Our Stauffer Cousins
Written & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, 9-20-00
Written in Collaboration with Thomas Ridenour
~~ Updated August 23, 2017 ~~

Ellis, Franklin. History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania: with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers
and prominent men.
Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1882. Historic Pittsburgh. Digital Research Library,
University of Pittsburgh. September 19, 2000.

On April 20, 1809, Abraham Overholt (1784-1870) married Maria Stauffer (1791-1874). His birthday had been just the day before, and as he became a married man, there must have been a lot on his mind. He was 25 years old, a farmer’s son who “tended loom and ‘still,” having not yet begun to distill whiskey expressly for the market (an enterprise that would begin the following year). It would be interesting to learn something about what the young man planned for their lives together, and what he might have told this young woman, when he asked for her hand in marriage. On that wedding day, Maria became Abraham Overholt's wife, and there were three whole months before her 18th birthday. Maria's family lived just next door, in Fayette County -- on the other side of Jacobs Creek -- only a few miles away from West Overton, "as the crow flies." It is interesting to speculate that because of the close proximity of both families, the relationship between the two might have been a long-standing one. There might have been a long courtship. Maybe not. And there were other family matters that might have had some impact on this wedding.

Just ten days earlier, Abraham’s brother Henry died as a result of a tragic accident. Henry had gone back East to Bucks County to be married to a Miss Myers, but the day before the ceremony, he was kicked by a horse. Born July 10, 1779, Henry was the namesake of his father, Henry Oberholtzer, and the news of this most untimely death must have had a devastating effect on his family back in West Overton. His funeral services were held at the house of his uncle, Martin Oberholtzer (husband of his aunt, Elizabeth Nash), which is where he died. Jacob Oberholtzer preached at the house, and Jacob Gross preached at the Deep Run meeting house, where Henry was buried. When Abraham and Maria’s marriage produced their first child -- a son -- they gave him the name Henry, perhaps as much to remember young Henry, as to honor their father.

Maria was the fourth of five Stauffer daughters, the eighth of nine children born to her parents, Anna Nissley Stauffer (1752-1817) and Rev. Abraham Stauffer (1752-1826). Her distinguished father was the first Mennonite minister to cross the Alleghenies. Back in 1790, Rev. Stauffer settled in Tyrone Township, Fayette County, near what is now the town of Everson. When he died, he was a bishop.

Notation same as seen above.

Like the Overholts, the Stauffers were farmers who, while involved in milling and distilling, eventually made their fortunes in the coal and coke industry. As early as 1829, Maria’s older brother, Abraham O. Stauffer (1786-1853), operated a grist mill and steam distillery at his residence near present-day Kingview. That business passed to his son, John M. Stauffer (1813-1862), about 1843. Later, it was purchased by John M.’s two sons, Joseph R. Stauffer (1836-1910) and Abraham K. Stauffer (1838-1918), operating under the name of J. R. Stauffer & Company.

In 1873, the Stauffer brothers began to mine coal and build coke ovens on the property, known as the Dexter Mines and Coke-Works.

From The History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania
Tyrone-Upper and Lower Townships

The Dexter Mines and Coke-Works, owned and operated by J. R. Stauffer & Co., are located on the Stauffer farm, and are the next coke-works above the “Fountain,” on the Mount Pleasant Railroad. The property connected with the works embraces one hundred acres, of which about thirty acres has been exhausted, leaving about seventy acres of coal untouched. The works were built in 1878 by the brothers Stauffer. This coal is taken out by drifting. Forty ovens are in operation here, producing sixty- five tons of coke daily. They are well equipped, having a store-house twenty by thirty-six feet in dimensions, two tanks, the necessary sidings, and eight dwelling-houses for operatives. The works have $25,000 invested in them, exclusive of the land, for which no outlay was required, as it belonged to the Stauffer homestead property. A view of the Dexter Coke-Works, as also of the flouring-mills of J. R. & A. Stauffer, is given herewith.

Ellis, Franklin. History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania: with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men. Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1882. Historic Pittsburgh. Digital Research Library, University of Pittsburgh. September 19, 2000.

It is unfortunate that the A. J. Fretz material inaccurately states: “. . . Maria Stauffer, daughter of Rev. John and Elizabeth Stauffer . . .” And Fretz repeated his mistake elsewhere, when he reported that the wife of (Abraham's brother) Christian Overholt (1786-1868), Elizabeth Stauffer (1794-1887), was the daughter of Rev. John and Elizabeth Stauffer. Thomas Ridenour protested, writing, “I was surprised to learn that A. J. Fretz’s book lists Maria’s father as Rev. John Stauffer, for Abraham Stauffer’s will, dated January 22, 1819, lists among his heirs, ‘my daughter Maria.’ Also, I have in my library three sources which state she was the daughter of Rev. Abraham Stauffer: The Mennonites of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (Scottdale Mennonite Church, 1942), by Edward Yoder; Over the Alleghenies (Scottdale Mennonite Church, 1965), edited by Gerald Studer; Along the Banks of Jacobs Creek: A Genealogy of a Mennonite Community (Mennonite Publishing House, 1990), by Winifred Paul.

There are two Elizabeth Stauffers among the antique photographs that Thomas supplied for this article. One is Elizabeth Stauffer Ridenour (1848-1932), the daughter of John M. Stauffer (1813-1862), the wife of Aaron S. Ridenour (1844-1914). The other Elizabeth was the wife of Maria's brother, Abraham O. Stauffer (1786-1853); she was the sister-in-law of Maria and Abraham Overholt. “Elizabeth Meyers Stauffer died Nov. 11, 1878, and is buried in Alte Menist Cemetery near Pennsville, Fayette County, in Western Pennsylvania. I have seen her grave countless times and have a photo of it. Also, I have her obituary from the Herald of Truth . . . her husband calls her his ‘beloved wife Elizabeth’ in his will, made in 1848. She lived to be almost 96 years old . . . her photograph [is from a] photo album which belonged to my great aunt, Jennie Ridenour (1870-1962), who actually knew Elizabeth, whose death came when Jennie was eight years old.

[See below: The Stauffer Family Tree ~~ Thomas Ridenour’s Branches]

“With the Stauffers, it’s not like we did a lot of research to come up with our information. We knew people who knew them personally, and we have many of their household items, which my great aunt gave us. I have Elizabeth’s spinning wheel chair, John M. and Katrina’s secretary cabinet, candle box, fan, thimbles, and even a number of her clothing items. There is also J. R. Stauffer’s Handel lamp, as well as numerous letters, cards, invitations, books, hymnals, and of course, the photographs.

[See: Stauffer Family Photographs]

“Several of Aaron and Elizabeth Stauffer Ridenour’s children never left home, and lived into their 80’s and 90’s. Their household was not broken up until the 1970’s, which is when my Aunt Pearl Ridenour (1892-1974), the youngest, gave these things to my father, for he was the only one to carry on the family name. When my parents both died (within the last five years), I inherited them.”

When asked to write something about how he has been affected by studying his historical roots, Thomas responded, “I could tell you how my ancestors have affected me -- and they have -- deeply, for it was the testimony of their godly lives (as reflected in the gravity of their countenances in the photographs) that to a great extent inspired me to spend the last eight years among the Amish, Mennonites, and now Conservative Friends (Quakers), adopting the plain style of dress, and living separate from the world. But then, the article would be about me, not them.” However, at my urging, Thomas put together the following story.

“My Mennonite ancestors have profoundly influence my life. Many of them are buried in the Alte Menist Cemetery, near Pennsville, Fayette County, PA. Like Abel of old, though they be dead, their lives continue to speak, and it was the testimony of their godly lives that to a great degree led me to seek fellowship with their modern spiritual descendants.

“Shortly after Kelly and I were married, we became gravely concerned with the high divorce rate in our society -- even among those who worshiped in the evangelical churches we were involved with. Therefore, we began to look to the ‘plain people’ (the conservative Amish, Mennonites, and Brethren), who, though imperfect, were doing a far better job than the rest of us at keeping their families intact.

“Our first contact with the plain people was with -- an Overholt! -- Amish Mennonite minister John J. Overholt (1918-2000) of Sarasota, Florida. He invited us to attend church services, and later had us over to his home for supper. For us, it was like being in another world -- as if time had returned us to a period a century ago, and we were spending an evening with my ancestors. These people were living the sober, pious Christian lifestyle I had seen expressed in the old family photographs.

“Over the next two years, Kelly and I became increasingly convinced of the truths pertaining to traditional family values (particularly the permanence of the marriage union) and nonconformity to the world, based on the Scriptures and the early Church Fathers -- values to which the plain people cling tenaciously, while the very foundations of society are crumbling around them. Gradually, we changed our lifestyle in conformity to these values. Outwardly, Kelly stopped wearing slacks, and I began to wear suspenders and plain clothes -- I already wore a beard. Later, Kelly began to wear a head covering and Amish-style cape dresses. But the changes would incorporate more of our lives than just the outwards signs, for the mere change in clothing is not a cure for society's ills.

“In 1992, I accepted a teaching position at an Amish school near Nappanee, Indiana. We stayed in Amish homes and lived three years without electricity, although we still drove our car. In all, I taught six years in Amish schools in both Indiana and Kentucky. Presently, we are associated with the Rockingham (Virginia) Meeting of Conservative Friends, and I am working part-time for Christian Light Publications of Harrisonburg, Virginia (a Mennonite publisher of Christian school curricula), editing their math curriculum.”

At the end of the day, so to speak, the lives of our ancestors are either forgotten in the proverbial mists of time, or they are remembered. There are many ways to honor those who literally gave us life, and keeping genealogical records is one very valuable tool we have that helps us to honor them. Ultimately, though, our lists of names and dates are inadequate. To properly “bring them to life,” we have to assess how much their lives continue to affect our own. One of my favorite sayings is, “Life Takes Time,” which came to me like a flash of genius, when I was a teenager. Without time, quite literally, there would be no life, because life requires a beginning, a middle and an end that has no real end. Shall we all, then, say a little prayer of thanks for DNA, and all of our own distinctly unique genetic codes? They are our gemstones of life -- the real family jewels that all living things pass along to the next generation -- giving time, itself, a reason to be.

The old Stauffer grist mill has long been torn down, the coal mines are depleted, and the coke ovens no longer blacken the sky with billows of smoke, but the Stauffer Homestead House remains standing as a memorial to this prominent, early Faye-West family. Located at 205 Dexter Road, just outside Scottdale, the 175 year-old brick Federal-style home has been beautifully restored by its present owners, Gil and Noreen McGurl.

[Update: The McGurls are no longer the owners.]

Upon scanning a map of the Scottdale area, it is interesting to note that the long and nearly-straight road leading from the Stauffer farm to West Overton has two names. South of Jacobs Creek, it is called Dexter Road, which meets and intersects Stauffer Street. North of the creek, the road is called Overholt Drive, which leads directly to Abraham Overholt's Homestead House -- the home that an Overholt husband built for his Stauffer wife, and their posterity.

The Stauffer Family Tree
Thomas Ridenour’s Branches

Beginning with Christian and Barbara Stauffer
of Donegal Township, Lancaster County, PA

I. Christian Stauffer (c. 1711-1759)
m. 2nd (----) Barbara *name* (---- ----)
[Barbara Fellman or Barbara Oberholtzer]
(8 Children)
John, Jacob, Barbara, ABRAHAM,
. . . others, maybe Samuel.

II. Rev. Abraham Stauffer (1752-1826)
m. (1772) Anna Nissley (1752-1817)
(9 Children)
Barbara, Nancy Anne, Christian, Martin, Frances,
ABRAHAM O., John W., Maria, Elizabeth.
[Frances may be the 5th or 9th child.]

III. Abraham O. Stauffer (1786-1853)
m. (1807) Elizabeth Meyers (1782-1878)
[1878 is the correct date.]
(6 Children)
Nancy, Mary, JOHN M., Martin B.,
Abraham, Elizabeth.

IV. John M. Stauffer (1813-1862)
m. (1835) Catherine/Katrina Sherrick (1812-1887)
(6 Children)
Jacob S., Joseph R., Abraham K.,
Barbara Ann, ELIZABETH, Sarah.

V. Elizabeth Stauffer (1848-1932)
m. (1869) AARON S. RIDENOUR (1844-1914)
(9 Children)
Jennie S., Chess B., Addie S., Homer S., Nettie S.,
Edith S., LESTER S., Clark L., Pearl M.

VI. Lester Stauffer Ridenour (1886-1969)
m. (1910) Laura M. Johnson (1890-1974)
(4 Children)
Elizabeth P., Donald W., KENNETH E., Robert W.

VII. Kenneth Eugene Ridenour (1927-1995)
m. (1945) Dorothy F. Daugherty (1928-1997)
(3 Children)
Laura L., Kenneth E., THOMAS P.

VIII. Thomas Paul Ridenour (b. 1960)
m. (1988) Kelly L. McLaughlin (b. 1964)
(2 Children)

Stauffer Family Photographs


Maria Stauffer Overholt (1791-1874)
wife of Abraham Overholt, daughter of Abraham Stauffer

Elizabeth Meyers Stauffer (1782-1878)
wife of Abraham O. Stauffer

Catherine/Katrina Sherrick Stauffer (1812-1887)
wife of John M. Stauffer, son of Abraham O. Stauffer

Catherine/Katrina Sherrick Stauffer (1812-1887)
wife of John M. Stauffer, son of Abraham O. Stauffer
~~ Charcoal Portrait ~~

Joseph R. Stauffer (1836-1910)
son of John M. Stauffer

Abraham K. Stauffer (1838-1918)
son of John M. Stauffer

Barbara Ann Stauffer Dixon (1845-1908)
daughter of John M. Stauffer

Elizabeth Stauffer Ridenour (1848-1932)
daughter of John M. Stauffer

Sarah Stauffer Eicher (1854 ----)
daughter of John M. Stauffer

Other Photographs

Abraham O. Stauffer Homestead (1988)

Stauffer Homestead House (1901)

Stauffer Flouring Mill (1901)

Dexter Mines & Coke-Works (c. 1900)

Joseph R. Stauffer Obituary (1910)

Abraham K. Stauffer Obituary (1918)

Stauffer Gravesite, Alte Menist Cemetery

END OF Our Stauffer Cousins -- Go back to "Karen's Branches"