West Overton Museums leaders looking ahead
Needless to say, the last two years have been quite eventful at the West Overton Museums in East Huntingdon.
Kelly Linn was brought in as the new executive director in April 2011. Immediately, she and the board of directors decided a complete overhaul of the facility's mission and space was needed. The museum was closed and a revitalization project was undertaken.
After 16 months, the doors reopened with displays focusing on the Overholt family and West Overton Village. Then, in early November, Linn submitted her resignation amid claims she made that board members asked her to cut her pay and concerns that a renovation under way had been abandoned.
Those still involved with the West Overton Museums are now looking ahead, stressing that renovations will indeed 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.
“The revitalization is still in full gear,” said Brian Corcoran, president of the museum's board of directors. “What we are doing is looking at it as an entire village. Not so much as to focus on one specific thing like the museum, but encompassing the entire village so for people who come to it, it's going to be an experience.”
That experience will be complete with not only the village and museum, but shops for the customers. Corcoran also said the facility, which he termed as “the largest brick barn in Pennsylvania,” can be used for weddings and other various functions such as meetings. Already in the works is an HO scale model of how the village looked in the 1920s.
“We're going to be a full package, full coverage type of facility,” he said.
Jessica Kadie-Barclay, who had been handling the role of assistant executive director, has stepped in as managing director. She said she's still in the process of “hammering out” the details of her position.
“Jessica is our eyes and ears and on-location individual for the board,” Corcoran explained. “She's almost the operator of the entire building....She's the on-site operations manager.”
Kadie-Barclay does have high hopes for the West Overton's future.
“I'd like West Overton to fulfill its potential,” she said. “There's a lot of that here. I see us as being a place to go for the community. We want to be here to provide events, things to do that fit within our mission.”
The next phase of the revitalization is targeted for completion May 11. Tours will start up again at this time.
“We went to have the homestead and the outer buildings around the immediate homestead — the spring house, the summer kitchen — ready for tours, as well as the museum,” Corcoran said.
Linn's departure did come with some controversy. She was sharply criticized by some in the art and history community for selling furniture and artifacts in West Overton's collection without first getting approval. This included the sale of a rare, 200-year old mahogany desk to a local antique dealer for $500, which fetched a price of $8,700, though experts estimated the value at $50,000.
Corcoran said the situation with Linn just had reached the end of a contractual period.
As for feedback from the current museum, he said it's all positive.
“The interest from the tours that we've had, explaining what's down the road, what we have in mind, I would say phenomenal....People have been extremely interested. Membership has increased.”
There remains a need for volunteers. Interested parties may send an email to the museum email@example.com or call.
It seems for those involved it's time to look to the future and not at the past.
“We're continuously upgrading everything around the area,” Corcoran said. “It's almost a treasure trove from our archives to such a historic place. We're interacting with the local communities. The local communities to some extent consider us the jewel of the area. Somebody is always related or has some story about here. ... Everybody kind of has a connection with this place.”
Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.