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West Overton Museums director resigns amid controversy

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 7:48 a.m.
Museum Executive Director Kelly Linn measures bead board to resemble a 1915 office space on Thursday, June 7, 2012 at the West Overton Museums near Scottdale. Steph Anderson | Tribune-Review
Steph Anderson | Tribune-Review
Museum Executive Director Kelly Linn cuts beadboard to resemble a 1915 office space June 7, 2012 at the West Overton Museums near Scottdale.
Museum Executive Director Kelly Linn hangs bead board on a wall to resemble a 1915 office space on Thursday, June 7, 2012 at the West Overton Museums near Scottdale. Steph Anderson | Tribune-Review

The controversial director of West Overton Museums said she resigned amid calls by board members to cut her pay and her concerns that a renovation already under way had been abandoned.

Kelly Linn, 50, of Monongahela said she submitted her resignation Thursday, the day her contract expired.

“I have to say I'm a little disappointed,” Linn said. “I was under the impression there was room for further discussion. I was told on Nov. 1 that there would be no further discussion.”

“She gave us a letter of resignation,” said Brian Corcoran, president of the museum's board of directors. “We're moving ahead. We wish her well.”

Jessica Kadie-Barclay, assistant executive director, will serve as interim executive director, he said.

Corcoran was emphatic that renovations will continue at the site, the birthplace of Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey in the early 1800s and of industrial magnate Henry Clay Frick on Dec. 19, 1849.

Earlier this year, Linn was sharply criticized by some in the art and history community for selling furniture and artifacts in West Overton's collection without first getting professional appraisals.

Most controversial was the sale of a rare, 200-year-old mahogany desk to a local antique dealer for $500. The dealer resold the desk for more than $8,700, though experts estimated the value at $50,000. A Virginia dealer who later sold the piece to a private collector declined to reveal the price.

But Corcoran said the sale of the items was never a point of contention with Linn.

Linn admits she clashed with board members over concerns they had decided to stop ongoing renovations at the East Huntingdon complex, which centers on the birthplace of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, who made a fortune turning coal into coke for steel production.

The museum initially was established to replicate life in an 18th-century farming community, but Linn said she persuaded the board to refocus on West Overton's whiskey-making history and renovate an on-site distillery.

The museum reopened in September after being closed for 16 months as Linn oversaw the renovation of the Overholt Distillery, where Frick's grandfather, Abraham Overholt, produced rye whiskey, she said.

That first phase of the project cost $50,000 and phase two was expected to cost about $25,000, Linn said.

She said the first phase hit a “financial snag” when officials had to dip into the facility's operating budget to pay for repairs to other buildings on the site.

When the board asked her to consider a cut in her $36,000 annual salary, Linn said, she refused.

She said at some point, the board decided it wanted to return to the way things “were before the renovation.”

Corcoran disputed Linn's claims, saying directors plan to move ahead with the second phase of the project with some “budget changes.”

“We're still going to move forward. Financially, we're in very good shape,” he added.

Linn said she had no choice but to move on from the West Overton post.

“I took a huge cut in pay to come here because I thought the place needed some attention. I thought I was the person to help them,” said Linn, who had been the curator at Fort Pitt Blockhouse at Point State Park.

“I could not work for less and do more,” she said. “It was more or less an impasse. I just could not continue there with less pay.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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