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Barn to re-create old homestead’s look

By A.J. Caliendo
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The fifth generation of the Miller family was not very happy when Allegheny County informed them in 1927 that their farm was being bought to establish a county park, which today is South Park.

Though it was small consolation to the Millers, some of their land and their stone farmhouse have been preserved as part of the Oliver Miller Homestead, a historical attraction at the park. And now, because of a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, a barn will be built to replace the one that was torn down when the county took over the land.

The grant request process started in 2001, when then state Sen. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, who is now in Congress, visited and noticed that much of the homestead was in disrepair and that modern day intrusions, such as exposed electrical wires, interfered with the ambience. Murphy thought the homestead should have more of the flavor of the time when Scots/Irishman Oliver Miller settled the land in 1772.

Murphy asked the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates if that group would oversee the renovation and building of the barn if he could persuade state lawmakers to get the money to cover the project. The nonprofit group, established in 1973 to tend to the property and conduct educational tours, agreed and the lawmaker went to work.

Murphy’s efforts resulted in a $500,000 grant from the DCED to Allegheny County, which, in turn, appointed the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to oversee spending.

That news was music to the ears of Kathleen Marsh, president of the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates, who said the money would be put to good use, particularly the portion that will be used to build the barn.

“[The grant] means a great deal, ” Marsh said. “We will be able to display many of the things we haven’t had room to display.”

Those items include farm implements and furniture, along with “a lot of the smaller artifacts” that have remained in storage.

Most of those items have been collected by volunteers over the years, said Marsh, who acknowledged, “We don’t have a lot things that belonged to the Millers.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation Property Manager Tom Keffer puts the total cost of raising the barn, designed by Landmarks Design Associates of Pittsburgh, at about $388,000. That amount includes some very specific guidelines of authenticity.

“Bidders had to base their bids on a barn that used no metal fasteners,” Keffer said, adding that the frame would be put together using the old-style mortise and tenon connectors.

Amish Timber Framers, of Doylestown, Ohio, will erect the frame. The company also cuts and mills the white oak trees that will be used.

While $388,000 might seem like a lot to erect an old-fashioned barn, OMHA Publicity Director, Paula Bowman, said it was not as simple as it was when the Millers settled here.

“Code issues and the [Americans with Disabilities Act] uses up a lot of the money,” she said.

The official ground breaking takes place at 4:30 p.m. Sunday on the homestead grounds.

“This will be a symbolic thing,” she said of the ceremony. Hopefully, when [the barn] is up, we’ll be able to have a much bigger party.”

Construction will begin soon, but there is no start date. It will take about three months to complete.

The barn will house a meeting room on its lower level. Currently, the 70-member associates meet in the homestead’s small stone house, which was built in the early 1800s to replace the original log cabin occupied by the Millers.

Other projects to be completed with grant money are the renovation of electrical wiring in the stone house and purchase of educational materials to help visitors understand the day-to-day existence of farmers in that time period.

The group will buy tools for a working blacksmith shop on the grounds.

(A.J. Caliendo is a freelance writer.)

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633