Broad Ford Aerial History
Compiled & Written by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, August 28, 2009
With Thanks To Jeffrey Antol & Penn Pilot

Broad Ford, PA - June 26, 1939 (apv110-89) - Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Historic Photographs from Penn Pilot

With a timely e-mail from my Internet friend, Jeffrey Antol, I was made aware of a great new resource, Penn Pilot, an online library of historic aerial photography sponsored by the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, supported by Pennsylvania State Archives, and hosted online by Pennsylvania State University. Presented here are several photographs from the past that show Broad Ford from the air, but they are cropped versions of the huge and amazingly detailed historic aerial photographs that are available at Penn Pilot (see Broad Ford Views 2 for more details). My thanks to Jeffrey Antol, for his expertise in utilizing this amazing resource, and to all those who worked to build this wonderful web site. And special thanks back to the past for the aerial photographers whose work produced these amazing pictorial archives!

Penn Pilot
Photo Centers --

The first Penn Pilot aerial picture shown above, taken on June 26, 1939, is a cropped version of the really large photograph that will come up for you, if you click on a particular red dot on a grid. Other dots represent other pictures taken in the same time period -- the available eras being 1937-1942, 1957-1962, and 1967-1972. The 1957-1962 records have only recently been added, so we will have to check back periodically to see if more eras have been added.

Photograph of the Broad Ford Distillery Complex, c. 1942

Above is a photo you have seen on my web site before, a picture reportedly dated from the late 1930s to the early 1940s. Since the photographer and the actual date are unknown, it cannot be given a proper notation.

In the left central area, we can see the elevated train track and a couple stone piers that supported it -- the base of the one to the right of the central tree is painted white. Would the trains in that time period even fit on that span? Perhaps the elevated track was not even being used in 1939, and it remained on site as a relic of the past.

Notice the track that curves toward Warehouse I and the attached Bottling House in the lower right corner. Trains using that track would stop right there and take on loads of bottled spirits, probably in the wooden crates often found for sale on Ebay. The long arc of track that skirts the whole complex has been modernized, and is being used today by the CSX Railroad.

Below is an additionally cropped and enlarged version of the June 26 aerial photograph, which gives us a closer aerial view of the entire A. Overholt and Company distillery complex as it existed at Broad Ford in 1939.

What I cannot figure out is where the outlet for the elevated track was located, for it appears to end in a patch of grass and trees. Were trains coming into the complex engine-first, only to back up out of it? Or was there a stretch of track that followed the road to the northeast as part of A. O. Tinstman's Mount Pleasant & Broad Ford Railroad? More research is needed here.

Broad Ford, PA - June 26, 1939 (apv110-89-Detail) - Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Your guess is as good as mine, but upon closer inspection (and mindful that I am a rank amateur), the picture above may have been taken on a very bright day with lots of reflecting sunlight, or perhaps the photographer wanted a stark contrast between the water, terrain and buildings. Or maybe this is a shot of a flood -- in June -- because to me, it appears to show a flood along the Youghiogheny River. Initially, a flood scenario seemed doubtful, until the Pittsburgh area suffered serious flooding just this past June 2009, when several days of heavy rains caused a whole lot of damage, and prompted several emergency rescues to save people from imminent death by drowning in their own city streets. Therefore, the possibility of a flood occurring in June is not so unlikely. After all, the National Park Service identified Broad Ford as being "situated on the Youghiogheny River floodplain."

The next shot below was taken on the same day, and it still looks like a flood to me. And notice that many of the pictures display solid line tracings along the length, or a portion of the length, of the Swinging Bridge across the Youghiogheny River and beyond, to where I do not believe the footbridge actually extended. To me, the lines look like they were added later, possibly drawn by hand. Perhaps someone was proposing that a bridge, road or railroad track be built along that route, because the stone supports used for the Swinging Bridge were originally built to support a railroad track that linked both sides of the river. That track would have been active when coal and coke were being transported during the days when a grandson of master distiller Abraham Overholt was making a name for himself -- "Coke King" Henry Clay Frick.

Broad Ford, PA - June 26, 1939 (apv110-88) - Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Shown below, another aerial photograph was taken at a slightly different angle on July 2, 1939, less than a month later, and the quality is much better. In this one, the fields appear to have returned to normal, and the only suggestion of high water is found at the southernmost tip of the island.

Broad Ford, PA - July 2, 1939 (apv111-30)- Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Broad Ford, PA - July 2, 1939 (apv111-30-Detail)- Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Below, you will see three different views that show Broad Ford in July 1959. Then there are two views taken in 1967, taken on November 11 of that year -- a date that now carries such a strong association with recent national disasters. I made another closer detail shot of the 1967 distillery complex. To me, it is fascinating to see how the whole area changed with the passing years, and how a few things remained the same. For instance, it appears the distillery buildings were kept in excellent condition and the grounds were always well-maintained clear to the river's edge. However, just forty years after the 1967 photos were taken, only a few structures remain at the site. Compare these pictures to the ones you will see in the latest web page additions to my Aerial Photographs series (Broad Ford Views 2, 3, 4 and 5). They show what the site looked like from the air in recent times, up until this past spring, when more buildings were dismantled.

Broad Ford, PA - July 7, 1959 (apv2v-78) - Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Broad Ford, PA - July 7, 1959 (apv2v-91) - Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Broad Ford, PA - July 7, 1959 (apv2v-92) - Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Broad Ford, PA - September 11, 1967 (apv1hh-212) - Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Broad Ford, PA - September 11, 1967 (apv1hh-198) - Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Broad Ford, PA - September 11, 1967 (apv1hh-198-Detail) - Penn Pilot Photo Centers

Thinking Over Lost Time and Times

Looking over the once-enormous industrial complex that was the A. Overholt and Company distillery in times-gone-by, it is easy to see how much history has been lost. Today, what we have left of the site is a study of disintegration and disillusion, primarily due to the systematic removal of anything worth salvaging, the neglect of several property owners, and the trespass of locals who engaged in major acts of vandalism (see Broad Ford Dismantled, Broad Ford Distressed and Broad Ford Forsaken). Too bad we have no pictures of the grounds and interiors taken in an era when the company and its product were valued and respected by the community -- by the world, really. And if anybody out there has any such photographs, please contact me, okay?

As for myself, when putting these photos into the context of my own lifetime, the first shot above was taken almost exactly ten years before my birth (in Pittsburgh, June 16, 1949), and the September 11, 1967, photo was taken only a few months after my high school graduation (in Goldsboro, North Carolina). Remembering the modest collection of hopes and dreams held close to my heart, back when I was a fresh-faced high school graduate (when I wanted to be a writer and singer, or a singer and writer, or both.), and well, it was just too bad that back then, I knew nothing about the existence of the Overholt Distillery complex at Broad Ford. It would have been wonderful to see the buildings before they entered such hard times.

So, How Much is Left?

How much damage has occurred since the National Park Service published their 1990 HABS/HAER report on the A. Overholt and Company Distillery at Broad Ford? Pardon my mournful s-i-g-h-h-h! After a careful examination of the historic aerial photographs, and the modern versions we now have from several different sources, the following is a graphic (using one of the 1967 aerial photos), created to indicate which buildings are now gone (orange) and which are still standing (blue outlines). The southernmost structure at the end of Distillery Road looked to have been two connected buildings, so the blue dashes show the original size of the presently existing structure. The other set of blue dashes are meant to show where there may have been two buildings -- the boiler house and engine room. I have not been to Broad Ford recently, and cannot claim total accuracy regarding the number of remaining buildings, but as we can see, not much is left.

Broad Ford Graphic Showing Lost & Existing Buildings - created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield 2009

Anyone who has any information about when a building was lost, please let me know the details, and the graphic will be updated.

Below is a portion of the text from the National Park Service survey, the whole report can be found on my Table of Contents, listed as HABS/HAER Report on Broad Ford (1990). The bold accents and other editorial embellishments are mine.

Excerpts From HABS/HAER Report on Broad Ford

A. Overholt and Company
Current Name: Frank Drisedt Inc.
On Youghiogheny River off SR 1038, Broad Ford, Dunbar Twp.

Construction Dates: 1853, 1867, 1899

DESCRIPTION: The Overholt Distillery is situated on the Youghiogheny River floodplain in the town of Broad Ford. The complex consists of an office building, granary and grain elevators connected by conveyor to a series of joined buildings -- the boiler house and engine room, distillery and fermenting houses, machine shop, and drying house -- and a number of warehouses and bottling houses. (Building names used in this description are derived from the 1947 National Distillers Products Corp. map of A. Overholt and Co., Inc.)

The three-story, stretcher-bond yellow brick office, built ca. 1930, has a flat roof and rests on a reinforced-concrete foundation. It has brick pilasters and corbelling at the foundation and hinged windows with concrete sills.

The buildings in which the grain was prepared and distilled stretch along the Youghiogheny at the southwest side of the complex. The six-story tall grain elevators are enclosed in a stretcher-bond yellow brick structure, the upper two stories of which are corrugated metal with a steel roof truss.

Resting on a reinforced-concrete foundation, the elevator has six-over-six-light double-hung sash windows with gauged voussoirs and stone lintels. A single-story corrugated metal structure which tops the seven 58' high granary bins connects the elevator with the bins. The granaries are lined with steel and faced with header-bond brick. A steel frame conveyor for moving the grain spans the distance north to where it enters the dynamo building at the third floor level; it runs over the two-story boiler house, which is a flat-roofed stretcher-bond yellow brick building on a stone and concrete foundation. A tall stack of header-bond yellow tile brick with geometric brick work and corbelling is immediately south of the boiler house.

The distillery is connected to the boiler house by a two-story dynamo, mill, and office addition built in 1907.The distillery, built ca. 1880, is five stories tall, of stretcher-bond yellow brick on a stone foundation. The building has a steel frame structural system with a flat roof of composition paper, brick corbelling and dentil work on the fourth floor, and multipane double-hung sash windows with triple voussoirs and fanlights on the first and fourth floors. "A. OVERHOLT & CO." is carved in stone and set over the entrance between the first and second stories. On the distillery's south side there are pads from the alcohol column building. Attached to the north of the distillery is the old fermenting house, a two-story, stretcher-bond yellow brick structure on an ashlar foundation. The old fermenting house has a flat roof, multipane double-hung sash windows, the lower level of which are infilled, and an exterior sign that reads: "U S Internal Revenue Bonded Warehouse No. 3 Distillers Products Sales Corporation." Attached to and set back from this building is the new fermenting house [Fermenting House Annex].

The machine shop and drying house are attached to the new fermenting house. Of stretcher-bond yellow brick, these buildings are one and three stories high, the machine shop has a monitor roof, and pads for a Dorr thickening tank and stillage tanks are adjacent to the drying house.

Other than a 36' diameter metal cistern on steel trestles -- designed and erected by Bollinger-Andrews Construction Company of Verona, PA -- the remainder of the structures in the Overholt Distillery complex are warehouses, in which the whiskey was stored while it aged, and buildings in which the product was bottled and stored. From roughly south to north, they are:

-- bonded warehouse B, a three-story common-bond red brick building that measures 77' x 100', has a gable roof of tin, sits on a stone foundation and has infilled windows;

-- free warehouse A, a common-bond red brick building, two stories tall with a tin roof and corbelled chimney and brick pilasters and corbelling -- a garage door has been added to its south side;

-- bonded warehouse H, an eight-story, common-bond yellow brick building measuring 120' x 150' which rests on a reinforced-concrete foundation with red brick beltcourses at its cornice and foundation. It has vertical rows of windows with red brick architraves and iron doors, on each floor of the south side, and painted in white on the exterior wall "Overholt Co. Inc. Broad Ford, PA USA Old Overholt . . . Whiskey 100 Proof." The interior has oak floors, eight-story numbered wood racks, and terra cotta walls;

-- bonded warehouse C, a seven-story (176' high) common-bond red brick building that measures 137' x 142', has double iron doors with double voussoirs and bracket doors with iron lintels. The southeast end of warehouse C contained a bonding room; the entire structure was built in 1899;

-- bonded bottling house and case warehouse of common-bond red brick, one story high and measuring 128' x 66' overall with the warehouse 66' x 66', a gable roof with wood rafters and metal ventilators, resting on a stone foundation with a timber, post-and-beam structural system and multipane double-hung sash windows with double voussoirs, fanlights, stone sills and metal bars and shutters;

-- bonded warehouse D, constructed in 1909, an eight-story, common-bond red brick building that measures 163' x 114' and has vertical rows of multipane double-hung sash windows with triple voussoirs and metal shutters;

-- bonded case warehouse I and tax paid case warehouse, a two-story common-bond red brick building, spanning Galley Run, and added to the bottling house ca. 1935, on a reinforced-concrete foundation with glass-block windows and a loading dock with double iron doors that once opened onto the B&O tracks;

[Karen's Note: The blueprints that I have includes "SHEET 20 - Bottling House of Bonded Warehouse I" and "SHEET 23 - Dumping & Reducing Room of Bonded Warehouse I," which was the warehouse attached to the still extant Bottling House. Judging from newspaper photographs, and recent shots by Flickr photographer cjb19772009, it appears the Bottling House, located at the northwestern corner of the distillery complex and skirted by the railroad tracks, was the actual site of the fire of October 14, 2004, reported to be in the "distillery cafeteria." My thanks to cjb for clearing up that mystery!]

-- only the brick foundation with concrete footers remains from bonded warehouse F, which was destroyed by fire in 1987 -- it was also on the north side of Galley Run.

Two of the residences [There were more than two?] owned by the Overholt Company are on Connellsville Road. One red brick, two-and-a-half story residence has a gable roof with chimneys, a stone foundation, and dates to ca. 1840. Adjacent to this structure is a one-and-a-half story red brick house.

. . . . . The first expansion at the Broad Ford Distillery began in 1867, and by 1868 a four-story building measuring 112' x 66' had been constructed . . . . . Passing through the complex on an elevated steel trestle with concrete piers was the P&LE Railroad. The B&O tracks are situated to the northeast.

. . . . . In 1899, the entire plant was reconstructed and the rack warehouses completed. . . . . By 1935, the Overholt Company employed 217 people at Broad Ford and the corporate offices had moved to New York City. Six years later, employment had dropped to 199 people. . . . . By 1942, the cooper shop and state shed had been demolished and a 141' x 60' employee recreation building that included a bowling alley had been constructed. This building is no longer extant.

- Taken from Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record
America's Industrial Heritage Project
National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., 1990

[Karen's Note: The NPS report states that the "tax paid case warehouse" was attached to the Bottling House ca. 1935, and that it had glass-block windows and a loading dock with double iron doors that once opened onto the B&O tracks -- no letter designation was mentioned for this building. The report did not mention two other warehouses. The blueprints that I have includes drawings of a bonded warehouse E, which was five stories high and seems to match the roof of the building labeled E in my graphic. Warehouse F was said to be located "on the north side of Galley Run." So which building was warehouse G? Since there were warehouses designated F, H and I, there must have been a warehouse G, right? The graphic shows my guesses, but if anybody has information that will clarify this issue, please let me know. Nevertheless, it may be safe to assume that the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery included at least nine major warehouse structures. Once. But not anymore.]

~~ Afterthought ~~

Standing Beside the Small Engine - Photograph by K. R. Overholt Critchfield 2004

The Conveyor Engine?

In the NPS photo above, when I was busy highlighting the steel frame conveyor, it seemed to me that maybe some kind of machine was nestled on the track. I began to wonder, how did the grain get transferred? Was it done by a moving conveyor belt? Or was there a device that got filled up with grain and then did the actual conveying along the long track to the third floor of the Distillery Building? Would it have had to operate in both rain or shine? My curiosity grew because I remembered finding what appeared to be a small train engine, a miniature of some sort, during my Broad Ford Safari, back in the summer of 2004. Looking now at the picture of this engine, maybe it is part of the conveyor device that is just barely visible in the NPS photo. I wonder if it can still be found somewhere on the premises, right there where I found it? I hope so.

See More Photos

I hope the information given on this page has been helpful in showing how much history has been lost at Broad Ford, and how fragile the future is for those buildings that remain. You are cordially invited to be enlightened further by seeing more photographs in this new Broad Ford series. Broad Ford Dismantled shows the effects of the dismantling of the last-standing, huge bonded warehouse and other buildings that occurred this past spring, featuring the photography of "cjb19772009," who publishes his work on the Flickr photo sharing web site. In Broad Ford Distressed, cjb shows us the current conditions of what is left at the site, and Broad Ford Forsaken reveals cjb as a contemplative artist studying abandonment and desolation in the haunted remains of the Overholt Distillery complex. And then be sure to visit the new pages of Broad Ford Views, consisting of a collection of all the best bird's eye views of Broad Ford that could be found on the World Wide Web.

Go on to the second page, Broad Ford Aerial History, Page 2.

Go on to Broad Ford Dismantled, or the first page of Broad Ford Distressed,
or to the first page of Broad Ford Forsaken, Inside Looking Out.

Go on to Broad Ford Views 2, the first of several new pages in the Views series.

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