West Overton in the News
Compiled, Written & Edited by Karen Rose Overholt Critchfield, 2-26-08


West Overton News 2007b
Researching Published Newspaper Articles
From July 29, 2007 back to January 17, 2007


Biographer revels in local industrialists' lives
By Rachel R. Basinger, Daily Courier, Sunday, July 29, 2007

Nearly 100 people visited West Overton Museums near Scottdale on Saturday afternoon to hear author Les Standiford discuss his book "Meet You In Hell," a nonfiction work about the lives of early steel, coal and coke industrialists Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick.

The lecture was the culminating event of several months of reading and discussion of the book by a number of patrons at 13 Westmoreland County libraries.

Barbara Perlstein, director of West Overton Museums, said the Greensburg Library System purchased a number of copies of the book and distributed them among 13 Westmoreland County libraries for the patrons to get involved in a reading and discussion group.

Perlstein and Mary Ann Mogus, president of the museum's board of directors, moderated the discussions at various libraries.

"We were able to obtain a grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to bring Mr. Standiford to the museum, and we invited the individuals involved in our discussion to come out and meet him and get their books signed," Perlstein said.

She added that while there were a number of individuals at the lecture from the library discussions, the event drew additional people.

Standiford grew up in Cambridge, Ohio, and visited Pittsburgh to attend professional sports games and on other occasions.

"It seemed that the sun never shone in Pittsburgh because of all the smoke created from the blast furnaces (of the steel mills)," he said. "It's too bad there's not much left to remind us how important those were to the history in the area."

That history is what "shepherded this country to the leadership of the industrialized world," Standiford said. "I didn't want to build another stack of facts (with this book), but instead tell the human story that was wrapped around those facts.

"These two men rose up from abject poverty to build the most successful empire, only to see it fall out because of one of the bitterest labor disputes in U.S. history," he continued.

[Karen's Note: As the son of John Frick, West Overton miller and farmer, Frick may have been relatively "poor," but I doubt his family life qualified as living in "abject poverty."]

The 1892 labor dispute at Homestead Works grew violent when Frick attempted to bring in strikebreakers to keep the mill functioning.

The strike-breakers met strong resistance from the striking workers, and after a day of fighting, several were dead, and scores more injured. Standiford said it was considered the bloodiest labor strike because while seven to 12 individuals died, about 250 Pinkerton agents were injured when a boat they were on caught fire.

Pennsylvania's governor placed Homestead under martial law to quell the violence, and when the masses wanted someone to blame, Carnegie insinuated that Frick was at fault, he said.

While they had made millions of dollars from each other's expertise, this strike drove apart the two friends and business partners.

"This isn't just a bitter story, it's a story about two men who helped make this country what it is today," Standiford said.

He added that he enjoyed returning to the place where Frick was born.

"There aren't a lot of individuals outside of the area who know who Henry Clay Frick was," Standiford said. "While they are all pretty familiar with Carnegie, they just don't know the history of Frick."

Ed Ayers, of Scottdale, received Standiford's book from his wife, Lola, for Father's Day because of his interest in local and national history.

"I learned a lot from the book that I didn't know before, but primarily how they were both able to come up from almost nothing to build a whole enterprise," Ayers said.

Rachel R. Basinger can be reached at rbasinger@tribweb.com or (724) 626-3536.

[Karen's Note:  The article below features the Frick Coal and Coke Day of Experience, that was held at West Overton on July 28. It was the result of a newly funded program, and will probably be repeated in the future. This was one more event I did not get to attend, so I do not know if the folks at West Overton mentioned the fact that Abraham Overholt is credited as being the first to discover coal in the region and was the first to use it in his businesses, and the fact that Henry Clay Frick did not own the coal and coke works at West Overton. And I hope the presenters were careful to separate the business enterprises of the Extended Overholt Family from those of Frick. For instance, could any visitors come away from the event misbelieving the Overholts had something to do with the Homestead Strike, the Mammoth Mine Explosion or the Morewood Massacre?

Additionally, I hope someone mentioned that no evidence has been found that children worked in any of the Overholt business enterprises, other than the labor that was normal on a farm. The National Park Service Form 10-900 reported, "Of the twenty manufacturers listed in East Huntingdon Township in 1850, nearly a third were enterprises of the Overholts at West Overton." These included the production of flour (at their mill), whiskey (at their distillery), barrels (at their cooperage), malt (at their Malt House), coal (at their coal works), and coverlets (at their weaving business) -- each operation employing three men. However, ten years after the death of Abraham Overholt, by 1880, when "the village had become a coal town, like so many in western Pennsylvania," the coal and coke works employed eight boys.

Quoting from the HABS Report, Footnote #46, p. 17, "One aspect of nineteenth-century industry was child labor. There is little evidence that the Overholts employed children as labor beyond what was normal on a farm: only one child was recorded as working steadily in 1862 (David Hepler's son, Emanuel "by 6 months . . . @ $6.50 a month . . . $39.00"), and both he and the other children mentioned in the ledgers were engaged in intermittent farm work (Dan Nicewanger's son, Dan, "by 13 days feeding hogs @ rate of $1.50 per month," and "by 1 day planting corn . . . $.50). (Ledger, October 18, May 1 and 3, 1862) There is no evidence that children could or did work in either the mill or distillery. By contrast, eight boys (under age 18) worked at the coal and coke works in 1880. U.S. Census, Population Schedules, 1880."]


Celebrating history and heritage
By Marilyn Forbes, Daily Courier, Friday, July 20, 2007

West Overton Museums in Alverton [actually located near Scottdale] will present "Frick Coke and Coal Day of Experience" from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 28.

The day will feature programs, lectures and exhibits highlighting the explosive era of the reign of Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie.

The event is for all ages.

"We have many things planned for the day that will include activities that will be geared toward children," said West Overton Executive Director Barbara Perlstein.

Morning activities include films and interactive programs that will cover the daily living of the families that thrived during the 1880s and 1890s.

"Life On a $1.65 a Day" will be presented from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the big stock barn, located in West Overton Village.

The program demonstrates how the average families of the labor class lived and thrived on roughly $1.65 a day.

"They'll have an exhibit of photographs and explain the activities to the children," Perlstein said. "Some feature photographs of children sorting coal, and they'll explain how children worked and were part of the coal and coke industry."

"Housekeeping at Clayton" will be presented 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. by Pam St. John, educator at the Clayton/Frick Art Museum in Pittsburgh. The presentation will feature everyday objects that were used at Henry Frick's East Side residence -- Clayton.

"This program will show how the wealthy lived and will have household objects for the public to identify," Perlstein said. "They have items that we don't see being used today, and the children can see them and then they will be showed what they were used for."

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., continuous showings of the documentaries "Homestead Strike" and "Pillars of Fire" will be shown in the distillery classroom. Each film has an approximate running time of 25 minutes.

Three speakers will be giving presentations throughout the afternoon. All will be located in the distillery basement.

From 1 to 2 p.m., Dr. Charles McCollester will speak on the Mammoth Mine Explosion and the Moorewood Massacre. McCollester, director of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Labor Relations, will be joined by Russ Gibbons, former president of the Pennsylvania Labor and History Society.

From 2 to 3 p.m., Dr. Les Standiford, author of "Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, & and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America," will discuss his book and the research behind it.

From 3 to 4 p.m., Gregory Zaborowski will give a live musical and folklore presentation. Zaborowski is a historical and educational specialist with the National Park Service.

A question-and-answer period will follow from 4 to 5 p.m., when the audience will then be given the opportunity to meet the presenters.

Throughout the day, tours of the village will be conducted and visitors will be given the opportunity to see the uncovered coke ovens that were located on the property.

"I think that people will enjoy this event," Perlstein said. "It allows them the unique opportunity to experience how people lived and worked during the coal and coke industry."

The West Overton Museums and Village are located along Route 819, between Scottdale and Mt. Pleasant.

Cost for the event will be $7, $4 for senior citizens, $4 for children ages 7 to 11, and those age 6 and younger will be admitted free.

There is no fee for those who wish to attend the afternoon lectures only. Reservations for the lectures are requested. For information or reservations, call 724-887-7910.

[Karen's Note: For many years, I have stressed the salient point that Abraham Overholt was a faithful Mennonite from a long line of faithful Mennonites, and that much of what was accomplished by the Extended Overholt Family had a direct relationship to the ideals generated from and practiced by the Mennonite expression of Christianity. In conversations and e-mail, I have repeatedly encouraged the folks at West Overton to establish a good relationship with the Mennonite community in the region. My position has been that the Overholts and their faith represented the heart of West Overton, and without the heart, the site could not possibly thrive.

Imagine my pleasure when I discovered a new interest on the part of these folks toward acknowledging the Mennonite heritage of the Overholt Family. First, after visiting their renovated web site in May 2007, I found an article about "The Overholt Family History" that mentioned the Mennonite connection no less than six times, even referring to Abraham Overholt as "a Mennonite elder." Additionally, their newsletter, The Village Progress, for Fall 2007, had a letter by current Executive Director Barbara Perlstein stating, "Major focus will be on our Mennonite Heritage. In honor of our history, our quilt show will be named Plain and Simple. The Scottdale Mennonite Church helped create a plan to bring important speakers and happenings to the museum during the end of June." It was impressive that on a list of annual appeal donors, the Scottdale Mennonite Church was first on the list.

And in November, they advertised that the Overholt Homestead would be decorated "in German Mennonite style" for Christmas. Perhaps it should have been "Swiss Mennonite style," but no matter! I wondered if the staff put up Christmas trees, as in previous years? Personally, I love Christmas trees and Christmas decorations, but someone once told me that Mennonites of Abraham's era would not have decorated their houses or have Christmas trees. Without evidence, one way or the other, I would not debate the point. It is always difficult to get the history right.

Despite all these fine efforts, even a well-meaning reporter can put together a story that reveals a lack of information or understanding about the history of the Overholt Family of West Overton. The article below has the usual problems with accuracy, but I doubt it was an "unusual aspect" that the Overholts were Mennonites. There was a large Mennonite community homesteading in the area and all along the banks of Jacobs Creek!

Another point of misunderstanding concerns having Civil War reenactments at West Overton. To this day, Mennonites hold a very specific anti-war position. In fact, according to my research, a prohibition against warfare has been central to their religious identity from the beginning of their history. In Switzerland, it was the absolute belief that war was wrong, and kings and princes had no right to send their people into war (the default method of settling disputes), that made government officials quake in their boots. The Anabaptists flatly refused to fight in wars, which was far more radical than the "conspiracy" to be baptised only at the age of consent. Rulers were incensed about this refusal to go to war, worried that it might create a trend, and were determined that the misfits should be prosecuted and forcibly expelled. Some Anabaptists lost their lives to the persecutions which followed. Others lost everything they owned -- homes, property, goods, citizenship. At the risk of being simplistic, all these trials came because of two strong beliefs: adult baptism and pacifism.

Yes, there were young Overholts and other members of the Extended Overholt Family who served during the American Revolution, as well as during the War Between the States, and some of them died while in service to their country. However, it would be a mistake to believe Abraham Overholt condoned participation in war, for he was a faithful Mennonite. It has been recorded that Abraham was so worried about the young men from West Overton who were serving in the Civil War, that he visited encampments three times. Additionally, it should not be forgotten that Abraham's wife, Maria, was the daughter of Abraham Stauffer, a Mennonite minister who was highly regarded in the region and who became a bishop. Based upon firm religious tenets, in my estimation, Abraham and Maria Overholt would not have approved of war, and would not appreciate having Civil War reenactments at West Overton.]


West Overton marks Old Overholt Days
By Barbara Hollenbaugh, Tribune-Review, Sunday, July 15, 2007

West Overton Museums, outside Scottdale, will celebrate an unusual aspect of the Overholt family, who founded the village, Saturday and July 22.

During the Old Overholt Days celebration, West Overton will note the military service of this Mennonite family during the Civil War.

The village was founded in 1800 by Henry Overholt, a Swiss immigrant who moved there from Bucks County. Overholt's son, Abraham, an entrepreneur, expanded the town's modest grist mill and distillery. He later added other businesses, including a flour mill, a cooper's shop and a blacksmithing shop. He even launched a thriving pig trade.

Abraham's grand-nephews, Aaron and John, enlisted in the 15th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Calvary, much against the wishes of their father, a local Mennonite bishop.

[Karen's Note: John S. R. Overholt and Aaron S. R. Overholt were twin sons of Abraham's nephew through his older brother, Jacob -- namely John D. Overholt (a Mennonite bishop). The twins' mother, Elizabeth Stauffer, was the daughter of Christian Stauffer and Agnes Overholt, daughter of Abraham's uncle, pioneer Martin Oberholtzer. Martin was the younger brother of Abraham's father, Henry Oberholtzer. Christian Stauffer was the son of Mennonite bishop Abraham Stauffer, and the older brother of Maria Stauffer Overholt, Abraham's wife. Therefore, the twins would have enlisted to fight in a war that no less than two bishops and a whole family of Mennonites would have deplored.]

This regiment served mainly as scouts; however, members played important roles in the Battle of Chickamauga. They also were present at Appomattox on the day Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered.

The regiment mustered out of service in June 1865.

Barbara Pearlstein, executive director of West Overton, said Old Overholt Days is a celebration of the history of the village and of the people who lived there.

"There will be demonstrations of cooking, farming and preserving, along with other period crafts, such as spinning and weaving." she said. "There also will be Civil War re-enactments, and even a mock trial for a Southern sympathizer."

[Karen's Note: Quoting from page 12 of the HABS document, "The family's legends . . . include several anecdotes suggesting Abraham Overholt's continuing Mennonite faith, his generosity, his sobriety, and his fairness. In one of these, for instance, he fell into a cellar hole on a Pittsburgh sidewalk, but refused to sue the negligent party."]

The musical group The Remnants will perform period music, as well.

Pearlstein said she plans this year to test a new program that will depict the lives of children who lived and worked during the region's coal and coke era.

"We'll have a self-guided picture display in the barn," she said. "People will see what life was like for these children. They had no medical care. Also, there were no child labor laws."

There will be children's activities as well. Kids will be able to sort coal by grade and by size, just as their counterparts did years ago.

Pearlstein said she hopes to add more living history events to the celebration.

"West Overton once had a thriving pig trade," she said. "That should be illustrated.

"Also, the building that once housed the company store is still standing. I would like to focus on its importance to the villagers. I would like to bring more attention to the old post office, as well."

Pearlstein emphasized that she doesn't want to diminish in any way the importance of the Civil War in the village's history; she simply wants to bring attention to the many other aspects of village life.

Pearlstein hopes that people will leave the celebration with a deeper understanding of what life was like during the Civil War Period. But she said West Overton is in need of volunteers.

"There's a wealth of interpretation here," she said. "We simply don't have enough volunteers to help bring it to life."

[Karen's Note: The next few articles below describe new projects in the neighborhood of West Overton, specifically Stewart's Crossing along the Youghiogheny River, and the Coal and Coke Trail between Scottdale and Mt. Pleasant. Because of the growing importance of the Yough River Trail, plus the influence of these two new local projects in generating visitors and outdoor activities, no doubt there will be a noticeable impact on the success of events at West Overton.]


Stewart's Crossing phase 1 gets nod
By Judy Kroeger, Daily Courier, Thursday, July 12, 2007

Connellsville Redevelopment Authority gave Glenn Wolfe, of Widmer Engineering, the nod to develop phase I of Stewart's Crossing in the area of the Yough River Trail off routes 201 and 119.

At Wednesday's meeting, Wolfe outlined the site potential analysis developed by David Reagan, a landscape architect from Farmington, Mich. He will provide plans for a 20-space lighted parking area, screening for the retention pond behind Martin's Food Market and a section of trail so the authority can apply for a $150,000 state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources matching fund grant.

City council has allocated $174,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds for Stewart's Crossing. Ralph Wombacker, executive director of the authority, said that money will be used for the DCNR grant match. The match money cannot be spent until the DCNR grant arrives.

Wolfe outlined plans to follow phase I.

"We're trying to figure out a blend between the French and Indian War, with the Connellsville Canteen (that provided snacks to World War II servicemen passing through the city), the 1936 Olympics and John Woodruff, the railroad and coke history," he said.

Wolfe suggested Wombacker contact the National Park Service before work begins.

He said Stewart's Crossing is identified on a map at Braddock's Grave, near Farmington, a National Park Service site.

Wolfe and Reagan anticipate a national-quality site, with an interpretive center; an amphitheatre for watching the re-creation of Gen. Edward Braddock's 1755 crossing of the Youghiogheny River and other events; and a ground orientation feature celebrating George Washington's early surveying work that will point out distances and directions to Fort Necessity, Fort Duquesne and other historically significant areas.

Wolfe said vegetation along the river should be thinned to increase the views, and a portion of the trail that runs through Yough River Park should be relocated to the water's edge.

Wolfe appreciated the board's support and said, "I don't think you want to rush this process."

He said after the site potential drawings, a preliminary plan will be developed, followed by the final, master plan.

Judy Kroeger can be reached at jkroeger@tribweb.com or (724) 626-3538.


City park hits snag in funding stage
By Judy Kroeger, Daily Courier, Monday, July 9, 2007

Representatives from several local groups plan to transform land overlooking the Youghiogheny River into a park that will celebrate Connellsville's heritage from the French and Indian War to the Industrial Revolution.

The land and future park are called Stewart's Crossing, named for William Stewart, who moved in 1753 to the site that would eventually become Connellsville.

Ralph Wombacker, executive director of the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority, said the authority has applied for a $150,000 state Department of Conservation of Natural Resources grant. The grant has yet to be awarded and requires a local match of $150,000.

Wombacker explained that city council has dedicated $172,000 in Community Development Block Grant money -- $122,000 from 2006 and $50,000 from 2007 -- which will be used for the DCNR match.

"If you spend any of the match money before the grant arrives, it does not count toward the match," he said.

Wombacker has applied for a $28,000 Rivers of Steel grant, as well.

"Once we hear from the DCNR and Rivers of Steel, we will have to have (project) details in place," he said.

City engineer Glenn Wolfe, of Widmer Engineering, is helping plan the project.

"We're working to collect a good understanding of history, noting significant historical events. It's taking shape. We're pulling together physical aspects of the site and the unique history of Connellsville," Wolfe said.

"We're looking for a first-class facility when we're done," he said. "Our goal is to collect information and accentuate the bike trail, to make it user-friendly and a destination point."

Wolfe said he attended the recent re-enactment of British Gen. Edward Braddock's river crossing, in to determine the best views of the river from the site, located near Yough River Trail behind Martin's Foods and extending into Yough River Park near Crawford's Cabin.

"We need to determine what the topography is like, who owns what and the best access from Yough River Park," Wolfe said.

A timetable for the work has not been established.

In addition to city council, members of the Regional Trail Corporation, the Yough River Trail Council, the Connellsville Area Historical Society and the Connellsville Cultural Trust are working together to make the development a success.

Stewart's Crossing holds the broadest historical significance of any place in Connellsville.

Dexston Reed, president of the Regional Trail Corporation, said, "This is the spot where Gen. Braddock crossed the Yough (in 1755 during the French and Indian War). We have targeted where that is and are crossing in their footprints. Also, Connellsville was the coke center of the world; the railroads ran through the city along the river. We want to stress how important the river was and is."

Karen Hechler, president of the Connellsville Area Historical Society, said she would like to "play up the river and the part the river has played in Connellsville's history. It's what attracted people here in the first place."

She said Stewart took traders across the river in flatboats.

"Shipped items included early iron products, skillets, flatware and coke," she said.

Hechler would like to see a series of flags representing America's history from a British colony to the present with interpretive plaques and pictures "indicating what was going on in Connellsville when a certain flag flew."

Hechler said Mayor Judy Reed suggested researching footprints, to re-create Native American moccasins, George Washington's boots, Conestoga wagon wheel marks and the animals that pulled them.

"Who could resist standing in George Washington's footprints?" Hechler said.

More modern Connellsville history would be illustrated by the re-creation of a coke oven, the beehive-shaped brick oven that transformed coal into the silvery coke used to fuel steel making.

"I'd love to see a coke oven with lights. There were so many glowing at night, the lights were called 'a string of pearls,' " Hechler said.

"There are just so many wonderful possibilities," she said. "The number of people who use the bike/hike trail is astonishing. Stewart's Crossing is a magnificent opportunity."

Dexston Reed agrees.

"People have to want to come here to see something they can't see anywhere else. We have it all. We want a destination point," he said.

Judy Kroeger can be reached at jkroeger@tribweb.com or (724) 626-3538.


Coal & Coke Trail opens from Scottdale to Mt. Pleasant
By Marilyn Forbes, Tribune-Review, Sunday, July 8, 2007

After eight years of planning, clearing hurdles and sifting through mountains of red tape, the Coal & Coke Trail that connects Scottdale to Mt. Pleasant officially celebrated its grand opening Saturday.

"We're really excited about this," Mt. Pleasant Mayor Jerry Lucia said. "It's going to add a recreational concept to the town and to the surrounding areas.

"The area communities have really come together on this project. Mt Pleasant Borough, Mt. Pleasant Township, East Huntingdon, Scottdale and Upper Tyrone all pulled together to make this happen."

The concept for the trail was posed by Scottdale businessmen Rob Ferguson and Ron Aldom in the fall of 1999.

"I was in on this from the get-go," said Ferguson, now secretary of the Coal & Coke board. "Ron Aldom and I brainstormed in the fall of '99, then put together a steering committee. After eight years of meetings and grants and hard work, it's all come together."

The trail is a 4.5-mile stretch that is bordered by dense woods and runs parallel to the meandering Jacobs Creek. Its surface is packed, crushed limestone, perfect for cyclists and walkers alike.

The Mt. Pleasant section of the trail begins at the eastern side of Willows Park and concludes in Scottdale, where it is linked to the Jacobs Creek multi-use trail, located in Kendi Park, that stretches an additional 1.5 miles.

"We feel that people will come and utilize the trail," Scottdale Mayor Pat Walker said. "The trail has had nothing but a positive impact on the community."

The trail is now open to walkers and cyclists. Posted signs state that no recreational motorized vehicles of any kind are permitted to use the trail. However, motorized wheelchair users are welcome.

The basic trail itself may indeed be up and running, but the project is far from over.

"This is the first step of many," said Michael Barrick, president of the Coal & Coke Trail. "The opening of the trail does not mean that we are done."

Future plans for the trail include extensions that will reach a similar trail in Youngwood.

"Its impact on Mt. Pleasant and Scottdale will be as one of the biggest recreational endeavors ever accomplished," Ferguson said. "It will connect the two communities and include all five municipalities, and benefit the communities of Mt. Pleasant and Scottdale in a big way."

The trail itself is owned by the Regional Trail Corp. and managed by the Coal & Coke Trail chapter. Its core group of volunteers also has been a big factor in the success of the trail's opening.

"Our volunteers have put forth a lot of effort, and we have worked hard at trying to get more volunteers," Barrick said. "We will continue to need volunteers who will help with trail maintenance and monitoring, and help when washouts occur. We'll need help with the mowing in the future, and help with removing any trees or brush that may get in the way."

The Coal & Coke Trail offers area families the perfect opportunity to share quality time together and enjoy the surroundings.

"Families can now ride or walk the trail together," Lucia said. "This is going to be very exciting for the towns and for the communities."


Route 119 closures
Daily Courier
, Saturday, July 7, 2007

[other items]


Olde Overholt Days at West Overton

West Overton Museums in Scottdale will hold its annual Olde Overholt Days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 21 and noon to 5 p.m. July 22.

The entry cost is $7 for adults, and $4 for seniors and students. Children younger than 6-years-old and museum members are admitted free.

There will be period demonstrations on cooking, textiles and home life. This is a hands-on historical experience. West Overton Museums is located along Route 819 between Scottdale and Mt. Pleasant. Call 724-887-7910 or e-mail admin@westoverton.org for more information.

[other items]

Mt. Pleasant

Trail grand opening today

The grand opening of the Coal and Coke Trail will be held at 10 a.m. today in Willows Park, Mt. Pleasant.


Path linking 5 towns in Westmoreland, Fayette already well-trodden
By Laura Van Wert, Tribune-Review, Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A ribbon-cutting ceremony marks the official opening of the Coal & Coke Trail in Mt. Pleasant on Saturday, but the long-anticipated project already has attracted bikers, runners and walkers to the trail's communities.

"It's nice having somewhere besides the streets now," said Justina Hrabic, 21, of Mt. Pleasant.

Hrabic said she walks the 5.5-mile trail about four times a week, ever since the trail was completed three weeks ago. She said she likes the secluded woods and straight, flat path.

Hrabic isn't the only one frequenting the trail. On Tuesday morning, men, women and children trickled onto it every several minutes, biking, running and walking.

And that is the response members of the Coal & Coke Trail Chapter hoped for, too.

"It's hard to keep people off, once the surface is laid," said Malcolm Sias, Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation planning coordinator.

The Coal & Coke Trail runs from Willows Park in Mt. Pleasant to Kendi Park in Scottdale, passing through Mt. Pleasant Township, East Huntingdon and Upper Tyrone in an effort to forge another link between the communities.

"It's been almost an eight-year process," said Rob Ferguson, Coal & Coke Trail Chapter secretary.

The trail has done more than just connect the communities physically. It has brought members of the communities together to build and maintain it as well.

"I think it's one of the most innovative recreational ideas in the Mt. Pleasant-Scottdale area," Ferguson said.

The estimated total cost of the trail is between $200,000 and $250,000, financed in part with a $100,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation Natural Resources under the stipulation that the money be matched in man-hours and donations from the community. Between $60,000 and $70,000 in federal grants also were received.

In March 2004, hundreds of community members helped clear the area of garbage and other debris. Since then, Coal & Coke Trail Chapter members helped lay the path and build two bridges for the trail. Now that the trail is opened, members are expected to help with trail repairs and maintenance.

"We've accomplished this, but there's more to be accomplished," Ferguson said. "The burden now of the whole idea falls on the municipalities."

Ferguson said it is the communities that must draw in bikers and hikers and keep them coming back to use the trail. He said the communities can do this by offering services -- opening bike rental shops, public restrooms, water fountains and other such services -- in the vicinity of the trail to meet the needs of the bikers and hikers.

Ferguson said he expects bikers and hikers from the five communities, as well as people from throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania to use the trail.

However, it may take some time to see some economic results. "It takes a little while to develop that," Sias said.

Saturday's ceremony at 10 a.m. begins in Willows Park with the ribbon-cutting. A ceremonial bike ride will follow from Willows Park to Kendi Park.


Winnie's legacy - a nature reserve
By Dawn Law, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Monday, July 2, 2007

[many items]

Local artists summon stories from beyond

When you walk into the distillery at the West Overton Museums along Route 819 in Scottdale, there is no denying the feeling that you are not alone.

The history of the pre-Civil War village is rich with ghost sightings, presumed to be spirits of the family who, more than a century ago, made whisky there.

The village also is the birthplace of Henry Clay Frick, the coke and coal magnate who rose from working class to millionaire by age 30, helping to fuel the steel boom in Pittsburgh.

Local authors say the history of the place is strange but true, just like the ghost stories in their books.

On Saturday, the authors gathered with artists at the distillery for the annual "Authors' and Artists' Tea and Book Signing."

"Weird West Overton" is a collaboration between Mary Ann Mogus, museum board president; Ed Kelemen, board member; and Brendan Kelemen, his young son and a poet.

Kate Bannon, of Scottdale, said, "I'm very interested in local history, and I came here to see something I haven't seen before."

She did. She saw a video of orbs the artists claim to have captured floating around the museum grounds.

For the event, 150 people joined Bannon to get a sneak peek of other books, such as "Country Chronicles: A Vivid Collection of Fayette County Histories," written by Ceane O'Hanlon-Lincoln.

Guests enjoyed 19th-century music sung by a group called The Home Front and had an opportunity to pick up a CD compiled by a local women's group called The Remnants. "Bits and Pieces" features the autoharp, dulcimer and bowed psaltery.

Artists and authors seen at the event were Tom Crytzer, Nancy Egan, Karen Lihan, Ann Baltich, Lonnie Rittenour, Linda Cotelli, Barb Miller, Ron Shafer and Marge Burke.

-- Jennifer Miele, WTAE

Dawn Law is a stringer for the Tribune-Review.


West Overton Museums brings together authors, artists, public
By Rachel R. Basinger, Daily Courier, Thursday, June 28, 2007

Several local authors and artists will come together Saturday afternoon to show their works to the public during the Authors and Artists Tea at West Overton Museums.

Mary Ann Mogus, president of the museum's board of directors, said this is actually the second year the museum held the tea for authors, but several artists expressed their interest in being a part of the event, so the museum decided to include them this year.

"The tea is a get-together for authors and artists, where the public can meet and see what these people produce," Mogus said.

She added that the public can also buy their books, CDs, DVDs, paintings and other items, and get them signed.

"The idea is to offer support for local and regional authors and artists by holding this event for both them and the public," Mogus said. "Currently the museum carries their books on consignment in the museum's gift shop, and by bringing the artists and authors and public together in this informal atmosphere, it gives everyone a chance to interact, ask questions about art and writing and have a good time."

Mogus came up with the idea last year to help the authors whose books the museum carried in its gift shop.

"It seemed like a good idea to have a book signing, and the Greensburg Writer's Group had just published their mystery anthology, 'The Phantom Detective,'" Mogus said.

Last year, approximately 100 people attended. It was too crowded in the gift shop, so this year the event has been moved to the Distillery Room, Mogus said. "There is no cost to the artists or authors to set up a table, and what they make is theirs."

The only fee for the public is the standard entrance fee for the museum and grounds. The museum will supply refreshments for the event as well as the place for the artists and authors to display their books and wares.

Mogus said West Overton recently became more involved with authors and artists because of this and because of a relationship with the Ligonier Valley Writers.

This year, West Overton is also participating in the One Book One Community program and will host Les Standiford, author of "Meet You in Hell" on July 28 as part of the program.

"West Overton has been involved in the arts for the last couple of years and is becoming more so because of the many programs it is offering alone and in cooperation with other organizations," Mogus said.

Some of the artists attending the event include the band Home Front with its new CD of Civil War music; the Remnants with its CD of dulcimer music, along with artists Sharon Yoder, Kathy Rosensteel and Bob Simmons.

Some blacksmithing and silk painting artists will be there.

Although there was no formal registration for the authors and artists to participate, Mogus needs to know who is coming. Anyone interested should contact the museum at 724-887-7910.

"I would like to see a lot of people attend the event to get to know the artists and authors," Mogus said.

The setup for the artists is anytime after noon. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The event runs from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Rachel R. Basinger can be reached at rbasinger@tribweb.com or (724) 626-3536.


Scottdale community holding yard sale
By Patricia Walker, Daily Courier, Thursday, June 28, 2007

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Local authors will be autographing books at West Overton Museums' second annual Authors' and Artists' Tea and Book Signing from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The session will take place in the Distillery Room, and the gift shop will stock the books for the rest of the summer.

More than two dozen regional authors and artists will be there to demonstrate their work and talk with visitors about books and art. Authors and artists will sign their creations and talk about getting involved in art, writing and publishing. Refreshments will be served. The 24th annual quilt show, including prize-winning quilts from all over the country, also will be held. Visit the museum, learn more about the Overholts and the Fricks, see quilts, meet the many authors and artists, and pick up a few early Christmas presents. For details, call 724-887-7910.

Admission to West Overton is $7 for adults, and $4 for children and seniors. In addition to the day's events, admission includes a guided tour of the Abraham Overholt homestead, a self-guided tour of the village and the film "Pillars of Fire," which is about the coke ovens that ran at the site in the 19th century. For directions and more information, visit www.westoverton.org.

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Antiques on Tuesday will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at West Overton Museums with an antique appraisal session with John Mickinak, who will offer verbal appraisals of antiques in the Distillery Room. Items to be considered include glass, ceramics, costume jewelry only, some coins, documents, paintings, decorative arts, crocks, toys and clothing. Call 724-887-7910 for an appointment; space is limited. Cost is $15 for the first three items, $6 for each additional item up to a total of five. Parking is available behind the museum, which is located on Route 819, between Scottdale and Mt. Pleasant.


Westmoreland Museum of American Art presents Pennsylvania folk art exhibit
By Kurt Shaw, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sunday, June 24, 2007

Frank Swala fiddles with a small tin disc, placing it on top of a clay jar imprinted with a blue pictogram of peaches.

"These tin lids were put on, then they took hot wax and sealed them," Swala says. "So, while the product was still boiling hot -- lets say peaches or something -- they put it in there, put the lid on, and put sealing wax around it. And then as it cooled, it contracted and made its own seal. These, of course, were outdated when the glass industry started making glass canning jars."

A stoneware collector, Swala, who lives in Jefferson, Greene County, is a guest curator of salt-glazed stoneware and tanware for "Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition," an exhibition of folk art pieces, mainly from the 19th century, that all have their origins in Pennsylvania.

The show, which opened Saturday at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, is by far one of the largest of its kind ever produced. Arranged in four categories, each of which is organized by its own curator, the exhibition features more than 400 important examples of fraktur, salt-glazed stoneware and tanware, textiles, and painted furniture.

For his part, Swala coordinated efforts with several Southwestern Pennsylvania collectors to select more than 200 salt-glazed stoneware and tanware objects from a six-county area, including pieces from his own collection.

They include everything from whiskey jugs to jelly jars, pans, spittoons and a meat tenderizer. The stuff of everyday life in 19th-century Pennsylvania, they date from 1852-1911. Many have those dates, as well as the names of the makers, boldly emblazoned on them. The earliest example is a 20-gallon storage jar with hand-painted banner by James Hamilton.

One of Swala's favorite pieces is a "presentation dog," circa 1865. Swala says the small, and rather crude-looking, blue spotted Dalmatian likely was a trade sign for A.B. Dunaway, a druggist from Greensboro.

Created by James Atchison, it is inscribed on one side as follows: "A.B. Dunaway -- Dealer in Drugs, Paints & Fancy Goods of all Kinds." And on the other: "Go to Dunaways for Good Segars and Tobaco" (spelling is correct).

Swala is one of nearly 40 private collectors who, along with several area museums and cultural institutions, have lent pieces from their collections for this unprecedented exhibition.

"One of the reasons we thought this would be a great show for us is that we have something from every category in the museum's permanent collection," says Barbara Jones, the museum's curator. "So it was a nice thing for us to include those and highlight those things from our collection. And then bring in major collectors from the surrounding area."

One of the pieces Jones is referring to is a bright red Soap Hollow chest of drawers, one of the first pieces visitors will see in the painted furniture section. That same chest graces the cover of "Soap Hollow: The Furniture and its Makers" (Canal Press, 2002) by Charles Muller of Groveport, Ohio.

Not without coincidence, Muller acted as curator of the painted furniture section, which includes, in addition to the museum's piece, 17 exceptional examples of painted furniture.

Except for three pieces that were made by Jacob Knagy of Myersdale, Somerset County, most of the furniture on display was made by Soap Hollow cabinetmakers.

"Probably no other group of furniture has such an abundance of extant examples," says Muller, who personally has cataloged more than 300 pieces of Soap Hollow furniture and 25 pieces made by Knagy.

The pieces are unique for their brightly painted colors and stenciled designs. They were made in the early 19th century, primarily of poplar and cherry, by German Amish cabinetmakers who settled in Soap Hollow, a three-mile-long valley on the northern edge of Somerset County near Johnstown.

Based on dated pieces, there were at least 11 furniture makers in Soap Hollow from 1834-1928. The chest of drawers in the museum's permanent collection dates to 1867 and is attributed to Jeremiah Stahl (1830-1907). A prime example, it represents Soap Hollow furniture at its best with its bright red color and bird decoration combined with the classic scrolled backboard, kite-shaped escutcheons, drop-centered skirt and finely turned legs to present a piece that incorporates the individuality of the maker with tradition of form.

Pittsburgh attorney Harley N. Trice, a recognized authority on textiles, served as guest curator of the textiles section. In addition to 34 samplers representing six Southwestern Pennsylvania counties, he has selected four outstanding coverlets from the collections of West Overton Museum, Washington County Historical Society and two private lenders.

Also on display in this section is a Civil War quilt from the collection of the Sewickley Valley Historical Society that dates to 1890.

Finally, a major portion of the exhibition is made up of frakturs and was organized by R. David Brocklebank, of Ligonier, who has been collecting research on fraktur for more than 35 years.

Practiced by Pennsylvania Germans primarily from the mid-18th to the mid-19th centuries, fraktur blossomed into a uniquely rich, colorful and iconographic form of expression in the United States, tied to rites of social life, such as births, baptisms and marriage.

The name derives from that of a distinctive German script marked by "fractured" pen strokes, and the form has clear roots in European folk culture.

Highly decorated, some are engraved, but many on display were drawn and painted by hand, such as one particularly excellent example by John George Busyaeger, who was active between 1809 and 1841.

According to Brocklebank, Busyaeger was, by far, the most prolific fraktur artist in Westmoreland County. During his 30-plus years of work, he created at least 35 percent of the local fraktur.

The one on display here, which features a colorful motif made of pinwheel lilies, thistles and berries, was created as a birth and baptism certificate for Elisabeth Barbara Wagner, born April 18, 1855, and baptized May 18, 1855. Like nearly all of the artist's works, it is signed and dated "Made by J.G. Bushyaeger 1841."

Of course, the examples held up here merely scratch the surface of this most extensive and interesting exhibition, which obviously benefited from the equally extensive knowledge of the guest curators and collectors who made it all possible.

'Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition'

What: An exhibition of important examples of fraktur, salt-glazed stoneware, tanware, textiles and painted furniture, all having their origins in Pennsylvania

When: Through Oct. 14. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays; Thursdays until 9 p.m. Open July 4

Admission: $5; free for age 11 and younger

Where: Westmoreland Museum of American Art, 221 N. Main St., Greensburg

Details: 724-837-1500 or www.wmuseumaa.org

[Karen's Note:  The article below tells about Senator Bob Regola's visit to West Overton Museums on Founder's Day, which I attended with my husband and son. There were maybe 15 people present, including the three or four Museum staff members.]


Regola speaks at Founder's Day
By Rachel Basinger, Daily Courier, Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Visitors to West Overton Museums were treated to free guided tours as part of Founder's Day.

Mary Ann Mogus, president of the museum's board of directors, said free tours have always been a part of Founder's Day, which is held the third Saturday of June each year.

Although it's had guest speakers in the past, the museum had strayed away from it in recent years. But Executive Director Barb Perlstein is hoping to make it a tradition once again, and invited Sen. Bob Regola to speak Saturday.

"I chose Sen. Regola for this year because of his interest in tourism," she said. "In the future, we'll probably continue to invite different political figures and various other individuals who are fluent in heritage tourism."

Perlstein said the museum would like to become a major destination in Westmoreland County, and become known as the heritage destination that will attract lots of visitors and encourage economic growth.

She is looking into National Landmark status as part of the plan to attract enough funds to restore the village.

In 1993, the museum received a quote of $18 million to restore West Overton Village.

Regola said he always tries to help with historical issues.

"I'm your spokesperson in Harrisburg, and you're my eyes and ears," he said. "West Overton is important to me because historical preservation is something I believe in."

He added that in today's highly technical and hectic world, it's very easy to forget about what made the county what it is today.

"There's so much going on around us at all times that even as our horizons are expanding, the substance is diminishing," Regola said. "We, as a nation, suffer when we fail to maintain historic preservation."

He added that through the efforts of the staff at West Overton, this important landmark has been maintained.

"This area was the gateway to the west and to new frontiers, but it's also the home of many men and women, both great and small, who shaped our county," Regola said. "Here at West Overton, we can step back and see history and learn about the people who helped to make this county what it is today."

He said it's one thing to read a chapter in a book or watch a documentary, but it's not nearly as meaningful as actually being in the same place where those individuals lived their lives and fulfilled their dreams.

Regola concluded by thanking everyone involved with the preservation of the West Overton Village for future generations to enjoy.

Perlstein asked Regola about the chances of the museum actually becoming its own line item in the state budget at some point.

Regola said that would not be impossible, because there are several other historic entities on the eastern side of the state that have a line item.

"In a budget that reaches in the billions of dollars, that would not be an impossible request," Regola said.


Biking: Coal & Coke trail traces old rail line in Westmoreland
By Larry Walsh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Friday, June 15, 2007

Most rail-trails start out small, and the Coal & Coke trail is no exception. But, as its name implies, what a historical trail it is.

The 5 1/2 mile-long trail, a work in progress since 1999, links the Westmoreland County communities of Mount Pleasant and Scottdale.

The latter, formerly known as Fountain Mills, was named for Thomas Scott, a Civil War hero who became president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The trail runs along the Pennsy's old right-of-way.

Although most of the trail is bordered by woods, it crosses two roads and includes a share-the-road stretch about 1/4 mile long. It parallels Jacobs Creek for much of its length and crosses bridges over two of its tributaries -- Sherrick Run and Shupe Run.

"It is probably the most innovative and important recreational addition down here in the last 30 to 50 years," said Bob Ferguson, secretary of the Coal & Coke Trail Chapter. "There were a lot of hurdles to clear, but they were, thanks to a lot of people."

He cited the cooperation and assistance of officials in Scottdale, Mount Pleasant borough and township, East Huntingdon in Westmoreland County and Upper Tyrone, the only section of the trail that is in Fayette County.

The trail, already in use, will have its grand opening at 10 a.m. July 7 at Willows Park in Mount Pleasant. It will include a ceremonial ride along its entire length to Kendi Park in Scottdale.

Volunteers have been vital to the successful development of the trail. On one day alone -- April 3, 2004 -- 146 men, women and children, assisted by heavy equipment operators, removed 24 tons of trash, 8 tons of recyclable scrap metal and 4,850 tires from a former junk yard at Iron Bridge.

Ferguson said Scottdale was a hub of activity in the early 1900s, when hundreds of coal mining companies in the area fed 30,000 coke ovens. The railroad shipped coal and coke to markets throughout the country. Industrialist Henry Clay Frick was born nearby in a spring house on the site of the West Overton Museum.

"We have a great story to tell about the history of our area, and the bike trail will help us tell it," said Ferguson, whose family has lived in the Scottdale area since the mid-1800s. His funeral home, the oldest business in Scottdale, marked its 125th anniversary last year.

For more information, e-mail him at fergfh@verizon.net or call 724-887-5300.


Ruffsdale boy catches the big one
By Patricia Walker, Daily Courier, Thursday, June 14, 2007

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Crafters, artists and authors can place their work on consignment at the West Overton's Museum Gift Shop. Call 724-887-7910 for more information.

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The 29th Founder's Day will be celebrated on Saturday at West Overton Museum. Free admission to the grounds. For more information, call 724-887-7910.


Scottdale firemen's parade is Wednesday
By Patricia Walker, Daily Courier, Thursday, June 7, 2007

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The 24th annual quilt show is now going on at West Overton Museum, Route 819, between Scottdale and Mt. Pleasant. Juried quilts are on display. For more information, call 724-887-7910.

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Bring your antiques to be appraised from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in the Distillery Room at West Overton Museum. John Mickinak is the antique appraiser. For a reservation, call 724-887-0887.


Up, Up and Away
By Dawn Law, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Monday, June 4, 2007

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Hands-on Tour

Antiques appraiser John Mickinak on Thursday conducted a hands-on tour of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art's decorative arts collection.

Assisted by the Greensburg museum's public programs coordinator, Kathryn Pryce, Mickinak, wearing white gloves, offered his audience a close up of the museum's early 19th-century furniture styled after Chippendale, Hepplewhite and others.

"Usually when you go to a museum, you see the piece, and stand back and admire it," Mickinak said. "You're going to look at the pieces and evaluate them, and do all the things that you always wanted to do in a museum but never could."

An appraiser for 30 years, Mickinak said he uses the skills of a historian, a detective and an artist to learn about finds.

For instance, he said, furniture made of chestnut or poplar is often found to have been made in Western Pennsylvania, where the wood was accessible.

Mickinak demonstrated how to open a simple, but secret, lock that German crafters installed in an 1867 "Soap Hollow" chest of drawers, and gave pointers on how to differentiate between hand-tooled and machined work.

For anyone seeking an evaluation of their own treasures, there's no need to track down "Antiques Roadshow."

For $6 an item, Mickinak does appraisals on the second Tuesday of each month at the Distillery at West Overton Museums in Scottdale.

For more information, call West Overton at 724-887-7910.


Theater tops preservationists' list
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
, Friday, May 25, 2007

A Washington County theater leads the annual list of potential restoration projects suggested by the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh.

The list was announced to coincide with the Shadyside group's Fifth Anniversary Celebration this evening at the McCook Mansion on Fifth Avenue.

The Top 10 list of sites that bode best for preservation is made up of:

  • The Coyle Theater (1927-28) in Charleroi, Washington County
  • A tie between the Second Baptist Church (1918) in Blairsville, Indiana County, and the Waynesburg and Washington Railroad Station (1907) in Washington, Washington County
  • W.R. McIllwain Store and Warehouse (1850) in Saltsburg, Indiana County
  • Glenshaw Glass Co. (1900) in Shaler
  • Morningside School (1897) in that section of Pittsburgh
  • Tie between West Overton Museums (1826-59) Scottdale, Westmoreland County, and Crawford Grill No. 2, (1917) in the Hill District
  • Blairsville High School (1930) in that Indiana County community
  • Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Passenger Station (1890-1900), Beaver, Beaver County

At the celebration, Sandee Gertz Umbach, founding executive director of the Washington Community Arts and Culture Center, will receive the Promise Award as an emerging preservation leader.

The event starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20, or $30 for nonmembers. Details: www.youngpreservationists.org.

-- Bob Karlovits

[Karen's Note: The article below by Bill Toland highlights the current popularity of rye whiskey. This popularity is several years old by now, but I am hoping this is a long-lasting and growing trend. Over the past several years of my Internet adventure, people have written to me asking why it was so difficult for them to find any Old Overholt to buy. After some effort, I have learned the two current and best methods to locate and buy this beverage, at least in Pennsylvania.

First, you CAN get Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey in this state, Pennsylvania, but it is not easy. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board regulates everything, and even though the old neighborhood "state store" looks nicely commercial and sports an attractive sign -- Wine & Spirits -- it is still a state store. They will be stocking only the most popular wines and liquors, those brands that people ask for immediately upon walking through the door.

If you want Old Overholt, ask for straight rye whiskey, because the store clerk will not know the label or the product. You will be directed to the proper shelf, but chances are high that Overholt whiskey will not be on that shelf, so a special request must be made. You must ask the clerk to check the computer and see if any Old Overholt can be found in a store in the area, or anywhere in the whole state. This check takes little time, and if a bottle or two can be located, you can make a special order.

If you live in a big city, like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, the chances are good that a couple bottles (i.e., "units") will show up somewhere in or near the city limits. Otherwise, it may take a few days for your store to get a "shipment" (i.e., a few bottles at best). The alternative is to go ahead and order a case, if you can afford that, especially if you want to have a good supply for a wedding or a party or something.

Second, the easiest method to locate and order your bottle of Old Overholt is to do everything yourself via the Internet. Go directly to the PLCB web site: http://www.lcb.state.pa.us/. Then go to the Product Catalog, do a search for RYE (STRAIGHT), "Overholt," and when the list appears, click on the product name, which will lead you to the locations where "units" are in stock. Then you can order online. The list of available "units" will change on a daily basis. On January 6, I discovered that in the whole state of Pennsylvania, there were 12 units of Old Overholt in a Penndel store, 11 units in a Philadelphia store, and one unit in a Monessen store. Two days later, the list was different.

By the way, it is illegal for Pennsylvanians to mail liquor to a friend or family member. All mailings must be done by the PLCB, so do not get yourself into any trouble!

You would think that the current distiller of this fine rye whiskey would do a better job in distribution, at least in Western Pennsylvania, the place where it was "born," so to speak. The last time I checked, the Jim Beam corporate name was Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. (it changes every few years). Obviously, they keep making the venerable Old Overholt, and have worked to perfect the beverage, trying to match the taste of Abraham's original recipe, I gather. But apparently they are not spending any money on advertising -- anywhere. Therefore, unless something changes the situation, the Old Overholt label might just disappear entirely, maybe morphing into the Jim Beam brand of rye whiskey -- and suddenly, the Jim Beam rye would show up with the far more appreciated taste of today's Old Overholt.]


Libations: Rye is popular again

By Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thursday, May 24, 2007

Its cachet has been on the rise for more than a year now, boosted, among other things, by notice from trendsetting publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Esquire magazine.

You meanwhile may have been under the impression that Western Pennsylvania's rye distillers floated down the Ohio River following the 1790s Whiskey Rebellion, giving rise to Kentucky's corn bourbon tradition.

Here's the problem with that story: Most booze historians say it's not exactly true.

For decades after the rebellion, well into the 1800s, whiskey production here boomed, and we began making such a splendid variety of the stuff that they named it after the river that gave it life: Monongahela rye.

In 1810, while Kentucky produced 2.2 million gallons of primarily corn bourbon, Pennsylvania shipped 6.5 million gallons of distilled spirits, mostly Monongahela rye.

Related information

You can visit the former Old Overholt distillery, part of the West Overton Museums, which just opened for the season in Scottdale, Westmoreland County. For details, visit www.westoverton.org.

Old Overholt was born in Westmoreland County. The old Israel Shreve distillery still stands in Perryopolis, on a property once owned by George Washington; the original Michter's distillery was built in Pennsylvania Amish country and operated until 20 years ago.

It all would make for a nice little history trail, wouldn't it?

John Lipman and his wife, Linda -- Pennsylvania natives now living in Ohio -- have trekked this trail, giving themselves a self-guided tour of the state's old distilleries.

[Karen's Note: Hey, John! Hey, Linda! Hope you are doing well these days!]

"Whiskey history and United States history are so intertwined," he said. From the early slave trade to the Whiskey Rebellion to Prohibition, whiskey was there, playing a role.

Mon rye, he said, may have gained its reputation by accident. In post-colonial times, whiskey was often imbibed soon after it was distilled. But Western Pennsylvania rye that was shipped back to the East was forced to age in its barrels.

"Say it came off the still in Greensburg. It sat there in a warehouse for a season, then it went back over the mountains, then it's sold in Carlisle," says Lipman. "By the time it got to Philly, it was barrel-aged," having sloshed around for maybe a year or two.

"By the 1830s, when the trains and steamboats came, a journey that might have taken two years took two days," and distillers began storing their spirits on purpose, Lipman surmised. Aged rye was born.

Rye today is an earthy, smoky, peppery brand of American whiskey that can trace its roots not only to Western Pennsylvania and but to spots in Maryland.

You make rye, as the name implies, with rye grain (instead of corn, wheat or barley), mashing it up and fermenting it in oak barrels. We made it here because rye, the grain, is tolerant of acidic soil and cool weather, unlike wheat. The charred oak barrels are a Western Pennsylvania flourish, separating our stuff from the whiskey made by farmers tending the land between Allentown and Philadelphia.

So what killed our Pennsylvania rye? And rye in general?

"Largely, Prohibition," said Lew Bryson, managing editor of Malt Advocate whiskey magazine. He's a Pennsylvania native, and he pursued his graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University.

"Rye is a bit more difficult to make. It's more expensive to make."

[Karen's Note: Hey, Lew! Hope you are doing well these days, too!]

If you had to get up and running immediately after Prohibition was repealed, "you'd probably do bourbon first," he said.

Additionally, American rye was displaced by Canadian rye, and it gained a reputation as drink for those who want to get drunk, fast.

In Billy Wilder's "The Lost Weekend," the protagonist resorts to begging for rye across his four-day bender:

"Two bottles of rye. The cheapest. None of that twelve-year-old, aged-in-the-wood chichi."

"That's the kind of rap rye got, unfortunately," Mr. Bryson said. Not that it was unwarranted: "For 25 to 30 years, rye tasted like crap."

But now there are more varieties of rye available today than there were a year ago, says freelance spirits writer Paul Clarke.

Niche spirits go through cycles -- they have a peak, then they disappear for a while, then folks get curious about them again.

"There have been lots of things that have faded from service over the years," he said. "I think there's always going to be an interest in things that are difficult to obtain."

Rye was one of those things. It was, as Mr. Clarke put it, the "secret handshake of the liquorati."

The exceptions were a few brands such as Old Overholt, Wild Turkey and the ubiquitous Jim Beam rye, which dominate the U.S. market, along with the Canadian "ryes" (they aren't American-style ryes, which require at least half of the mash to come from rye grain).

But now you can find a couple of Michter's varieties, Rittenhouse, Sazerac, and Pennsylvania's state stores can even special-order Mr. Clarke's favorite, Black Maple Hill, which bottles an 18-year and a 23-year-old rye and keeps its source distillers a secret.

"This whiskey was so good it made me downright emotional," he said after a tasting.

Best Mr. Clarke can tell, rye's turnaround officially began a year ago when Heaven Hill Distillery's Rittenhouse bottled-in-bond rye (meaning it has the U.S. government seal of approval) won top North American whiskey at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

"It's one of the most prestigious awards, beating out all these high-end bourbons," said Mr. Clarke, who calls Rittenhouse a "rock star" now. Obviously, 18-year-old rye isn't made overnight, and distributors are burning through older rye that has been sitting in warehouses, unsold, for a decade or more.

Bar managers want to stock it on their shelves, but they can't keep it there once rye geeks find out about it. Then it's hard to find new bottles.

"I think I got the last seven bottles of the Hirsch 13-year-old left in the country," said George Costa, manager of the Southwark bar in Philadelphia.

He says, without exaggeration, that he's personally responsible for getting a half-dozen rye lines available in Pennsylvania, after badgering the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to buy them. He's amassed a collection of more than a dozen ryes at his bar, and hopes to add a few more before the old batches start to run out.

"I do think it's going to be difficult to get the aged ryes. When those are gone, you're not going to see them for a few more years."

So if you like whiskey, but find yourself stuck in a Scotch or bourbon rut, buy a bottle of the rye.

Pour a glass, over ice if you want. Have a sniff -- it's like putting your head in a cedar chest, or a cigar humidor.

Then drink up, while you have the chance.


  • 2 parts rye
  • 1 part sweet vermouth
  • Dash of bitters

Mix the three ingredients in a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.


  • 2 teaspoons Pernod
    1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
    Dash bitters
    2 ounces rye

Coat an old fashioned glass with the Pernod or another Absinthe substitute, leaving a puddle in the bottom of the glass. Add bitters and syrup, then the rye. Garnish with a lemon twist.

(Bill Toland can be reached at btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625. )


Tourism funds doled out to 31 Westmoreland Co. businesses
By Laura Van Wert, Tribune-Review, Friday, May 18, 2007

The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, The Palace Theatre and Frank Lloyd Wright's Duncan House at Polymath Park each received $25,000 Thursday in Westmoreland County's fifth annual Tourism Grant Program, presented by the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

The Greensburg museum will use the funds for marketing the exhibit "Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition," said Andrea Cuda, co-owner of the Ramada Inn in Ligonier and grant review committee member.

"This project supports their mission by continuing an outdoor advertising campaign in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and beyond," said Annie Urban, grant review committee member and executive director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. "This exhibition will include important examples of high-quality folk art, including fraktur, stoneware, furniture and textiles, all having their origins in Southwestern Pennsylvania."

The exhibit will be an important draw for the summer tourism season, Urban said.

The Greensburg theater will use the funds for marketing outside the county through television, radio, billboards and newspapers, said Teresa Baughman, the theater's marketing manager.

"I just think it's great that we have the opportunity to provide for the community," Baughman said.

The theater received grants from the county in recent years, but on a smaller scale, Baughman said. It looks to expand its marketing further east.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Duncan House will use the grant to improve a roadway for the Polymath Park Resort that is a short drive from Fallingwater, Urban said. The house was saved and dismantled from its original Lisle, Ill., location and reconstructed in Acme. It will join Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, two other Wright-designed homes, to bring tourists to the area, Urban said.

The three organizations were just a few of 31 tourist-related businesses that received grants totaling $279,960. About 60 people from the tourist-related business and organizations attended the presentation at 10 a.m. at The Palace Theatre to receive grants.

"It's an exciting morning here," Urban said. "We had 62 applicants, and 31 could be granted."

The grants will help the groups with projects related to marketing and/or capital, aiming to further entice prospective tourists to Westmoreland and Fayette counties, Cuda said. The groups that received grants displayed the most potential to bring in tourists from outside the county, she said.

Grants were awarded to a variety of businesses and organizations within the two counties. The committee allocated small sums of money to minor projects, such as the $1,000 the Latrobe Area Chamber of Commerce received to replace its "Welcome to our Neighborhood" sign, which was vandalized in September 2006, Urban said.

Larger sums awarded included $18,200 to Idlewild Park and SoakZone for marketing, and $15,000 to the Days Inn Donegal to help build an outdoor pavilion.

Last year, the committee allocated $255,275 to 25 groups, a sum slightly lower than this year. The grant total is larger this year because it stems from revenue generated from the Westmoreland County hotel tax, Urban said. The tax revenue goes completely to the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau and one-third of it is allocated to the grants, she said.

Other groups receiving funding:

• Living Treasures Animal Park, Donegal -- $12,000
• Mountain Laurel Chamber of Commerce, Donegal -- $12,000
• Courtyard by Marriott Greensburg -- $10,000
• Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor -- $10,000
• Family Festival Association -- $10,000
• Ligonier Highland Games -- $10,000
• Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce -- $9,620
• Smartours, Ligonier -- $2,095 (capital) and $7,000 (marketing)
• Scottdale Historical Society -- $8,900
• City of Greensburg, Concerts in the Park -- $8,000
• Victorian Vandergrift Museum and Historical Society -- $8,000
• Westmoreland County Historical Society -- $7,970
• Festa Italiana di Vandergrift Inc. -- $7,500
• Stone Villa Wine Cellars, Acme -- $7,000
• Old General Store, Donegal -- $6,800
• Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival, Greensburg -- $5,000
• Wilderness Wildlife Museum, Rector -- $5,000
• Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival -- $4,500
• The Irwin Project -- $4,050
• Country Manor Motel, Apollo -- $4,000
• Seasons in the Mountains, Donegal -- $3,625
• Braddock Trail Chapter, NSDAR, Mt. Pleasant -- $2,500
• Conemaugh Valley Conservancy, West Penn Trail -- $2,000
• West Overton Museums, Scottdale -- $2,000
• Ligonier Valley Historical Society -- $1,200

[Karen's Note:  same article published in Daily Courier]


Tourism funds doled out to 31 businesses
By Laura Van Wert, Daily Courier, Friday, May 18, 2007


West Overton to open Saturday
By Patricia Walker, Daily Courier, Thursday, May 10, 2007

Saturday is the opening day of West Overton Museums, Route 819, near Scottdale. Event will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Food vendors will be on hand, also crafters. For more information, call 724-887-7910.

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Faith in Action plans meeting
By Patricia Walker, Daily Courier, Thursday, May 3, 2007

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Want to know what your special treasure is worth? Come to Antiques on Tuesday at West Overton Museums to be held from 7 to 9 p.m. for an antique appraisal session with appraiser John Mickinak. He will offer verbal appraisals of your antiques in the Distillery Room of the museum. Items to be considered include glass, ceramics, costume jewelry only, some coins, documents, paintings, decorative arts, crocks, toys and clothing. No large items please, but good quality color photos of furniture will be considered for possible furniture appraisal. Call 724-887-7910 for an appointment; space is limited. Cost is $15 for the first three items and $6 for each additional item up to a total of five items. Parking is available behind the museum which is located on Route 819, between Scottdale and Mt. Pleasant.


National Day of Prayer to be observed on Thursday
By Marilyn Forbes, Daily Courier, Wednesday, May 2, 2007

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= From 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, the West Overton Museums will hold its monthly antique appraisals session in the distillery building in West Overton Village, Scottdale. Appraisals will be conducted by John Mickinak. Cost for verbal appraisals will be $15 for the first three antiques and $6 per item afterwards. If interested in having items appraised, please call the museums to set up an appointment as space is limited. For information or to set up a time, call 724-887-7910.


Boy Scouts serving up some pancakes
By Patricia Walker, Daily Courier, Thursday, April 26, 2007

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Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association will hold its sixth annual Blacksmith Hammer In and Plow Days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the association's grounds, near Scottdale (just past West Overton Museums). Free admission and free parking available. Members of Fort Allen's Blacksmith Shop, along with other area smiths will hold the hammer in with demonstrations and auction of some of the work and other items at 1 p.m. Several horses, mules and a few older tractors and garden tractors will plow the fields around Fort Allen grounds throughout the weekend. On Sunday the plowing teams will participate in horse skill games. There will be farming equipment demonstrations, antique engines on display, a sawmill, shingle mill, antique tractors on display and equipment displays. A living history Civil War encampment, Carpenter's Battery, will be on the grounds. Tractor pulls will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday (admission $5 for evening pull) and noon Sunday (dead weight). For more information, call 724-836-3625.


Scottdale needs a crossing guard
By Patricia Walker, Daily Courier, Thursday, April 19, 2007

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The last Parlor Talk Series will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday with Ken Williams lecturing on the Civil War in the distillery room at West Overton Museum. For more information, call 724-887-7910.


Children's consignment sale great way to get good bargains
By Marilyn Forbes, Daily Courier, Wednesday, April 18, 2007

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= The final installation of the 2007 season of the West Overton Museums parlor talk lecture series will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the distillery in the West Overton Village, located between Mt. Pleasant and Scottdale. The featured talk will be a discussion on the Civil War, given by Ken Williams. For information, call 724-887-7910.


Replica of George Washington's distillery opens near Mount Vernon
By Matthew Barakat, The Associated Press, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

[Karen's Note: The Associated Press copyright forbids my displaying this article here. However, it is a good article, has several great photos, and because West Overton and Broad Ford are directly impacted, I highly recommend a click on the URL above.]


Murtha's representative at mayor's office
By Patricia Walker, Daily Courier,Thursday, March 29, 2007

U.S. Rep. John Murtha's representative will be at the Scottdale mayor's office from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, 10 Mt. Pleasant Road, to help with any problems you have on the federal level. If unable to come to the office, call the representative at 724-887-8220.

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Board members for West Overton Museums for 2007 are Mary Ann Mobus, president; Nancy Ponko, vice president; Roxanne Fox, secretary; and Lynne Kendrish, treasurer. Visit the Web site at www.westoverton.org for a description of intern positions available at the museum or call 724-887-7910 for more details.


Patching up projects
By Marilyn Forbes, Daily Courier, Thursday, March 15, 2007

Kate & Becca's Quilt Patch Etc. recently held its second quilt camp.

Those who attended started new projects, learned new techniques and even ironed out some problems with their quilting.

Becca Flack and Kate Hepler, owners, welcomed quilt teacher Karen Phillips Shwallon to the camp.

"The ladies go over different things," Shwallon said. "We work on all kinds of projects."

The quilt camp is a mini-event that is an extension of the regular weekly quilting and crafting classes that are taught at Kate & Becca's.

"They work on all kinds of different stitches," Flack said. "They are all here together but they are all working on different projects."

"The camp is a good opportunity for them to get out projects and work on them together," Flack said. "A lot of people work on projects until they get stuck. We'll work on getting over that hump and getting the project finished."

Shwallon was also working with the group on patterns, embellishments, beading and ribbon work.

"We like to hold these twice a year," Flack said. "We have one in February and one in August."

The spring camp is held in the restored 1836 building, located in the West Overton Village, that once housed a general store and the village post office. The August camp is much larger and held off site.

"We have our August camp at the Laurelville Mennonite Church Camp. We can accommodate up to 100 there, but we usually get about 80 people from the area." The annual three-day Fall Quilter's Retreat is in its 10th year.

"This year we are having four different speakers and a lot of different workshops," said Flack.

Weekly quilting and crafting classes at Kate & Becca's are also held the evenings, on weekends and during the day. Special classes can also be arranged for small groups who wish to focus on or learn new skills.

The shop also features anything needed for quilting, including kits.

Numerous patterns, fabric, thread, and notions are available.

The Fall Quilter's Retreat will be held from Oct. 2 to 4. For information on the event or for information on classes stop at Kate & Becca's Quilt Patch from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays or call 724-887-4160.


Bloodmobile coming to Christ UM Church
By Patricia Walker, Daily Courier, Thursday, March 15, 2007

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A Parlor Talk will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Distillery Room Theater of West Overton Museums. Cathy Rosensteel will talk about the art of silk printing. For more information, call 724-887-7910.

Speaking of the museums, you can enter your quilt in the West Overton Museum's 2007 Quilters' Competition. Deadline to enter is May 11. For more details, call 724-887-7910 or e-mail: admin@westoverton.org.


Basket bingo to feature Longaberger line
By Marilyn Forbes, Daily Courier, Wednesday, March 14, 2007

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= The monthly parlor talks will continue at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Distillery in West Overton Village. The talk will feature Kathy Rosensteel, who will do a demonstration and lecture on the art of silk painting. For more information, call 724-887-7910.


Pittsburgh Designers' Show House tickets available
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
, Saturday, March 10, 2007

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Want to know what your special treasure is worth? Go to Antiques on Tuesday at West Overton Museums in Scottdale, Westmoreland County.

The museum will have an antique appraisal session with appraiser John Michinak the second Tuesday of each month through October, starting this week.

Michinak will over verbal appraisals from 7-9 p.m. in the Distillery Room of the museum. No large items please, but good quality color photographs of furniture will be considered for possible appraisals.

The cost is $15 for the first three items and $6 for each additional item, up to a total of five. The museum is located on Route 819, between Scottdale and Mount Pleasant.

Call 724-887-7910 for an appointment.


Documentary being shown at Scottdale church
By [Patricia Walker sig], Daily Courier, Thursday, March 8, 2007

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This year's first Antiques on Tuesdays event will be held with John Mickinak from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in the Distillery Room of West Overton Museum, which is the sponsor. For more information, call 724-887-7910. Also, there is an opportunity to rent a business location at the Story Village House at West Overton Museum. Barbara Perlstein is the person to speak to if you are interested.


Medic 10 collection begins
By Marilyn Forbes, Daily Courier, Wednesday, March 7, 2007

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= The monthly parlor talks will continue on March 18 at the Distillery in West Overton Village. The talk is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and will feature Kathy Rosensteel who will do a demonstration and lecture on the art of silk painting. For more information, call 724-887-7910.


Public hearing
Daily Courier,
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

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= March 13 through Oct. 9, West Overton will have antique appraisals on the second Tuesday of each month. John Mickinak will offer verbal appraisals from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Distillery Room of the museum. The cost is $15 for the first three items and $6 for each additional item to a total of five. For information, call 724-887-7910.


Trip to Lancaster planned for May
By Marilyn Forbes, Daily Courier, Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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= The monthly parlor talks will continue on March 18 at the Distillery in West Overton Village. Scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., the talk will feature Kathy Rosensteel, who will do a demonstration and lecture on the art of silk painting. For any questions, contact the museums at 724-887-7910.


Scottdale Band rehearsal set
By Patricia Walker, Daily Courier, Thursday, February 15, 2007

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A Parlor Talk event will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the West Overton Museum in Scottdale. Lecture by Attorney Donald Rigone will be on "The Vicksburg Campaign." For reservations to this free event, call 724-887-7910.


West Overton continues its Parlor Talks
By Barbara Hollenbaugh, The Tribune-Review, Sunday, January 21, 2007

The mission of the West Overton Museums always has been to instill in local residents a knowledge of and love for local history, and and an appreciation for the people who made that history.

As a part of this mission, it again will sponsor a series of Parlor Talks featuring local historians.

The talks were instituted nearly 20 years ago, according to museum treasurer Lois Reed, by Susan Endersbe. Originally, they were held in the house on the grounds. Attendance grew and the event was moved to the distillery building.

Tied to the period represented by West Overton Village, the talks related to the Civil War are the most popular, said director Barbara Perlstein.

"I want (visitors) to take away an understanding of the history that occured in this area: The formation of industries, the history of our nation and involvment in the activities that led to the birth of our nation," she said.

Perlstein said she focuses on local historians when deciding who to schedule for the parlor talks.

"We look for presenters who are knowledgable of this time period," she said.

Perlstein became director of West Overton in July and had been director of the Venango County Museum.

She said she has no plans to change the talks, because "they are hugely successful." She would, however, like to expand the talks to include more discussions about the arts and crafts of that time period, such as shoemaking and weaving.

"Slices of life are fascinating, especially for people who come from a different time period," she said.

Perlstein hopes to secure National Landmark status for the museum to build an interpretive center on the village grounds.

"It will speak to what happened during that time period," she said. "At this point, there's no way to tell the story of the impact that the Overholts had in this area and that (Henry Clay) Frick had in this area. We also want to tell the stories of the immigrants who came here to work for them. Their stories are important."


Tower of Power Marching Band to hold fundraiser

By Marilyn Forbes, Daily Courier, Wednesday, January 17, 2007

= The annual parlor talk series held yearly at West Overton Museums in Scottdale will begin this Sunday at 2 p.m. The first lecture for the 2007 season will be "The Battleground of the French and Indian War: 1754-1763." The talks will be held in the distillery. For more information, call the museums at 724-887-7910.

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END OF PAGE -- Return to Karen's Branches,
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West Overton News 2007
West Overton News 2006
West Overton News 2005
West Overton News 2004b
West Overton News 2004
West Overton News 2003
West Overton News 2002
West Overton News 2001
West Overton News 2000