Fall festival in Harrison’s Burtner House offers glimpse of American history
Abraham Lincoln was greeting visitors Saturday during an annual fall festival at historic Burtner House in Harrison.
It made sense, considering the national historic landmark built by Phillip Burtner in 1821 served as a polling place in 1860 when Lincoln was elected president, according to Rick Miller of Cranberry, a Lincoln reenactor.
“People elected Mr. Lincoln here,” Miller said. “They have two events here and I work them. I’ve been doing it for years and years.”
The fall festival is actually one of three fundraising events the Burtner House Restoration Society hosts each year, according to society President Jeff Jones. Money is used for maintenance for one of the five oldest historical landmarks in Allegheny County, he aisd.
“There were five generations of Burtners that lived in this house and grew up here, the last one being Holmes Burtner, who was moved out of here in 1968,” Jones said. “When I was a little kid, I can remember Holmes would sit on that porch up there. He was nice to the kids, but he was mean as heck to the adults. He was pretty grumpy.”
Carla Kessler, of Tarentum, and Chaz Minnich, of Gilpin, said they stopped to have lunch from an array of food ranging from sandwiches to homemade soups and sauerkraut.
“We’re history buffs,” Kessler said. “My favorite part is the fact that they have Abraham Lincoln in there. I got my picture taken with him.”
Emily Borcz, a society volunteer, has a family connection to the house. She said her great-, great-, great-, great-grandparents lived in the house.
“My mom’s a Burtner,” Borcz, of Butler, told visitors Lorraine and Joe Ritter of Monroeville. “This is my family’s house. Since my mom’s a Burtner, we wanted to be involved.”
Lorraine Ritter said she grew up on a farm in Belle Vernon that’s been in her family since 1782. She was curious to see what was inside the nearly 200-year-old Burtner House. Her family’s homestead burned years ago.
“I pass this on my way to work (at Highlands High School) every day,” she said. “To me it’s really nice to see a house this old. There aren’t too many houses around that old.”
Ray and Becky Cousins of North Buffalo said they’ve wanted to visit the house for years, but Becky always had to work on the three weekends when the house is open to the public.
“I think my favorite part is the construction, the basement and the thick walls, and the fact that someone still lived here until 1968,” Ray Cousins said.
Arthur Schottenheimer of Harrison, one of the society volunteers, said walls were 3 feet thick in the cellar and the Burtners would take shelter there during Native American raids. He said the wood in the house is original and cut from trees on the former 250-acre farm.
“It didn’t happen often,” he said, referring to the raids. “They used to shoot out of those two windows here in the basement.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, [email protected] or via Twitter .