Burtner House has welcomed guests to strawberry festival for 40 years
For four decades, strawberry-shortcake cravings have been sated at the Burtner House Strawberry Festival in Harrison.
The festival, which celebrates its 40th installment from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 21, features a glimpse into what it was like to live in the house when it was built 196 years ago.
“It's a really interesting place,” says Jeff Jones, president of the Burtner House Restoration Society. “We hope people will come enjoy the history and see the different things people had to do to maintain life back then.
“It wasn't easy,” he says.
The event will feature an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, Civil War re-enactors, balloon artists, crafts vendors, genealogy researchers and guided tours of the house — which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
And, of course, that famous strawberry shortcake.
“People have been coming here for 40 years for it, ”Jones says, with a laugh.”When they started 40 years ago, there weren't many strawberry festivals, if any at all.
“Now, you see them sprouting up around the area,” he says. “They kind of started the trend.”
Visitors will be given the opportunity to learn about one of the Alle-Kiski Valley's oldest treasures.
Many A-K Valley residents can trace their family trees back to the house's original occupants, the Burtner and Negley families, Jones says.
Phillip Burtner and his two brothers, George and John, arrived in the Allegheny Valley in 1793 as frontier scouts.
Phillip Burtner laid the cornerstone of the house in 1818. Over the next 100 years, it served as a homestead and working farm for generations of the Burtner family.
The house was a polling place, dating to Andrew Jackson's election. Town meetings to discuss plans for the Pennsylvania Canal were held at the house. The canal ran east to west and famously carried Charles Dickens through Tarentum.
“Our goal is to make sure the house is always open and in top shape for people to enjoy,” Jones says. “The festival is our main fundraiser to contribute to the upkeep of the house. We added a new porch this year, because the old one was getting a little too much wear and tear.”
The society made the majority of last year's $13,000 budget from the festival, he says.
Lucy Mahdik knows all too well about the money and time it takes to keep the house in good condition.
“It's like your own house,” says Mahdik, who has been a member of the society for more than 20 years. “The society has been working on this for 40 years,” she says. “It's never completely done. There's always something you can improve or that needs replaced.”
This year's festival is special for many reasons, Jones and Mahdik say, but most of all, because of the recent loss of long-time president Pauline Arnold.
Arnold, who died of cancer in December, will be missed at this year's event, Jones says.
“Pauline spent countless hours and time toward the Burtner house and volunteering,” he says. “She was always making sure everyone was on the same page.
“Pauline was a really special lady. This is the first time in 40 years she won't be there.”
R.A. Monti is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.