Winifred Paul and Along the Banks of Jacobs Creek
Written by K. R. Overholt Critchfield, 4-20-04

Along the Banks of Jacobs Creek:
A Genealogy of a Mennonite Community

A Genealogy of the Mennonite families
who settled in southern Westmoreland
County and northern Fayette County,
Pennsylvania, 1790-1810.

Compiled by Winifred Paul, 1990 (?);
Mennonite Publishing House, Scottdale, PA.

Since publishing my first article featuring Winifred Paul and her publication, I have received several inquiries asking about it. As far back as October 2002, John Roose wrote to say, "Found your request for a copy of Winifred's book. I had wanted a copy, went to visit her a year ago. She took (us) on a tour of the area to see my old family farms, the Overholt area, etc. She also gave me permission . . . to recopy the book . . . I had them photocopied and soft bound and have sold them at my cost." And I wrote back that yes, I wanted to buy one of those copies!

Time went by, and I still had not ordered my copy of the book. I have mentioned that my personal motto regarding online genealogy is, "If it costs money, don't do it," which springs from financial necessity, not a spirit of thriftiness. Years ago, when I first learned about Barbara Ford's The Oberholtzer Book, it took a couple years before I could buy one -- a real treasure, by the way! Before that, when I first beheld a copy of the Fretz volume, A Genealogical Record of the Descendants of Martin Oberholtzer/A Genealogical Record of the Descendants of William Nash, it took a long while before I could order a copy from the folks at West Overton Museums, and when I received it, that book was a pure revelation! Today, I am pleased to recommend these two books to everyone in the Extended Overholt Family, for each purchase has proved far and away more valuable to me than the dollars spent for them. It was time to wrangle the money from our meager budget and buy another genealogy book.

Therefore, spurred by a few notes from interested cousins desiring to acquire their own copies of Along the Banks of Jacobs Creek, I wrote a couple letters to the author, Winifred Paul. I reminded her that we had spoken by phone once regarding her book, and invited her to visit my web pages to see what I had written about her, the Overholt Family and West Overton. Among the questions I posed this time was my query about whether or not I could offer the text of her book on my GeoCities web site, or in some other way make the information available to others. When she wrote back, I was happy to find her letter packed with charming details. Besides that, the pages looked so familiar!

Typed on plain white paper, the pica font reminded me of the term papers that regularly rolled out of my prized Smith-Corona electric typewriter all through my college years, and later through most of my time at seminary. Imagine a feeling of nostalgia because of a typeface! In my opinion, this is a letter that eloquently speaks for itself, so I am recreating it below, doing my best to match the font.

Feb. 16, 2004

Dear Ms. Critchfield,

I'm sorry I did not answer your letter of Sept. 19. I'm 80 tomorrow and don't always get the necessary things done.

Please do NOT put "Along the Banks of Jacobs Creek" on your website. Some years ago, when the Mormons asked for permission, in consultation with the Mennonite Historical Archives of Lancaster County, PA, we decided not to give such permissions.

Several years ago, I gave John B. Roose the pages of the book from the printer, and he has permission to make copies of the book. For $35 he will make a copy of "Along the Banks of Jacobs Creek" for anyone who sends him that amt. The price includes copying, binding, and mailing within the U.S. His address is John B. Roose, 315 College Ave., Lancaster, PA 17603-3317.

I now have read your pages from your website and will comment on them. The Overholts were able to emigrate in covered wagons in 1800, because the Congress had authorized a road (close to present 30) to be built. It was amazing that Henry and sons, some of them married with children, all decided to come West. They must have had some wealth, because most of them had farms in the immediate area surrounding the homestead. Most of them rather large. We have a photo or so of a few. Later, the next generation built houses like the Stauffer house in Kingview, the homestead house of Abraham (both beautiful examples), the house of Martin, the ruins that once existed and that I saw of Barbara Durstine and Jacob Overholt and Christian Fretz.

I don't think it would have been very exciting to live like these pioneers, because of all the work involved. Cookstoves and coal heaters were not yet available, and those large houses had to be heated by fireplaces. It must have kept one person busy hauling the wood up the stairs and tending the fires.

When summertime came, the same person and others were busy tending the garden, so that the people could eat year round. They probably grew beans, potatoes, pumpkins, squashes, turnips, cabbage and melons, which all needed planting, weeding and harvesting. The men were busy growning corn, wheat, rye, flax, buckwheat, millet, oats, barley.

Did you see the bakeoven in the summer kitchen at the West Overton? All their grain had to be milled before they could make johnnycake, and perhaps bread, in that oven. Food like sugar and salt had to be imported. I'm sure they were thankful for the maple sugar grove near Alverton, which the deeds describe. Because the grains could often not be shipped, they made whiskey out of them.

Most of the foods had to be dried. Cabbage could have been made into kraut. Of course, they would have had beef, pork, perhaps some fish and venison, besides smaller wild animals. Butchering was probably a big job and had to be done often with little means of preserving the meat, except the smokehouse. We would have expected that they processed milk into cheese. We know they dug coal from their own farm.

Abraham was an important figure in the history of Westmoreland County. And I agree with you that Henry Clay Frick has been overdone at the site and elsewhere. He was raised on the site by his grandfather, and one wonders how he became such a cruel overlord to the people who worked in the mines and coke works.

Now, when the Overholts moved out here, they were Mennonites, a people who had escaped persecution in Switzerland, because they opposed the state churches so strongly that they baptised only adults and would not participate in war. Mennonites believe that every adult must decide for himself that he will follow the teachings of Jesus. It is not something that your parents hand you. Therefore, you can see that some children stayed in that church, and some did not join it.

Many of the Stoners (see my book) were Mennonites for three generations. The Martin Overholts (OV25) had family members that were Mennonites when the Mennonite Church was built in 1893. Some of the Loucks descendants were instrumental in starting that Mennonite church in Scottdale that is still alive. Probably Jacob Overholt (Ov23) was a Mennonite, since his son, John D., became a bishop in the church. John D. refused to drop the English language and was not a very effective leader. Apparently, no one suggested that Abraham was getting too wealthy and producing too much whiskey.

The Board at West Overton has worked hard through the years to restore the village, but it is very expensive and there is never enough money for historical development. Remember that Williamsburg's restoration was financed by the Rockefellers. The present day Fricks have been more interested in other things than the Overholts.

These are some of my thoughts. You may disagree with them. In our present-day affluence, it is hard to reconstruct pioneering. Thank you for listening.


Mrs. Winifred Paul

Contacting John B. Roose

John Roose was the next person I contacted, and we had a nice phone conversation. Yes, he did have a copy of the book he could send to me. Yes, he only had a couple left, and if more people wanted a copy, he would have to order another printing. He said all I should do is give everybody his name, address and e-mail address, and advertise the current price -- $35.00 per copy -- and he would take care of everything.

John B. Roose
315 College Avenue
Lancaster, PA 17603-3317

Researching Jacobs Creek and Along the Banks of Jacobs Creek

While I waited for my copy of the book, I did an Internet search of Jacobs Creek and Winifred Paul. The first thing I discovered is the town of Jacobs Creek, Pennsylvania, which is not the same thing as the Jacobs Creek that meanders through Western Pennsylvania. Below is a retouched version of a photo of Jacobs Creek, PA, that I found at Virtual Museum of Coal Mining in Western Pennsylvania. The Village of Jacobs Creek appears in old photographs and a feature story.

Village of Jacobs Creek, circa 1900
History of the Darr Mine, et al; Virtual Museum of Coal Mining in
Western Pennsylvania
. Photo by Glen Lancaster; Courtesy of John
Sheppard of Smithton, PA, and the Times-Sun of West Newton, PA

By the way, I was very happy to find this web site, considering it features information regarding all the local coal and coke enterprises. I found references to the West Overton Mine & Coke Works, the Emma Mine & Coke Works, the Carpenter Mine, the Dexter Mine & Coke Works, and Dexter No. 2 Mine -- all owned by members of the Overholt family and/or the Stauffer family. Also noted were the following company names: A. C. Overholt & Company, West Overton, PA; A. R. S. Overholt & Company, West Overton, PA; A. C. Overholt Coal Company, Pittsburgh, PA; H. C. Overholt Company, West Overton, PA; J. B. Stauffer & Company, Scottdale, PA; and J. W. Overholt & Company, Scottdale, PA.

Using several different maps, I explored the winding river named Jacobs Creek, and thought everyone would like to see where the town of Jacobs Creek is located in relation to where the river begins off the Yough.

Jacobs Creek Watershed Association

I found a really interesting URL that identifies the Jacobs Creek Watershed Association and their current efforts to improve the water quality of Jacobs Creek. Their pages highlight some ongoing projects focusing on protecting and improving the Jacobs Creek Watershed, which originates along the Chestnut Ridge to the east, and empties into the Youghiogheny River, becoming part of the Ohio River Basin. Locals say that the creek runs "From the Ridge to the River."

In their newsletter section, you will find photographs taken of stretches along the banks of Jacobs Creek, and at first glance, they are beautiful shots. But when you scan the articles, you realize the pictures reveal serious erosion and the need for intensive work to stabilize the banks to reduce sediment pollution and provide viable habitats for fish and other aquatic animals.

There is a photo of a stretch of railroad tracks that must be close to West Overton, since it is described as being where Dexter Road and Southwest Pennsylvania Rail Road cross over Jacobs Creek. On May 4 (of 2003?), perhaps 20 members of Boy Scout Troop #155 of Scottdale, along with 4 JCWA volunteers and 5 other adults met to clean up the refuse dumped in that area. By 11 AM, both sides of Dexter Road, both sides of the RR tracks, both sides of the creek, and the creek were clear of all unnatural debris.

The JCWA appears to be a worthwhile organization, and deserves attention. Their URL is below.

From the Ridge to the River: Jacobs Creek Watershed Association

There was an interesting mention of Winifred Paul and Along the Banks of Jacobs Creek in a 1998 article, A Search for Ruth Roots, written by Loren Meissner, who apparently lives in California. He began the article, "My wife's great-grandfather was Blair Ruth. She knew very little about him except that he was born in Scottdale PA and that he moved from Sewickley (just west of Pittsburgh) to Englewood KS . . . before 1900." Then he described the process of his Internet search for genealogical information on the Ruth family. When his research produced notes indicating a burial at the Alte Menist cemetery, he was introduced to "the heartland of traditional Mennonite country," etc.

At one point, he spoke to a curator in the "Pennsylvania Room," which he seems to indicate was located at a Uniontown library, but I believe this Pennsylvania Room is the one I've been to several times -- at the main Carnegie Library in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Anyway, she told him about Winifred Paul's book, which she had taken from a shelf to answer his questions about the Alte Menist cemetery. Meissner found the author via the Internet and phoned her, and subsequently got a lot of valuable information. Eventually, he located the second cousin of his wife's mother, who lives in Mount Pleasant, PA.

Another page at the Meissner site displays a Ruth Family narrative from Winifred Paul's book, which gives a nice sample of the author's style. I am including the URLs for these two web pages below.

A Search for Ruth Roots

From "On the Banks of Jacob's Creek," by Winifred Paul

Delivery of Along the Banks of Jacobs Creek

On the afternoon of March 15, 2004, my husband stood in the front doorway, pulling mail out of our mailbox. "What's this, Karen? Your script? Has it been sent back already?" My heart thumped, getting ready for another let-down. But the envelope wasn't the one sent in my packet, and seeing "John Roose" on the label, I replied, "No! It's my copy of Winifred Paul's book, Along the Banks of Jacobs Creek!"

Then Jim was out the door and gone for the rest of the day and evening, for he was busy directing a cast of youngsters in Guys and Dolls, Junior. Therefore, I had some quality time to examine my new book.

Printed on regular letter-sized paper (8 x 11), the cover is buff-colored card stock, and after a half-hour of carefully bending back pages, I realized I needed easier access to this information. So I carefully removed the binding (which was difficult, because it was so very well done), separated all the pages, used our heavy duty hole-punch machine, and found a new 3-ring binder to hold the volume, plus the pages of Internet research I had gathered.

I spent the next five hours scanning the pages for Overholt names to highlight -- there are many! When my son got home from school, he found me preoccupied, so he had to make his own snack. Later on, I spent most of the evening scanning the cover and creating the jpeg seen above. It was a long project, and not much else got done that day!

Since then, I have spent some time reading the Overholt material and meditating on all those names and dates, and feeling sorry I have never had a chance to meet any of them. It is a strange thing to discover the members of your own family by way of names and dates. How does one even begin to relate to such relatives, when they appear only as names and dates? As before, I have touched the pages, marked names with yellow highlighter, become more clearly aware of the identifying details of the Martin Oberholtzer clan, as compared to the Henry Oberholtzer clan . . . and I'm still learning.

I am glad to have this book. Thank you so much, Winifred Paul! And thank you, too, Barbara Ford! And also, thank you, A. J. Fretz! My thanks to everybody for the names, dates, facts and extrapolations!

End of Page . . . Go back to the first page of Karen's Branches.