Tag Archives: Western PA

Western Pennsylvania Whiskey Connections, Part II

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on Western PA and the Whiskey Rebellion, let’s look at some more sites with connections to distilled spirits! Here are just a few places of note, in no particular order:

  • Shreve’s Distillery in Perryopolis, near George Washington’s grist mill. Shreve contracted to buy land from Washington, but spent several years haggling over payments and prices. Washington wrote Shreve in 1798 and 1799 asking for payments due, but could not bring himself to sue a fellow army officer. Shreve and Washington both died on the same day–December 14, 1799–although hundreds of miles apart.
  • West Overton is the site of the Overholt homestead and distillery, and boyhood home of their descendant, Henry Clay Frick. A second distillery was at Broadford and is now abandoned.
  • The Schenley name has a long history in distilling, but Schenley PA is no longer a hub of activity. The ruins of the distillery buildings can still be seen there, however.
  • The Dillinger distillery at Ruffsdale was another long-lived enterprise, but the buildings are all abandoned. The Dillingers, like the Overholts, were German Mennonites who relocated from Eastern PA to Westmoreland County.
  • Sam Thompson’s distillery in West Brownsville is also out of business, but his grandson’s imposing home was once a restaurant, and can still be seen.
  • A contemporary whiskey maker is Wigle Whiskey, located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District and named for one of two men sentenced to hang for their part in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.

You may also enjoy learning more about the history of Western PA distilleries here and here.

–Marilyn Cocchiola Holt


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Obstacles to Genealogy Research

A genealogical friend from Eastern Pennsylvania asked me recently what I might consider to be obstacles to research in Western Pennsylvania. I think that the number of minor civil divisions, neighborhood names, unincorporated villages, and railroad names that researchers encounter in Pittsburgh and Western PA is the biggest headache that many of my patrons deal with.

Unlike Philadelphia, Allegheny County still has 130 active minor civil divisions (cities, boroughs, townships). The City of Pittsburgh itself grew by annexation, so researchers are always finding references to long-gone places like Birmingham, East Birmingham, Temperanceville, McClure Township, Ormsby, Monongahela Borough, South Pittsburgh, West Pittsburgh, Allegheny City, etc. in their research. There were even two locations called Duquesne!

Pittsburgh in 1902, from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection.

The Pittsburgh city wards were re-numbered several times, most notably when Pittsburgh absorbed Allegheny City in 1907, which resulted in a major shift between the 1900 and 1910 census enumerations. Many duplicating street names in the two cities were changed at that time as well. Also, Pittsburgh has 89 (more or less!) neighborhood names still used within the city. Then we have the old unincorporated places in Pittsburgh such as Bayardstown, Cowansville, Minersville, Riceville, Sidneyville, Sligo, etc.

There are many similar place names in Allegheny County as well: post office names, railroad station names, clusters of houses with names which pop up on documents to confuse the researcher, such as Bakerstown, Barking, Ferguson, Library, Linhart, Option, Semple, Wildwood, and many, many more. The best thing researchers can do for themselves is make friends with maps – both current maps and maps of the time periods they are researching! Then, if they have a question, they should just call us; we can usually steer them in the right direction, right away.

Sometimes it’s as simple as interpreting old handwriting. I had a patron looking for “Millersville Cemetery” the other day, but I knew that wasn’t right. I looked at the document in his hand and saw that it was “Minersville Cemetery” instead. So just ask us – it saves wear and tear on everyone! Our sister organization, the Western PA Genealogical Society, also has several publications which can help: their reprint of the 1911 street atlas (which shows the street names and ward changes) and the Allegheny County Cemetery Directory, which they compiled.

There are very few older Pittsburgh records online as of yet; however, WPGS coordinated a project with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka, the Mormons) to index the Pittsburgh City death records for 1870 to 1905, and they are online via FamilySearch. The Allegheny County Courthouse only has indexes for marriages after 1995 online on their website thus far. The Carnegie Library’s Pennsylvania Department now has the vital records which the county used to have – they passed them on to us in 2006. We also do research in our collection for patrons for a fee–click here for details.

Perhaps the best advice I can give is to e-mail us at padept@carnegielibrary.org, or call us at 412-622-3154.



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Pennsylvania’s Photosynthetic Powerhouse

The equation of warm days plus cool nights results in the spectacle of color we see every fall.  This past weekend while driving north on route 79, I nearly forgot how I take Western Pennsylvania’s photosynthesis for granted.  For this area, the peak of the folige season is in mid-October, making this weekend a great time to take a walk and admire what nature has to offer.  I stumbled upon an article in the Post-Gazette where foliage enthusiasts point out that the colors of foliage shouldn’t be reducing to a single day, but rather seen as a “continuum of color.”  Interesting to think of leaf watching as an art.

This site, managed by the State’s Department of Community and Economic Development has a lot of useful suggestions about where to go for day trips as well as a traveler photo gallery.

Leaves of fall by dawe2k5.

There are a ton of great spots in Western PA to marvel at the leaves.  If you can’t make it out of the city, there are webcams planted throughout the state!  As always, the library has books about fall foliage too. 

– Lisa

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