Happy New Year 2005

InterOverholt Memo
Written by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, 1-5-05

Appearing in our first-ever formal family portrait:
James, Karen & Matthew Critchfield ~~ Photo by Olan Mills, 11-12-04

From Season's Greetings to Happy New Year!

Can you believe it is already the beginning of the New Year? Wasn't last New Year's Day just a few months ago? I have read articles about our expanding universe, about matter and dark matter, about how the galaxies are speeding farther and farther from each other at an ever-increasing rate. From my point of view, the way our days and our lives are fleeing by us, everything -- even the rapid pace of time -- verifies the gathering speed. And here we are with another New Year's Day scooting us into another calendar year! Let us pray that 2005 will bring us closer to real peace than we have approached in the past 365 days!

Evaluating The Past Year In Light Of Past Years

Like many American families, our family struggled to survive this past year, dealing with lost employment, scant unemployment checks, no health insurance, and bills left unpaid. We were distracted by personal debts and the National Debt, local politics, national politics and the politics of international crises, as well as the personal angst that springs from being both a faithful Sermon-On-The-Mount Christian and a citizen of a largely Old Testament country waging two foreign wars. We had to worry, because we had friends and relatives wearing military uniforms. We had to discuss the issues, because it was an election year. Long-cooled emotions about war and peace heated up, regenerated by spurious TV advertisements and the high-church/low-church brands of partisan oratory (or what passes for oratory in this microwave generation). Observing the panorama as a student of history, the old struggle between religious convictions and perceived national mandates made the brand new seem like deja vu. Family discussions became full-blown arguments, as individual opinions polarized along with those of their political parties. And when the votes were finally counted -- or left uncounted -- only bitterness reigned.

Thrashing Peaceful Coexistence

Throughout 2004, any news story about families separated by military deployments reminded me of my senior year in high school, and the young G.I. my mother let me date. He had a brilliant mind and a personality like a friendly puppydog. Then he was sent to Viet Nam, and when he came back, he was saddled with a bitter streak, so I no longer felt comfortable with him. The daily trials and tribulations of the military forced me to revisit the day my brother Michael got on a bus that would take him to Air Force basic training. It was after our high school graduation and during the Viet Nam war era, so I feared we would never see him again. Not long after that, my other two brothers were serving in the Air Force, too, often in the midst of very dangerous situations.

Several years before my brothers were old enough to enlist, our father served in Thailand when it was just another exotic tour of duty. He sent us postcards showing extraordinary temples gleaming with gold. But years later, our adoptive father was stationed in Thailand during the bad times, when the warfare of Southeast Asia spilled over into neighboring countries. He told us kids only one story when he returned -- an abbreviated account of saving the life of another G.I. attacked by a pack of wild dogs. I believe he earned a medal for that, but he never said much about it.

Naturally, any news about the Middle East brought back childhood memories of North Africa. With every report of Iraqi families and foreign nationals suffering the ravages of war, I remembered the revolution in Morocco. My family lived in Rabat when the Mohammed ben Youssef's soldiers took over the city. I remember there were military vehicles in the city streets, and Arab soldiers at a roadblock that prevented our school bus from taking us home, and my mother's relief when Michael and I finally arrived hours later than we should have. About that day, my Mom still says, "I didn't know if I would ever see you again; didn't know if you were alive or dead!" And there were armed soldiers -- Berbers -- watching our home for days on end, because they knew we were Americans. Each man carried a rifle and wore two bandoliers across his chest. Their beautiful Arabian stallions would be within arm's reach, and over a small fire their tea brewed in scavenged tin cans. It all happened right there in front of our house. I used to watch them from the small balcony of our second floor apartment. It was a time when stories shared amongst the grownups were in hushed voices, making it difficult for little children to learn what was going on. But we overheard enough to know the times were bad, and American families were being singled out for abuse by the locals. When we were transferred to Tripoli, Libya, there were American soldiers, sandbags and machine guns guarding our school busstop -- something I will never forget! Yes, my childhood was steeped in images of war, and no matter how many years I have been away from daily military life, I still identify with it, and never with as much poignancy as during this past year.

Becoming Politically Active

Year 2004 was so big for politics, and what a huge civics lesson we all had access to! For decades, I had been comfortable with my record as a conscientious voter, doing my best to educate myself about the issues, and casting my votes in as many elections as possible. During the last presidential campaign, I had been extremely attentive and just as wrapped up in the frustrations of counting hanging chads as everybody else, but the 2004 campaign demanded more from me. Not since the Viet Nam era had I felt so engaged in and enraged by American politics! And not since the Watergate era had I been willing to argue the issues with such conviction! Like many Americans, for me, the campaign of 2004 was a watershed year.

Like everybody else we knew, our family was affected by the stuff-and-nonsense, the soul-searching and the heady brews that were spun out month after month from the presidential primaries, national debates, and the daily blow-by-blow of a close election. C-Span and MSNBC and CNN, and Jibjab cartoons, and all kinds of news programs about all kinds of candidates -- these were our steady intellectual diet. As Election Day got nearer, I was no longer willing to be a spectator. This time around, I had to show up at a rally, and I had to work for my chosen presidential candidate, so I volunteered to take a poll house to house in our neighborhood, a physical exercise that took me two days, despite autumn wind and rain.

I even volunteered to be a poll watcher for the Voter Protection Program, spending a cold and rainy day inside an unheated local church, watching out for anything that might prevent citizens from exercising the right to vote. And when the doors were locked that evening, I stayed to observe as two antiquated Pennsylvania voting machines were accessed and then cranked back into the metal monoliths they become between elections. I witnessed the vote being tallied and verified, then rushed my piece of paper with the final Bush vs. Kerry count to a local headquarters. None of this had I ever done before, but in the end, my efforts played a small part in a tremendous exercise of grassroots energy! And it was so exhausting! But for the rest of my life, I will recommend that every American do what I did and more!

Ghosts Of Christmases Past

Reference #1: James Critchfield's 13th Portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge

For the thirteenth time, Jim portrayed the Scrooge we all love to hate and then have to love. The 2004 production of Ken Gargaro's A Lyrical Christmas Carol graced the stage of the Colonial Theater at Robert Morris University (December 16, 17, 18, 19). For those who are keeping score, the tally for Jim is 15 productions of Dickens' novella, 12 of those as Scrooge for Ken Gargaro's versions, and one as Scrooge for the Hope Academy version. And lest we forget, there was the 7-minute presentation of the entire story, told at breakneck speed by Santa's Elves, which was written by Jim, and incorporated into Primestage Theater's A Miracle on 34th Street, which Jim directed in December 2000. I just wanted to commend him for breathing new life into the character yet one more time, and teaching us how to honor Christmas in our hearts by living in the spirit of Christmas -- past, present and future -- all the years through!

Reference #2: Our Wedding & Matthew's Birthday & Our Home

The day after Christmas, 17 years ago, Jim and I were married in a church decorated with mistletoe and holly, evergreen trees and ornaments. The late afternoon of December 25, two years later, Jim brought me and Matthew (born December 21) home from the maternity ward to our Carrick apartment. There were high banks of snow that year, and I was hormonally frantic, thinking Jim would slip and drop the baby! He did neither, but neatly deposited the 9 lb. 15 oz. newborn into the basinette loaned to us by my brother and sister-in-law. Exactly two years later, we three left that apartment behind and moved into the house that has been our home ever since -- a fixer-upper that is firmly still in that catagory. But I have to admit, this old house has given us a place to call home, and I have never lived anywhere else for as many years in a row, which easily meets the criteria for a blessing. And for all our blessings, we are truly thankful!

Changes For Karen's Branches
New Web Page Location & New E-mail Address

Since we are discontinuing our American Online service, the current versions of the first four web pages I ever published (on Hometown AOL) will now be located at my GeoCities web site. Please make the following changes to the URLs on your Favorites list.

The Overholt Family

The Overholt Family Tree ~~ Karen's Branches

The Overholt Family Tree ~~ Karen's Branches, Page Two

The Overholt Family Tree ~~ Karen's Branches, Page Three

Also, please make note of my new e-mail address. Actually, it is an old e-mail address, and my first, but for now it will be the primary address for my Internet communications.


Fire At Broad Ford Overholt Distillery
New Ownership of Broad Ford Site

Newly published will be several web pages, which I hope will catch your attention. I have updated the news stories mentioning West Overton, covering the period from December 18 back to June 29, 2004 (showing the most recent article at the top). Some of the entries describe the devastating fire that occurred in one of the buildings at Broad Ford. Also, I have created Broad Ford in the News, expressly for all the published news stories I can find about Broad Ford and the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery. The news stories about the fire are included on both web pages. As you note the dates of the stories, you will see that the blaze occurred shortly after my visit to the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery, and after I received the news that the site had been included on the Preservation Pennsylvania Pennsylvania At Risk 2004 list. It was John Lipman who notified me, sending copies of the news stories by e-mail. To state the obvious, it was terribly upsetting to learn there was a big fire in one of the beautiful buildings I had just discovered. The target of the arson was identified as "a 200-by-500 foot building," a brick structure "that once housed the distillery's cafeteria." I do not know which building this could be, and the photos published with the stories did not make it clear which one was affected. I could only pray the A. Overholt & Sons Building was undamaged, because I really loved that one.

The newspaper articles mentioned that the owner of the site was Pechin Leasing Inc. of Dunbar, PA (aka Sullivan D'Amico), which was news to me. I did some research, made some phone calls, and (on the afternoon of October 29) managed to get the secretary of the owner on the phone. I introduced myself, explained why I was so interested in the facts about the fire, and even broke the news that, through my efforts, the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery had been included on the Pennsylvania At Risk 2004 list. I gave her the URL to my web site, so that she and the owner could see my work. I also mailed to her a copy of the Preserving Pennsylvania newsletter that presented the 2004 list. On Nov. 3, while I was pensively waiting to see John Kerry's concession speech, the owner's secretary phoned me, and said in part that he was interested in renovating the property as a historical site, and it was possible I could meet with him sometime in January 2005. I hope that meeting happens, and I hope he will allow me to be involved in the process of reclamation and renovation. Be assured, I will write about what does or does not occur.

Seated: John & Linda Lipman
Standing: Matthew, Karen & Jim Critchfield

Meeting John & Linda Lipman

The Critchfield family got to meet the Lipmans this past September, when John and Linda made a trip out this way from their home in Ohio to explore another historical site. They are the prolific authors of an ongoing chronicle about their treks to visit the birthplaces of American bourbon and whiskey. You will learn a great deal about distilling and distilleries from their web site.

American Whiskey
John & Linda Lipman's Adventures in Bourbon Country


We were happy to get together at a nearby slightly famous Italian restaurant on Highway 51, where we enjoyed good food and great conversation. A friendly waiter took this picture of us, and yes -- call me Munchkin, call me Hobbit -- I am really that short!

After dinner, we got into our cars and (through rush hour traffic), Jim led the Lipmans past our own neighborhood of Carrick and up the hill to the famous Outlook on Mt. Washington. We wanted them to see a really spectacular view of the city of Pittsburgh. If we had arrived earlier, the skyline would have looked something like the picture you see below.

"Daylights" adapted from Internet photo

However, when we reached the Outlook, dusk had deepened into a clear, crisp September night, so the view we had of Pittsburgh actually looked a lot like this picture below. We couldn't have picked a better night to be up there!

"Nightlights" adapted from Internet photo

It was time for us to whip out our cameras. John set up his tripod and neat little digital camera, and began to preserve memories of the visit with shots of the city and of us along the protective wrought-iron fence. It was fun to watch him in action. Of course, I had my one-time-use Kodak in hand, and managed to produce a couple pictures nice enough for this article.

. . . .

After that, we were happy to guide the Lipmans further into the South Hills to their lodging, where they would spend the night before continuing on their journey. Once settled, John pulled out an amazing gift that -- surprise -- was meant for me! It was a small handmade shelf, with photos of the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery, a hunk of yellow brick from the site, and card with the legend below. A new web page is in the works -- Lipman Found Bottle -- for my feature Found Bottles & Artifacts. It will provide a closer look at the bottle and the labels, front and back. I hope to get it online very soon.

Lipman Found Bottle & Display Shelf

In 1854, a commercial whiskey distillery was built at the Broad Ford
of the Youghiogheny River. Its product, A. Overholt & Co. whiskey,
would become Old Overholt, the most well-known rye whiskey ever made.

The piece of brick displayed here is from the remains of one of the older
buildings among the ruins of that distillery.

The Overholt distillery was rebuilt twice as upgrades with new buildings
in 1868 and 1899, and it was rebuilt two other times after major fires in
1884 and 1905. Unlike all but a handful of distillers, the facility not only
survived National Prohibition (1920-1934) but continued to produce
Old Overholt rye whiskey, under license for medicinal purposes, during
those years. After prohibition's repeal, the distillery was operated by
National Distillers, Schenley, and Jim Beam. And, although now made
in Kentucky, it remains (in 2004) one of the top rye whiskeys in the world.

-both photos WQED

Note that the cover of Things We've Made includes a shot of the Overholt Distillery at West Overton, there in the lower left corner.

Meeting Rick Sebak

There was one other person invited to join the Lipmans at the slightly famous Italian restaurant on Highway 51 -- Rick Sebak -- but other responsibilities made it necessary for him to decline. I had spoken to him by phone last spring, when I was planning my trip to Broad Ford. He was "the famous producer of Public Television shows about things that aren't here anymore" that I mentioned in my feature, Broad Ford Safari. He has been producing television programs for Pittsburgh's WQED and PBS for several years, the most popular being the 17 shows (at last count) that make up the Pittsburgh History Series. Among the most memorable titles in this series are Kennywood Memories, Flying Off The Bridge To Nowhere! And Other Tales Of Pittsburgh Bridges, and Things That Aren't There Anymore.

In our phone conversation, I learned Rick and his crew had already been to Broad Ford to film what was left of the Overholt Distillery. He had planned to highlight the history of Abraham Overholt and the Pennsylvania whiskey industry at some length in his program, Things We've Made. But during the course of production, the show had moved in another direction, so they had been able to use only a small portion of the film that had been shot at Broad Ford. He expressed his desire to produce something more about the subject sometime in the future.

When the Christmas season was upon us, I visited the WQED web site, so I could order a copy of Things We've Made, because I had missed seeing it on TV. It was then that I found a page showing Rick Sebak's December public relations schedule. I printed the page and marked all the stores and locations that I had even the slightest chance of getting to, determined to meet him before the PR activity ended. And this had to be accomplished when Jim was not in rehearsal, or teaching, or attending a meeting -- you know, with the family car.

On the evening of December 11, while Matthew was rehearsing Christmas plays at church, I got Jim to drive me to the mall, so I could meet Rick Sebak. It was late and holiday traffic slowed us down, so he was dropping me off just minutes before the personal appearance was scheduled to be over. Since we go to the mall only rarely, I did not know where to find the correct bookstore. Was it on the first or second level? Had Jim brought me to the entrance farthest away from my goal? I was breathless when I found the place, and luckily, he was still there, seated at a small table, signing autographs and handing out free posters of his latest program, It's the Neighborhoods. I waited my turn, then offered my hand, saying my name and hoping he would remember me. He remembered!

We talked a bit about his shows and the ones I had seen, and he autographed another copy of Things We've Made, which I needed to replace the one our DVD player had ruined. I told him about the fire at Broad Ford and the little bit I knew about the new owner of the site. He was familiar with Pechin Shopping Village, having been there once. Another lady stopped to join the conversation, and then a few more people gathered around. Good manners demanded that I make room for the other fans, so I moved on, going to pay for my new DVD. As I left the store, I waved to Rick Sebak, happy to have finally met him.

You may wish to get your own copy of Things We've Made, because it does have a short piece about West Overton Museums and the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery. If you are interested in Clayton, the Pittsburgh home of Henry Clay Frick, it is highlighted in another of Rick's programs, Houses Around Here. Visit the WQED web site to see discriptions of all the shows and order online.

WQED Multimedia

New Web Pages & Those On The Way

West Overton News 2004b

Along with the publication of this web page, please note that the West Overton in the News feature has been updated by adding an additional page for articles published from December 18 back to June 29, 2004 (West Overton News 2004b). In this group of articles, you will see that Grant Gerlich has been energetically drumming a steady beat via the local press, in his effort to make West Overton Museums accessible to more visitors than ever before. Please attend to those paragraphs in the articles that outline the board's current agenda. I believe it is important for us to understand what is planned for the immediate and far-flung future of West Overton. Certainly, on many points, the efforts of Grant Gerlich and the folks who run the site are to be commended, for they are faced with tremendous challenges and a neverending need for adequate funding.

However, there have been a few new wrinkles that have given me pause. A stronger alliance appears to be developing between West Overton Museums and Pittsburgh's Clayton. And the historic inaccuracies between Frick-facts and Overholt-facts are still problematic. This past October's Halloween-type activities regarding possible wandering Overholt spirits made me uncomfortable, because I consider the property (for religious reasons) to be hallowed ground, and it was questionable whether the Mennonite community would appreciate the association with Halloween. Nevertheless, judging by Grant Gerlich's explanation in newsprint, there seemed to be a valid historic angle to the event, and (as I related to him in an e-mail) I believed he would handle the situation with care, showing respect to the Overholt Family, stressing (I hoped) the religious beliefs of the Mennonites and other people of faith who once lived there. In an e-mail message, he wrote, "we are approaching it from a historical perspective with decorum."

Broad Ford In The News

As mentioned above, I am publishing a web page to highlight news stories pertaining to the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery. The company that now owns the site, Pechin Leasing Inc. of Dunbar, PA, and Sullivan "Sully" D'Amico, who owns Pechin Shopping Village, will also be highlighted. Again, I believe it is important for us to understand what may be planned for the immediate and far-flung future of the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery site. I would be happy to hear from anybody who would be willing to help me in my efforts to secure a good future for what remains of the enterprise and ingenuity of Abraham Overholt and the Extended Overholt Family.

Visiting Abraham Stauffer's Homestead House

The "other" photographs taken on the day Susan Karas and I visited the Broad Ford Overholt Distillery have been awaiting their own web page, and I intend to get this accomplished very soon. You will see that this ancestral home is remarkable for many reasons, the least of which is that Abraham Overholt must have used it as a template for his own Homestead House at West Overton. And why not? He must have wanted to impress his wife, Maria Stauffer Overholt, with a house that was one better than her father's.

Reading Headstones At Deep Run

No, I did not get to go all the way to the Deep Run Mennonite Church, Bedminster Township, Bucks County, Eastern Pennsylvania, to see the stones that mark the last remains of my ancestors. That was what the Lipmans did -- John and Linda -- those two star trekkers who seek out new encounters with old distilleries in their neverending quest to highlight the historically great American distillers. If you will recall from a previous article, the Lipmans used to live in a house near Deep Run, a house they are sure was owned by an Overholt family. This time around, since they were visiting nearby, they decided to look for the cemetery that they knew was in the area but had never visited. The photographs were the result of that visit and they are stunning. The jpegs of Overholt and Oberholtzer headstones were gifted to me, and will be shared online soon.

A Belated Christmas Card To Everybody

I began working on this web page the first week of December, and spent a lot of time creating the card below. However, daily chores and many commitments pulled me away, and the time sped by, so that Christmas Day and New Year's Day came and went. Still, I wanted to share with everybody my visual poem, One (which is supposed to look like a candle), and wish everybody the very best throughout Year 2005. May the blessings ever increase!


One God
One Spirit

One Creation

One Star
One World

One Time
One Place

One Woman
One Child

One Message
Peace on earth to men of good will.

-K. R. Overholt Critchfield,


Merry Mary Christmas!

END OF PAGE -- Return to the first page of Karen's Branches.