InterOverholt Memorandum

TO: The Extended Overholt Family
FROM: Karen Rose Overholt Critchfield
RE: Discovery of My Uncle’s Family;
Visit to West Overton;
Proposal For a Future Project
DATE: April 28, 2000

Hello, all! I hope the Easter Season visited your homes with some much-needed love and joy, and renewed your expectations for a happier future! For most of my life, very special things have happened at Easter, and this year was no exception. In fact, during this year's Season of Redemption, I received a short e-mail from my long, lost uncle’s widow. Simultaneously, I reaped both joy and sorrow, my elation being tempered by the regret that my Uncle Ralph’s death occurred as recently as 1990! I could have met him, if I had only known where he was! But now I know about my Aunt Joan, my cousin Brenda Sue, and all the extended family (and there are many!) that my immediate family never knew existed! This is a blessing, and I really hope that these efforts to reestablish contact between members of the Extended Overholt Family via the Internet will benefit all of us! May each individual family be similarly blessed!

RE: West Overton April 14th Dinner

I managed to attend the 200th Anniversary Dinner held at West Overton, meant to celebrate the dedication of the newly restored brick stock barn, and to commemorate the arrival (in 1800) of Henry “Overhold” Oberholtzer and his extended family, who survived the tedious journey from Bucks County, and who earned recognition as being a pre-eminent pioneering family in Westmoreland County and founders of West Overton.

My husband, Jim, planned to drive me to the dinner, then take Matthew out to eat at a local restaurant. Because of busy Friday afternoon traffic, highway construction barriers, and backed-up traffic, we arrived at the stock barn a half-hour late, so I missed what was said for the dedication. Rodney Sturtz and a woman reporter (her notebook and pen in hand) were standing at the entrance, engaged in conversation, but everyone else was milling around inside, enjoying some nice snacks and wandering upstairs to the loft to check out the few farming relics that are the first pieces of this new branch of the museum. Frankly, as my husband waited for me to debark our (newly leased -- and his pride and joy) Chevy Tracker, and as I shouldered my purse and struggled with my heavy bookbag, I was not too sure who the man being interviewed was, since I hadn’t seen Mr. Sturtz enough times to be familiar. And I didn’t feel comfortable breaking into their conversation, so after a brief question about what was going on inside, I just braced myself and joined the others, hoping to meet someone I knew.

It was not a large crowd -- maybe fifty people -- mostly locals, I believe, and people who were directly or indirectly involved with the activities at West Overton, plus a couple of politicians (one was a state senator). As advertised, the author of the latest book about Henry Clay Frick (Martha Frick Symington Sanger) was present, and there were a few actual Overholts among the visitors. There was, of course, no one I knew. Truth be told, I’m not a person who can just walk into a crowded room and immediately engage in pleasant conversation -- I have to warm up to it. But I had “a mission” being there, so I found an empty table, set down my heavy load, and went over to the buffet table to get a plate of fruit and glass of iced tea.

When I returned to the table, I discovered an elder lady and her adult daughter, who welcomed me and we began to talk. It was a pleasant surprise to find they were related to the Overholts through Elizabeth Stauffer Overholt Frick (1819-1905). It was a very nice, but short visit, as we talked a little about family and a little about author Sanger, who had autographed their copy of her book. If I understand her published family tree, Martha and I are contemporaries. She’s only a few years older than I am, and we are the same distance away from Abraham Overholt, but on different branches. But I wasn’t sure I wanted her autograph. I wanted her to remember me as a cousin and a contemporary.

After a short while, people began to leave and make their way over to the Distillery Building, where the dinner was to be served. Before I left, I climbed the stairs to see the display on the loft. Earlier, when I saw Martha Sanger in the crowd, I decided she looked like a nice lady. She seemed to be approachable, friendly, and surrounded by interested fans -- too many fans for me to approach. But when I saw her in a corner of the loft, being questioned by the same woman reporter (notebook and pen still busy), I took a deep breath and walked over.

“I just wanted to say hello --” I began. She nodded, but said, “Could you wait just a minute?” And I knew I was interrupting, which was bad manners, so I backed off, and went over to look at the farming antiques, feeling terribly embarrassed. After a few moments, I took the stairs down to retrieve my heavy bags and headed toward the Distillery. The day was so warm and bright, but clouds were beginning to shadow the sky. I found a good place to take a couple pictures of the newly refurbished brick barn, planning to share them with my Internet respondents. Then, when I got to the gathering, the tables were filling rapidly, and those with a few seats empty were being “saved” for others. So, I found an empty table at the far side of the room and unloaded my heavy, heavy bags beside a chair.

Imagine my delight when another woman came over and asked if she could join me! “Yes, please! I’m here alone and I don’t know anybody!” And so was she! And then a man bobbed over (from the table where he sat alone) and we two welcomed him! A bit later, another man joined us and we had a happy foursome! And the company was very enjoyable throughout the whole dinner. The woman turned out to be from Pittsburgh, and she was involved with the Open Stage Theatre, whose company was staging a new play about Henry Clay Frick, J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller.

“Pandemonium” is playing April 27 - May 20

at the Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA.

Call (412) 257-4056 for information!

The first man who sat down had grown up in the West Overton area, but currently lives in another state, where he works in landscaping. He said members of his family were distantly related to some of the Overholts. He recently visited Broad Ford, said the country around there was beautiful, and talked about exploring the Old Overholt Distillery buildings that were still standing. He might go back and take some photographs of the site, and I asked him to pass some on to me, so that I could put them on the Internet. I hope to hear back from him soon.

The second man who joined us is a roofer by trade, and he had stories to tell about the buildings in the surrounding area that he had worked on, some of them historical sites. The two men had a good time talking about their related endeavors, doing work that was integral to refurbishing great old buildings. And we women added to the conversation, and enjoyed our own “sidebar” chat, both of us being connected to the Theatre (for my husband is a well-known actor and director), and I recently had a phone conversation with the woman who is directing “Pandemonium,” Ruth Willis (who knows Jim). [In fact, I keep asking Ruth if she is related to my grandmother, Esther Willis, who was also a thespian.]

After dinner, we had to scatter, carrying our chairs into the center of the room, so that we could properly see the evening’s program. First, though, Rodney Sturtz called members of his staff and the Board of Directors to the stage to acknowledge all their hard work. Much to my surprise, the roofer who sat at our table was a member of the Board! Next, there were two presentations regarding West Overton -- one from a state senator, who read a document commemorating Henry Oberholtzer’s arrival with his family, etc. Hearing the text of that document made me feel a chill of pride and admiration for my ancestors, and I was very glad to be present. The senator mentioned that the document had been approved by a unanimous vote. That was a nice touch. There was a framed document signed by Governor Ridge on the wall, but I didn’t get a chance to look at it. I wish I could’ve gotten copies of documents, or just the text, in order to share the experience. [I have yet to see a newspaper account of the evening’s events. If I find one, I will pass along the information.]

Anyway, it appears West Overton has gradually become an important place to some local and state politicians, but I don’t know the extent of it. I am not privy to the plans of the folks who run West Overton, but I did see a colorful drawing depicting future renovations of existing buildings. At dinner, when I brought up my old idea about setting up the old relic loom and (using the patterns Abraham and his siblings used) making blankets of the kind made long ago at West Overton and sold to wagon trains of settlers going West, the roofer said there were plans to do exactly that. My idea included selling the Overholt blankets to visitors at West Overton, but I don’t know if that is part of the existing plan.

This brings my narrative to the part where I share my proposal.

RE: My Jim Beam Brands Proposal

During dinner, I talked at length about my recent efforts to engage the Jim Beam company in a project I had proposed. In fact, the reason my bags were so heavy was because I had brought along two copies of the entire proposal I had written and sent to the president of Jim Beam Brands. I was hoping to get a chance to talk to Rodney Sturtz about it. The proposal had been rejected at Jim Beam, but I still believe the idea is sound, so I talked about it during dinner, fighting the urge to pull out the notebooks while we were still eating (which would have been extremely bad manners). Instead, I told about my letters to Jim Beam Brands, about the telephone call I received from the President of the company, about his question, “Do you want to buy the trademark?” and my timid answer, “I don’t think I can do that!”

But the president gave me permission to send him a proposal, and I spent months putting it together. The result wasn’t the usual type of proposal, since I am not a business person. Instead, it became “background material,” based upon a report I found years ago in the Genealogy section of the Pennsylvania Room at the Carnegie Library in Oakland (the section of the city where the University of Pittsburgh is located). The author of the report (or speech) remains unknown, but it relates a great deal about Abraham’s whiskey business, so I did a great deal of work editing and embellishing it with historical sidebars. Along with photographs of West Overton, information about my Internet activities, and maps of the region and other documents, the proposal filled a large notebook. In the cover letter, I wrote what I wanted the Jim Beam company to help me accomplish. What I wanted to do was build at West Overton a historically accurate log cabin distillery like the one a young Abraham Overholt built in 1810. I wanted the little distillery to actually make whiskey in a historically accurate manner (the farm “stills” of that era being quite primitive), and I wanted to put the product into historically accurate jugs and kegs -- souvenir-sized -- and sell them over the Internet and to visitors at West Overton.

In short, I wanted to earn money to help renovate the rest of West Overton -- as an Overholt of direct descent from Abraham who would be actively involved with the site -- and I figured that the company who currently holds the trademark rights to Old Overholt Whiskey could afford to help in this project. But the company rejected the proposal, citing their primary reason as being focused on promoting their own label. So, I brought all my material to the dinner, hoping to share the idea with the folks who run West Overton. In my opinion, the Jim Beam company doesn’t have any rights to a historically accurate log cabin distillery of the kind that would be built “to commemorate young Abraham’s first efforts as a commercial whiskey-maker.” Besides, it was the Broad Ford Distillery (now defunct) that Henry Clay Frick took ownership of -- not the West Overton Distillery -- and certainly not the 1810 log cabin distillery, from which whiskey of different names was brewed.

My ultimate idea would involve the Extended Overholt Family -- meaning everyone who wanted to belong to a familial organization going into the whiskey business to produce souvenir-sized Overholt whiskey. To my knowledge, we would be the first Overholts to make whiskey at West Overton since Prohibition shut it down. We would also be the first descendants to reinvest in the future of West Overton though the revenue obtained from distilling rye whiskey of the type Abraham made in 1810. And we could name the product anything we liked -- “Next Generation” springs to my mind, being a “Star Trek” fan, but that would be determined by a democratic vote. The organization could be called something like “Descendants of A. Overholt and Sons,” unless that name infringed upon Jim Beam Brands’ trademark rights.

[F.Y.I.: On March 1, 1881, Henry Clay Frick acquired the rights to use the name “A. Overholt and Sons” for the unlikely sum of one dollar -- just as the first federal trademark law came into effect! I assume the right to use that trademark was passed along to the Mellon family, then to Seagrams, and finally to Jim Beam. It would be interesting to discover, and obtain copies of, the actual documentation of those transactions!]

Personally, I believe “The Extended Overholt Family” or “The Extended Overholt Family of West Overton” sounds like a nice name for an organization. Anyway, it is a project I really want to see happen. Imagine my surprise, when after dinner the fourth person at our table, the roofer, was introduced as a member of the Board at West Overton! Wow! Talk about serendipity! I felt then that my ideas would reach the proper ears, especially since I realized the whole evening would end without my having a chance to meet with Rod Sturtz, who was kept very busy hosting the event. I expect the Board will contact me, if they like the idea.

RE: Author Martha Sanger’s Presentation

The dinner took a long time, and Jim and Matthew returned from their outing about the time we were served our dessert. Jim said he and Matthew would be out in the parking lot, waiting for me. Then the presentation also lasted long, and the night turned cold, so I was worried about them waiting out there in the Tracker, but towards the last half hour, they showed up at the door and came in to hear the last part of the presentation.

Ms. Sanger was introduced by Mr. Sturtz and she began to talk about her life growing up in the shadow of little Martha Frick, who suffered for several years before dying from the effects of swallowing a pin. She also spoke about her research for her book, Henry Clay Frick, An Intimate Portrait. She was very easy to listen to, and the slide program was very nice, too. Most of what she said, though, was from her book, and I had my own copy of that (I brought the heavy volume along with my heavy notebooks), but she did have a few new bits of information, too. Ms. Sanger’s actual voice “sounds” like her written text, if you know what I mean. If you read her book, you will feel you actually know her. I was glad to have the chance to see her at West Overton. Just before we left, I took a chance and interrupted Ms. Sanger one more time, while she was encircled by another group of fans. I tried to give her my card, so she could find my web pages, and I managed to do that. Then I had to rush out to the waiting Tracker for the long trip back to Pittsburgh.

We three got home just before 11 p.m., and just in time to videotape the new episode of “Farscape” on SciFi. It had been a very long day for all of us, and I knew it would take a couple of weeks of mulling it over in my mind, before I could write about it. This time around, the text of the InterOverholt Memo became a feature story, instead of a news report. As a rule, I plan to use the “Research” pages for in-depth features.

As always, I would be happy to hear feedback. c. 4-28-00

END OF MEMO -- Go back to the first page of “Karen’s Branches”