Historic Places – West Overton Village

We recently got our photos back from our wedding and it occurred to me that I never did a post on the location. We got married at West Overton Village, and now is when you say, “Oh. Where’s that?” and I have to ask if you’ve ever heard of Scottdale? Well, it’s out towards Connellsville but not quite that far, kind of on the other side of Greensburg. Anyway. It’s right here:

(note: all images sourced from the Library of Congress. Clicking on the image will take you the LoC website where you can download full-resolution TIF files if you have a need for enormous pictures)

There’s an abbreviated history of West Overton Village here which I will further abbreviate: West Overton began as a farm in 1800 and evolved into a very successful distillery founded in 1810.

Old Overholt, the whiskey brewed there, can still be bought today as a member of the Jim Beam family of whiskeys. It has a colorful history (that you won’t learn about from this cheesy video), having won favor with everyone from Doc Holliday to the United States Navy. America loves a distillery, but what really seals West Overton’s place on the National Register is that it is the birthplace of Henry Clay Frick.

Abraham Overholt Residence

No no, that’s grandpappy Abraham’s house. Frick was born in that one over there …

Not quite Frick's house

yes yes, much humbler. The house Henry Clay Frick was born and raised in is now done up to sell knick-knacks and antiques, so it takes some imagination to figure out how he might have lived. Suffice to say that it’s very small by today’s standards, and a far cry from the mansion he would later build in New York City. Apparently Frick lived here until he was 30, so for all of my dear readers still lacking direction in life, perhaps reading this post from their parents’ basement, take heart! You could still become one of America’s Worst CEOs. As Pittsburghers know, Frick is a controversial Gilded Age figure, leaving a legacy of appreciation for and preservation of art and architecture juxtaposed against his role in atrocities such as the Homestead strike. Hero or villian, he got his start right here.

Every where you turn in the village there is some kind of cool photogenic building, like the former distillery where we had our reception (now a museum):

Old Overholt distillery

… or the stables that were the backdrop to our ceremony:


Frankly, I wish there was more information about the history and function of the buildings on the West Overton website. There are so many questions I’d like to ask, like what is the deal with the floating doors and the brick pattern in the stables? I’m assuming that it’s for access to hay storage and passive ventilation, and in attempting to prove this hypothesis I came across a few other awesome documents. This book has a bunch of illustrations and plan drawings of various types of stables with accompanying old-timey “descriptive matter.” And then there is this priceless section showing the ventilation of a stable:

I won’t count myself a successful architect until I’ve built something with a “Foul Air Shaft.” Speaking of sections, as I mentioned above, the Library of Congress has plans for some of the buildings in addition to the pictures above, so feel free to browse if you’re a real nerd like that.

So there you have it, a little bit of history for you. I hope to do more of these in the future; Millvale has a bunch of buildings I’d like to learn more about, and if I have to learn about them the by God you’re gonna hear about them, too. If you want to weigh in on the hero or villian debate, or solve the mystery of the patterned brick, or tip me off to some other historic places you’d like to see on the blog, let me know in the comments.


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