West Overton in the News
Written & Edited by Karen Rose Overholt Critchfield, September 8, 2003


West Overton News 2000
Researching Published Newspaper Articles
From December 17 back to October 23
~~ Updated September 8, 2003 ~~

[Note: These are old news stories; the URLs may not work;
try a search at the
Trib Digital Warehouse (see below).]

Vignettes - Regional efforts afoot to showcase history
The Tribune-Review, December 17, 2000

Interest this fall in gaining southwestern Pennsylvania its rightful place in national historic significance has been of value because of its economic development potential as well.

For too long, area residents have watched sites and buildings of less importance in national history elsewhere become top tourist attractions.

In both Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, major focus is on regional history. Numerous organizations have received publicity for recent efforts. In Westmoreland, the county historical society and the University of Pittsburgh Greensburg campus have been among the leaders in the effort.

Despite a recent fire, the West Overton Museums near Scottdale have moved quite firmly ahead in re-creating the Henry Clay Frick birthplace complex by rehabilitating its actual buildings.

. . . the greatest victory won by pioneers over Indians in history was that at Bushy Run in August 1763 . . . in the five years from 1918 to 1923 alone, the coal mined in Pennsylvania was equal to the value of all the gold ever mined in the United States.

. . . Other points made by outside educators have included the very busy role of the Monongahela and Ohio rivers in the national westward movement; the fact that Ohio Country early history actually included southwestern Pennsylvania, usually unrecognized; the regional role in coal and coke, as well as iron, steel and aluminum development; the key role of southwestern Pennsylvania in east-west movement during the Civil War.

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

Overholt homestead decorated for Christmas season
The Tribune-Review, December 10, 2000

The artistic efforts of several residents who hale from the region will highlight the annual candlelight tours 5-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Abraham Overholt Homestead at West Overton Museums, Route 819 near Scottdale.

For some it was a first-time venture; others had participated before in decorating the five rooms and outside of the mansion built in 1838.

Rod Sturtz, executive director of West Overton Museums, said the volunteers put in many hours to make the homestead beautiful.

"We want to show their work to our friends and neighbors," Sturtz said. "the homestead is truly a Fay-West treasure."

Judy Sherwood of South Connellsville, and 14 fellow members of the Connellsville Garden Club, made decorating the Early Republic Room (the bedroom of Abraham Overtholt and his wife, Maria), a club project.

. . . Lisa Barclay . . . and her mother . . . decorated the downstairs dining room.

"I had a background in interior design and I was trying to stay with period with what they could have possibly used back in those days," Barclay said. "I was trying to do a more traditional look keeping it simple and something that would have been seen more than 100 years ago."

. . . Retired university professor Mary Ann Mogus of Greensburg volunteered to decorate the Overholt Room, a children's bedroom on the second floor of the house. She is a volunteer archivist at the museums and wanted to try her hand decorating one of the smaller rooms.

"I brought some ornaments that I had made myself and used some of the ones they had," Mogus said. She became involved with the museums when she returned to the Greensburg area after retiring from East Stroudsburg University in Monroe County. She was a physics professor for 25 years at the university, but has an interest in Civil War and aviation history.

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

The Tribune-Review, December 3, 2000

There will be an aroma of fresh pine, candles with a golden glow and Christmas music playing as homeowners in Uniontown welcome guests 1:30-4:30 p.m. Dec. 10 for the annual Homes for the Holidays tour.

. . . In addition to the Uniontown tour, there are similar tours scheduled throughout the region of decorated mansions and churches, including a bus tour hosted by West Overton Musuems in the Connellsville area.

. . . BUS TOUR

West Overton Museums will play host to a bus tour Dec. 11 that will take visitors to Perryopolis, Dawson, Vanderbilt and Connellsville.

Rodney Sturtz, executive director, said the annual church bus tour will take the participants to several churches. Lunch will be served at the James Cochran House in Dawson, owned by Patty and Eugene Lint, and treated to a high tea at the Newmyer House Bed & Breakfast, owned by Sylvia and Harley Midcap, at 507 S. Pittsburgh st., Connellsville.

. . . Sturtz also said the Overholt Homestead candlelight tours near Scottdale are being held Friday and Saturday and Dec. 15 and 16. The Friday candlelight tour is sold out.

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

[Due to the nature of this story, I am including the whole article.]

Arsonist fails to destroy spirit at historical home
The Daily Courier, November 20, 2000

SCOTTDALE - The arsonist(s) who set fire to a historical home at West Overton Museums last Wednesday didn't char the spirit of the historical home, and its legend will prevail.

The cleanup of singed remains began early Saturday when volunteers started to toss the burned debris off what used to be the attic area, according to Rodney Sturtz, executive director of the museum.

"We're just starting the clean-up process and it will take months before it's complete," he said.

"Our long-term intent is to build a small Williamsburg here, and either someone didn't like the idea and tried to destroy it, or a bunch of young kids didn't have anything better to do when they set this fire."

Sturtz added that the fire didn't stop the plans, only added to the ambition.

"I can just visualize people walking in the street, shopping, eating and enjoying themselves," he said while looking at the stretch of seven abandoned homes that neighbor the scorched house in West Overton.

The plans to rebuild the site into a colonial setting have been intended for years, according to Sturtz. "It's been a part of the West Overton plan for 10 to 15 years. It's been slow getting started because we don't have a lot of money."

The restoration process of the 160-year-old home will cost an estimated $150,000, Sturtz said. And to date, West Overton doesn't have the finances for the project.

"We have no clue where we're going to get the funds. We're going ahead on faith hoping somewhere along the line we'll find the money," he said.

West Overton Museums didn't carry insurance on the house, leaving more of a monetary burden on the preservation of the site.

"It was an abandoned house and you can't get insurance on an abandon home," Sturtz noted.

He said that he ahs spoken with some potential financial donors, and he hopes the community will also help with preserving the historical estate.

"We can bring an economic boom to this part of the Fayette area. We believe we can pull people here from the greater Pittsburgh area," Sturtz said in reference to the long-term goals of the site. "That can only be a good thing."

Ruthann Bigley, who volunteered with the clean-up project, said that something good can and should come out of the unfortunate circumstance.

"It's sad what happened here. I think it's a shame, but the good will be the community pulling together and doing their part to help with the loss," she noted. "I think if more people were aware of the history on this place, they'd be even more interested in doing their part to help preserve it."

West Overton Museums, birthplace and home to coal king Henry Clay Frick, was built in the early 1800s. It was a thriving business community that employed and housed more than 150 workers, according to Sturtz.

"This was a massive farm comprised of 600 acres. They had a distillery where they made whiskey, a grainery and a glass factory here," said Sturtz.

"I know the history of this place and I think it's sad what happened here," said Glenn Millslagle, volunteer. "But I believe in this place and I believe in its future potential."

While volunteers were cold, they kept warm in the snowy weather by working hard, throwing burned wood, shingles and ruined remains out of the dilapidated home.

The fire, ruled arson by Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal Rich Doran, is still under investigation. Anyone with information should contact the state police at Greensburg.


[Due to the nature of this story, I am including the whole article.]

Volunteers brave cold to begin work on fire-damaged Frick home
The Tribune-Review, November 19, 2000

Slate by slate, beam by beam, a small, bundled group removed the roof of a burnt home built for the uncle of coal baron Henry Clay Frick.

They worked through the morning Saturday, marveling at the ash-covered craftsmanship of the 1840's home, one of several in a boarded-up block of the village of West Overton.

"Look at that fire wall," Fred Whetsel said, tapping the top brick with his shovel. "That did the job."

To his left, the roof was in ruin, with planks set across a two-story drop that should have been a stairwell. To his right, the floor was firmer, the charred dormer still recognizable.

The fire started in the stairwell at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 8, a Wednesday. Investigators found an empty gas can there.

The fire shot up the stairs and through the original slate roof, sparing much of the building below.

"We were pretty luck, all things considered," said Gil McGurl, a board member of the West Overton Museums, which purchased the home in the late 1980s, after it had been split into several apartments. "Because the fire was so hot, it came up and out here."

As he talked, McGurl pried off slate shingles with a crowbar. He saved as many as he could, stacking them against the chimney. He tossed blistered timbers over the side.

Ron Aldom worked the other end. "I believe in everything they do down here," he said of the museums, set on Frick's birthplace in East Huntingdon Township. "I woke up this morning and said, 'It's Saturday. Might as well help take the roof off.'"

Museum director Rodney Sturtz had hoped for more help. He wants to have the holes covered before any snow accumulates. that could keep the damage to the home, which was empty and not insured, to the current estimate of $150,000.

"We had to take the roof off," he said. "We wanted to do it while we could still be in control of it."

His next concern is saving the home's inch-thick hardwood floors, which were buried under piles of debris after the fire. Falling plaster, damaged by water from fire hoses, has added to the mess.

Glenn Millslagel spent the morning in one of those rooms, filling a wheelbarrow he emptied out a window. the he set to tearing off the three layers of baseboard.

"I didn't know this place was so beautiful inside," he said, ripping another piece to splinters.

Guy Wathen photo

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

AOL Mail

Subj: Fire at West Overton
Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2000
From: Rodney Sturtz<womuseum@westol.com>
To: KROCritchf@aol.com

Dear Karen,

Thanks for your concern. A fire was set in the H. S. Overholt house, the largest house in the lower part of the village. The fire destroyed the roof and most of the attic floor and steps before it was contained. Since it is considered "abandoned" by the insurance company, we cannot carry insurance on it. There was $150,000 damage and we will begin rebuilding it as soon as possible. That building is hoped to serve as a restaurant when the village is complete. Rod

[Due to the nature of this story, I am including the whole article.]

Historical structure burns
Daily Courier, November 9, 2000

SCOTTDALE - A fire that claimed half of a historical house at West Overton Museums in East Huntingdon Township at approximately 11 a.m. Wednesday was dubbed "suspicious" by Denny Taylor, second assistant chief for East Huntingdon Township Volunteer Fire Department.

"It's definitely suspicious and there was no electrical involvement, but we have to wait for the fire marshal to look at the structure," said Taylor. "We did retrieve a can that was all burnt up, but I can't say that that's what caused the fire."

According to Joe Dugger, assistant fire cheif for Everson VFD and caretaker of the museum buildings, a back basement door was open that should have been shut.

The building, owned by the Westmoreland/Fayette Historical Society, had severe second-floor and roof damage, with a lot of water and smoke damage on the first floor, according to Mount PleasantVolunteer Fire Department Chief Gerald Lucia. the structure was not occupied at the time of the blaze.

According to Taylor, the rear of the building where the fire started sustained most of the damage, and because the front of the building was not damaged too badly, he believes the structure can be salvaged.

The home of Jerry Chalfont neighbors the damaged house, allowing Chalfont to notice the smoke, which prompted him to call 911.

"My wife was getting the mail and I was in the back room, and then I came out on the porch and saw the smoke," said Chalfont, who rented and lived in the damaged building approximately 10 years ago.

Henrietta Leighty of Everson said that her grandparents and a lot of aunts and uncles used to live in the building as well.

"When I first heard about it, I cried," said Leighty.

The building used to be a general store in the 1800s that belonged to Christian Overholt, according to Lois Reese, the secretary for West Overton Museums.

Susan Endersbe, president of the Westmoreland/Fayette Historical Society board, said sewage lines were to be put in next week to start the renovation process of the damaged house along with two others.

"Obviously this is a shame because there was some original woodwork in the house that had not been destroyed by previous occupants," said Endersbe. "There wasn't a lot left, but what there was we definitely would have liked to salvage."

This fire will not affect the continuation of the renovation projects scheduled, including the upcoming sewage project, said Endersbe.

"It's just a stumbling block along the way, but we're very grateful for the quick response of the firefighters," she added. "The front part of the house was spared because they were there so quickly."

Volunteer fire departments responding to the blaze were Mount Pleasant, Scottdale, East Huntingdon, Everson, Kecksburg, Dawson and Bullskin. Mutual Aid from Scottdale also responded.

There was no information available from the fire marshal at press time today.


[Due to the nature of this story, I am including the whole article.]

Museum seeks help to clear fire damage
The Tribune-Review, November 17, 2000

Volunteers are needed to help clean up a building at West Overton Museums, located off Route 819 north of Scottdale, that was damaged by fire on Nov. 8.

Authorities ruled the blaze was deliberately set. The former H.S. Overholt building, which dates to the 1840s and was to be renovated, sustained $150,000 damage and was uninsured.

But thanks to the work of firefighters, said museum Director Rodney Sturtz, the building is salvageable.

Volunteers are needed to help clean up the site beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday. The cleanup process will be messy and dangerous, so Sturtz asks participants not to bring young children.

Anyone who would like to help with the cleanup should call the museum at (724) 887-7910 so the work can be coordinated.

A fund has been established to continue renovation plans. Contributions may be sent to West Overton Museums, West Overton Village, Scottdale, PA 15683.

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

Families of re-enactors share fun, love of history
The Tribune-Review, November 12, 2000 [also Oct. 29, 2000]

When Dunbar Township residents Ken Williams and his wife, the former Mary Jo Doppelheuer, when out on their first date, they had plenty to talk about.

[This is a lengthly article highlighting many people.]

. . . In addition to his re-enactment activities with the 105th Pennsylvania, Ken Williams is a board member at West Overton Museums near Scottdale and a popular speaker during the museums' winter Parlor Talk Series.

. . . Rod Sturtz, executive director of West Overton Museums, said he has great respect for re-enactors, who help preserve a piece of history. The museums provide space for the regular meetings of the 105th Pennsylvania.

"I know some re-enactors, including tiny toddlers who are all dressed up, and they go to great pains to be authentic as possible," Sturtz said. "Part of their charter is education and this is a great way to educate the general public about the way soldiers went into battle and how some of the families traveled along."

Sturtz said he recalls members of the 105th camping out in a foot of snow near the museums. He refers to Capt. Ed Kelley of Hutchinson as the leader of a "heart bunch."

"I appreciate him (Kelley) when he comes over here," Sturtz said.

Kelley not only leads the Company E, 105th Pennsylvania, but also does an impersonation of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, a commander of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac (Union Forces). He portrayed Hancock at Perryopolis Pioneer Days.

Ed Cope photo

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

[Due to the nature of this story, I am including the whole article.]

Fire damages historic house
The Tribune-Review, November 9, 2000

A piece of Westmoreland County history went up in smoke Wednesday moring in a fire that is being called suspicious.

A dozen or more fire departments fought the 10:30 a.m. blaze in the 3-story brick building that is part of the historic West Overton Museums in the village of West Overton, East Huntingdon Township.

The circa-1840s structure, according to West Overton Museums Executive Director Rodney Sturtz, was originally the residence of Henry Stauffer Overholt, the uncle of coal baron and philanthropist Henry Clay Frick. West Overton was Frick's birthplace.

Over the years, after the Overholt Distillery closed, several of the buildings were sold, and the H.S. Overholt house was an apartment building until the mid-1980s.

Jerry and Nancy Chalfont were one of the last residents before the West Overton Museums repurchased and boarded up the structure. The Chalfonts, who now live in a mobile home above the Overholt house, discovered the fire.

"I said to Nancy I smelled plastic burning and when I went outside, I saw smoke coming out the windows and heard crackling sounds," Jerry Chalfont said.

Henrietta Leighty, who was visiting her daughter in nearby Sunnydale Trailer Park yesterday morning, said her grandmothers and other relatives lived in the Overholt house from the 1940s to the 1970s.

"We used to go from one door to the other to visit them," Leighty said. "I was a year old when I first stayed here with them. We'd swing on the porch swing all summer long."

As Leighty watched firefighters, she said she told her daughter, she said she told her daughter, "I'm going to cry. There goes my grandmothers' home. It's just heartache. It's so sad."

Dennis Taylor, East Huntingdon Second assistant fire chief, said the fire began in the basement at the rear of the structure and moved up a staircase to the top floor, quickly burning through the original slate roof.

"It was definitely suspicious," Taylor said. "We have the fire marshal coming out to investigate."

West Overton officials said they had problems with youngsters breaking into the buildings, and state police found an empty gasoline can in the rubble.

Despite the damage, Sturtz said he hopes to salvage the building that features 3-by-10-inch hickory ceiling beams built on 12-inch centers and 1-inch-thick flooring.

"The only thing that saved the building was that the beams were so heavy they didn't easily catch fire," said Sturtz, adding that the building was not insured.

Sturtz said officials were finalizing restoration plans and negotiating with a restaurateur to open a cafe.

"This fire is a setback, but it will not deter us from creating what we want to create here - a restoration of the entire village," Sturtz said. "It's just going to take more money now."

Eric Schmadel photo

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

Local filmmaker scares up Halloween specials
Monroeville man's work sending chills to national audience
The Tribune-Review, October 29, 2000

The Steitz File

Name: George Steitz
Residence: Monroeville
Age: "In my 40s"
Occupation: Independent filmmaker and founder of Impact Television

. . . What: "Night Visitors," an hourlong Halloween special by Monroeville filmmaker George Steitz. The documentary features segments about an alleged vampire, a brilliant inventor suspected of becoming a mad scientist and a supposedly haunted covered bridge.

When: 10 tonight . . . Where: The Learning Channel

. . . In addition to the Halloween specials, Steitz made "George Washington: The Unknown Years," a documentary about Washington's late adolescence that aired on the Discovery Networks in 1997.

. . . He chose the five "Night Visitors" vignettes from about 25 likely candidates he'd gleaned from perhaps 200 tales. All were filmed on location, none around here, and re-enactments with local actors and crew members were shot at West Overton Museums in Scottdale, Westmoreland County.

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

Families of re-enactors share fun, love of history
The Tribune-Review, October 29, 2000

When Dunbar Township residents Ken Williams and his wife, the former Mary Jo Doppelheuer, when out on their first date, they had plenty to talk about.

[same as the article above]

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

Brothers enjoy keeping history alive
The Tribune-Review, October 29, 2000

"Gosh, that looks so good."

Those are the words of Harry Fisher, a resident of the Dawson-Banning Road, as he recalls watching re-enactors of the 9th Allegheny unit participate in maneuvers in Pittsburgh about 10 years ago.

. . . They are members of Company E, 105th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a Civil War re-enactment group under the leadership of Capt. Ed Kelley of Hutchinson near West Newton. The group meets regularly at West Overton Museums near Scottdale and have participated in a variety of re-enactment encampment programs at the museums.

Ed Cope photo

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

This just in . . . Halloween special examines 5 haunting tales
The Tribune-Review, October 28, 2000

Filmmakers "want to move people emotionally and . . . create an emotion with your work, and sometimes that means scaring them," George Steitz says.

. . . All five segments wre filmed on location, with West Overton Museums in Scottdale, Westmoreland County, used for re-enactments.

Found at Trib Digital Warehouse site

Out & About - Society honors two men for preserving history
The Tribune-Review, October 23, 2000


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or go to one of the following pages.

West Overton News 2003
West Overton News 2002
West Overton News 2001