. He was interested, but he needed "a submission that is concise that briefly discusses the development and history of the Overholt distillery and how what remains today is a strong reflection of that history."

Zipping back to the point where I left my film at the counter: I was anxious to see those photographs, not only for myself, my memories, and my web pages. I was worried about the report I was going to submit to Scott Doyle. Would the photos properly express what I had experienced at Broad Ford? Would they be good enough to share with a state commission? Would I have enough money to cover the developing costs, plus Kodak CDs?

Jumping to the very end: The photos looked great. I had enough money to get a few extra copies of the Overholt Building for my siblings and the Kodak CDs, too. I worked day and night on the report, put together a photo album section, added a copy of my feature OLD OVERHOLT: The History of a Whiskey, put it all into a nice binder, and mailed it off to Scott Doyle. It took more "grocery money," but I managed the first class postage. When I handed over the heavy parcel at the counter of our local post office, I murmured, "This report just may change the course of history!" And I meant it.

An e-mail from Scott Doyle dated 5/26/2004, read, "Karen- I received your nomination and supplementary materials this morning. Quite a collection of information you assembled. I will submit the nomination to Preservation PA for consideration for the At-Risk list. Thank you for preparing the document so quickly and thoroughly. I will be in touch after our final meeting."

Two months later, I received a copy of the letter sent to the owner of the Broad Ford property.

Look at this picture with new eyes. See it as a Pennsylvania State Park with river access. Imagine one of these huge buildings as a theater, shining in the bright sunlight, with crowds of visitors filing in to see a big presentation marking the 200th Anniversary of Abraham Overholt's Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey. All the heavy work has been done. All the buildings have been reclaimed and renovated and refurbished. Many of the trees that took root during the years of abandonment have been saved, so that the grounds really do look like a park. Wildflowers are everywhere. The river is dressed up with avid boaters, and a couple riverboats from Pittsburgh are docked at the landing. A passenger train has arrived just in time, and dignitaries from local government are welcoming members of state government as they step down onto the platform.
There is laughter. There is excitement. There is a future.

Considering I have nothing and I am no one, help will have to come from many sources.

End of Changing the Course of History . . . go on to Broad Ford Safari,
or go back to the
first page of Karen's Branches.