Burtner House Festival is a sweet trip into the past
Genealogist Nicole Glasgow believes it is important to know where we came from and what our ancestors went through that enabled us to be here today.
The Butler County resident also is convinced it is important for children to see what life was like back in the 1800s and to appreciate the luxuries they have today.
That's why it is significant, she says, to have events like the Burtner House Strawberry Festival on June 16 in Harrison which, in a sense, celebrates the history of part of the Alle-Kiski Valley. Many A-K Valley residents can trace their family trees back to the house's original occupants, the Burtner and Negley families, who were related through marriage, says Jeff Jones, president of the Burtner House Restoration Society.
The Burtner House, for which the cornerstone was laid in 1818, is the third oldest structure of its kind in Allegheny County and has seen five generations born and raised there.
Because of its size, many important meetings were held at the house, including it serving as a polling station for the 1860 presidential election (among other elections back to Andrew Jackson) when Abraham Lincoln won. It also was the meeting place for the planning phases of the Pennsylvania Canal that went through Harrison, Brackenridge and Tarentum. It was that canal that brought Charles Dickens through Tarentum aboard a packet boat in 1842.
The property once was a working farm. People would stop at the house to water their horses before proceeding up the hill of what is now Burtner Road. Prior to 1800, a Cornplanter Indian settlement was located nearby.
Phillip Burtner and his two brothers, George and John, arrived in the Allegheny Valley in 1793 as scouts on the frontier. Philip and Margaret Burtner were Nicole Glasgow's great-great-great-great grandparents.
The fest is the largest fundraiser of the year for the society. “If the homestead is ever closed from the public, a lot of rich history and family tradition will be lost,” Glasgow says.
In addition to the strawberry shortcake, ice cream and other food and treats, there will be house tours; two Civil War re-enactor groups leading discussions and demonstrations; firing demonstrations of Civil War-era guns and canon at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.; crafts; music, local authors William Davis and George Guido and more.
The Tarentum Children's Choir will perform at 2 p.m. near the summer kitchen. Portraying Abraham Lincoln, Rick Miller returns to interact with visitors.
Musician and re-enactor Mike Huston of Fawn says it is important to him to take part in the Burtner festivals, which he has been doing for almost two decades.
“We need to preserve the Burtner House to show where we came from and see how our local ancestors survived in simpler times,” he says. “With all the technology we have today, it is good to remember that our ancestors survived with far less and maybe were happier for it.”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.