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Replica of 1770s barn built at Oliver Miller Homestead

By Mary Niederberger,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thursday, July 14, 2005

Since 1973, when the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates took over the management and programming of the historic home site in South Park, the volunteer group has put on numerous displays and re-enactments of various aspects of pioneer life.

Now its members are excited about expanding their work to include more details about 18th-century farm life with the addition of a newly built wood barn, a replica of the original, which was built in the 1770s and razed by Allegheny County after it bought the Miller farm in 1927.

“We have great plans for some of the uses we can make of the barn. We are already deciding upon what sorts of displays and artifacts we can put there,” said Paula Bowman, publicity director for the associates.

A public barn-raising was held on a cold, snowy day in December when Amish Timber Framers, of Doylestown, Ohio, raised the frame with a crane. Construction was finished recently and the barn has been turned over to the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates to manage and program.

The first floor of the barn will be a large, open, unheated space, as in the original structure.

The associates group plans to move the trading post, a gift shop, from the log house on the property to the first floor of the barn.

The group also plans to move the original Miller family whiskey still from the log house to the barn. Along with the still, the group plans to set up a teaching display about the Whiskey Rebellion that would explain the conflict’s significance to the region and nation, Bowman said.

Plans call for the barn to hold a library/bookstore area and a place to sell items that are made at the homestead, such as metal items made at the forge and dolls that are made as part of craft demonstrations.

The basement of the barn will be heated and will serve as a meeting place for the associates group, which has about 40 members. Bowman said the group had met in recent years in the log house, but oftentimes, some members had to sit outside because there was not enough room.

Removing the still and trading post will free up more space in the log house, which will allow the volunteers to furnish and decorate it in a more authentic way.

“We want to turn the log house into a home that is representative of the period,” said Mary Olesky, president of the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates.

The group has items stored in the basement, including a rope bed and a child’s cradle, which it would like to display.

Bruder Construction Co., a North Side restoration company, built the barn using the construction mode of its era: mortise and tenon joints with wooden pegs.

The project was overseen by Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and was financed with a $500,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development which was procured more than four years ago by former state Sen. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, who is now in Congress.

Most of the funds were used to build the barn, but some were left over to make improvements and restorations to the stone house.

The homestead is open to the public and staffed by the volunteers from 1:30-4:30 p.m. every Sunday from April through December.

Olesky said the group hoped to get some of the new displays and activities operating during the current season, but that it was likely that some would have to wait until the off-season, when volunteers will have more time to devote to them.

“This is going to be a work in progress for a while,” Olesky said. “We have so much we want to share with the public, but it’s going to take awhile to get it the way we want it.”

(Mary Niederberger can be reached at or 412-851-1866.)

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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