Critchfield Bell
Photograph by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, 1999
Written by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, August 8, 2001
~~ Updated & Renovated 10-22-08 ~~

This bell is located in Abraham Overholt's OLD FARM Distillery Building, which is now used as a museum and is part of West Overton Museums at West Overton, PA. I do not know how long the bell has been on site, when it was donated, or who donated it. The inscription on the surface of the bell reads as follows.

Cast by A. Fulton and son, Co.
Pittsburgh, PA A.D. 1877
Western Penna. Classical and Scientific Institute
Mount Pleasant, PA
Cast in 1842 - recast in 1877
Ordered by N.B. Critchfield, Treas
August, 1877

The bell is on display because, as reported by Rodney Sturtz, when he was the Director of West Overton Museums (he is now deceased), "The Western PA Classical and Scientific Institute was the school H. C. Frick went to -- to study business, writing and 'arts.' It was a major 'college' in its day; very exclusive."

Matthew Critchfield points to the Critchfield name.
Photograph by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, c. 6-20-1999

Who was N. B. Critchfield? And What Happened to the Institute?

Good questions. I found a passing reference to N. B. Critchfield in the "History of Mount Pleasant," an article on the town's web site, but I found more information at the really terrific Historic Pittsburgh, the Digital Research Library of the University of Pittsburgh [see URL below], where it is possible to see historic documents, publications, maps, photographs, etc. I have visited this site many times, doing reseach on various Overholts, Stauffers, Tinstmans and Critchfields. First, you bring up the site's Search page, then using the "Simple Search," type in a name (in this case, Critchfield) and you get a page of links to different documents. In the source, Annals of southwestern Pennsylvania, by Lewis Clark Walkinshaw, Vol. 3 [c 1939], not only did I find a connection between Overholts and Critchfields, but I also learned something about the Institute.

From Chapter X. Education (pp. 247-248)

"The Western Pennsylvania Classical and Scientific Institute at Mount Pleasant was incorporated on march 15, 1871, and its doors were opened for students about the fall of 1872. According to the best records attainable, the Reverend Adie Kyle Bell, D.D., one of the incorporators, and one-time pastor of the Sandusky Street Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, was the first principal . . . . There were but three presidents of the board of trustees: Christian S. Overholt, 1871-1907; James S. Braddock, 1907-29; and Dr. Byron M. Loar, 1929-36 . . . .

"Through the years many prominent western Pennsylvanians have been trustees of the institution: C. S. Overholt, the Reverend N. B. Critchfield, J. L. Shallenberger, Dr. J. H. Clark, B. F. Overholt, Henry Clay Frick, A. O. Tintsman [sic] . . . The trustees in office at the date of the merger were . . . Ernest M. Overholt, Scottdale . . . John M. Stauffer, Scottdale . . . .

"After a long period of usefulness this institution had to close its work for lack of students. It discovered that Bucknell University at Lewisburg had a similar charter, and negotiations were started to merge the two institutions . . . Western Pennsylvania Classical and Scientific Institute lives in the greater merged institution, housed in the beautiful grounds and buildings on the banks of the Susquehanna, and with an equipment, faculty, and leadership well adapted to call forth, concentrate, increase, and render effective the cultivation of sound learning."

In Chapter XI. The Public Schools (p. 272), the Reverend N. B. Critchfield is listed as one of Somerset County's early county school superintendents, serving from 1866 to 1869, adding, "he later becoming Secretary of Agriculture of the State of Pennsylvania, and an active Baptist minister at Turkeyfoot Church, and elsewhere."

Elsewhere in Annals of southwestern Pennsylvania (p.468), I found an article about Frank R. Coder, who was a member of the Somerset County Bar and practiced law before the State Superior and Supreme courts, and in 1929, became a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was born in 1887, in Somerset County, the son of Joseph R. and Mary (Critchfield) Coder. Mary Critchfield Coder was the daughter of Joseph Critchfield and Harriet (King) Critchfield, and was the sister of "Norman B. Critchfield, formerly Secretary of Agriculture of the State of Pennsylvania."

I encourage everyone to visit Historic Pittsburgh for lots of fascinating information.

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