OLIVER MILLER HOMESTEAD

 

WELCOME to the OLIVER MILLER HOMESTEAD. This old stone farmhouse nestled among the trees in South Park, is a sturdy remnant of frontier days. On this site, Oliver Miller first built a log home in the wilderness. Families gathered here to worship before there was a church or a minister. Sons of Oliver Miller served in the frontier militia during the American Revolution and later were involved in the Whiskey Rebellion. The story of this family reveals a way of life and struggle for survival common to those who first settled Western Pennsylvania. Most of these frontier farmers were Scotch-Irish immigrants; some were Scottish, Welsh, and German descent. They were a proud, frugal people with few possessions, determined to find good, cheap land.

THE "SHINGLE-ROOFED HOUSE"

In 1742, young Oliver Miller emigrated with his family from County Antrim, Northern Ireland, to make a new life in America. He traveled west to Cecil County, Maryland and there he married Mary Tidball and kept a trading post. Later they moved to Friend's Cove near Fort Bedford and developed a small farm to support their growing family.

 When land opened for settlement in Western Pennsylvania in 1770, the Millers with their ten children and the Tidball relatives were among the first to cross the Allegheny Mountains by packhorse to claim land. On July 4, 1772 Oliver Miller purchased a tract of land on Catfish Run from Silas Dackster and settled on this site, later to be called Mansfield.

 Trees were cleared, crops planted, and a two-story log house with a roof of split shingles was raised. This building was one of the first of its kind in the area and, being so rare, was known the country round as the "shingle-roofed house". Due to Indian raids, the family was forced to flee several times to forts on the Monongahela River.

  • TWO CHURCHES ORGANIZED

  • For many years, the Miler home served as a meeting place for worship. The Fifes, the Dinsmores, the Gifillans and other pioneer families for miles around walked or came by horseback, dressed in humble clothes of deerskin or linsey-woolsey. The first minister to preach to this early congregation was the young Rev. John Macmillan during his third missionary journey to the west. In his journal, he records that he stopped at Peter's Creek (Oliver Miller's) where he preached and baptized five children. The date November 5, 1776, marks the beginning of two early Presbyterian Churches now known as Bethel and Lebanon. The name "Stone Manse" was selected by Allegheny County for the Miller home. When the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates was formed in 1972, the name was changed to the Oliver Miller Homestead to give recognition to the five generations of Millers who lived there.

     The Rev. John McMillan, pioneer preacher who

    conducted services at he Miller Homestead.

     OWNERSHIP OF THE OLIVER MILLER HOMESTEAD FROM 1772-1927

     From 1774 to 1780, Southwestern Pennsylvania was claimed by both the colony of Virginia and the heirs of William Penn. Oliver Miller was a man of considerable importance and was appointed Justice of Peace of Yohogania County, Virginia. He was required to tour the land bounded by the Monongahela River, Chartiers Creek, and the Ohio River to tender an oath of allegiance to Virginia to all free male inhabitants. He was also to help provide for the building of a jail and courthouse on the plantation of Andrew Heath near West Elizabeth.

     Oliver Miller died in 1782 and his will provided for the division of his land among his six sons. Most of the children had married and built homes on sections of the land. The loghouse was left to James, then 19, with the provision that his mother, and youngest sister, Mary, live there as well. In 1787, James married Mary Smith of Cross Creek and to them were born eight children. When the territory dispute between Virginia and Pennsylvania was settled, James applied for and received a patent, or deed, for his father's 424 acre plantation in March 1797 under the name "Mansfield".

     MILLER FAMILY OWNERSHIP OF MANSFIELD 1772-1927

    Oliver Miller 1772-1782

    James Miller 1782-1844 (youngest of six sons of Oliver)

    Oliver Miller 1844-1864 (oldest son of James)

    Daniel Miller 1864-1895 (son of Oliver)

    Mary Jane 1895-1927 (widow of Daniel, mother of Ida, Albert, Anna B)

    Gaston Miller

    Land purchased for the formation of South Park on July 1, 1927 - 65.286 acres.

    THE WHISKEY REBELLION

     An event of national importance occurred in this immediate area in 1794. An organized rebellion among the farmers broke out over the hated tax on whiskey. Federal law required that all stills be registered and that seven cents tax per gallon of whiskey be paid on the still.

     Whiskey was the main money crop of the frontier farmer and one out of every six operated a still. Whiskey was widely used for medicinal purposes, as a beverage, and a medium of exchange. Monongahela rye whiskey was carried in eight-gallon kegs by pack horse across the mountains to the east to be sold for a dollar a gallon. Vital items such as salt, lead, iron, and gun powder were then purchased and brought west.

     A fierce spirit of independence and instinctive hatred for the excise taxes caused many farmers to refuse to register their stills or pay the tax.

     Sons of Oliver Miller- William, John, and James, became directly involved on July 15, 1794 when General John Neville guided United States Marshall David Lenox to the home of William near the Homestead. The officers attempted to serve a writ which imposed a fine of $250 for failure to register his still, and required his appearance at Federal Court in Philadelphia. Since William had already made plans to sell his farm and move to Kentucky, he angrily refused to accept the writ and ordered the men off his property. Farmers harvesting in fields nearby, heard the argument and fired several shots at the departing officers. These were the first shots fired in the Whiskey Rebellion.

     News of the incident spread over the area. Irate farmers, led by John Holcroft and including William Miller, marched on the home of General Neville to demand the surrender of his commission. Some historical accounts say that several of the farmers were wounded and that an Oliver Miller died of his wounds. Latest research indicates that this Oliver may have been the son of Alexander and the nephew of William. The farmers retreated and regrouped at Mingo Meeting House. On July 17, 1794 nearly 500 men led by Major James McFarlane stopped at Fort Couch on their way to the Neville home. The aged pastor of Bethel Church, Rev. John Clark, pleaded with the men to turn back, but to no avail. During the second attack, Major McFarlane was killed and the barn and home of General Neville were burned to the ground.

     President George Washington considered this violence a serious test of the Federal government and ordered a force of 12,000 soldiers to quell the rebellion. William Miller, his wife, and four small children left for Kentucky before the arrival of Federal troops. James Miller and many other farmers involved in the rebellion were required to sign an Oath of Allegiance to regain their rights of citizenship.

     There were two important results in the insurrection. When the army disbanded, many of the soldiers settled In Western Pennsylvania. Another, that people gained confidence in the new Federal Government which showed a readiness to make decisions and act with firmness.

     Because of the involvement of the Miller family in the events of the Whiskey Rebellion, the Stone House was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1934.

    BUILDING THE STONE HOUSE

     In 1808, James Miller added a stone section to the loghouse. This addition seemed to meet the needs of the Miller family until 1830 when his son, Oliver, and new bride, Mary Wilson Miller, come to live with them. At this time, the loghouse was replaced with a large stone section making it the farmhouse as it stands today. Five generations of Millers lived in this homestead.

     The woodwork was originally painted flat white, achieved by a mixture of buttermilk and lime. Some of the early glass remains in the old window frames which are held together by wooden pegs. Most of the hardware was forged in a blacksmith shop on the property.

     To the right of the entrance door (in the 1808 addition to the original loghouse) is a large room used for spinning and weaving. Over the years, the first floor rooms have had various uses; for instance at the time the Millers were last in residence, this room served as a kitchen-dining room. Now the room displays spinning wheels and looms used in the making of pioneer clothing and household items.

     The room to the left of the entrance is the Keeping Room, furnished with a hutch cupboard, a settle, a clock, and pieces of china and pewterware. An 18th century ladderback armchair and a footwarmer stand by the fireplace. The dining room table, the child's chair, and the drop-leaf cabinet are original pieces that belonged to the Miller family. The old key to the front door was returned to the Homestead by Miller descendant, Betty Maits Olson, in 1989 and hangs on the wall near the front door.

     Down a few steps, at the rear of the Keeping Room, is the kitchen with an enormous stone fireplace. Cooking utensils and other equipment for the many tasks performed in the pioneer household are displayed here. Herbs and vegetables of the period are dried on racks near the fireplace. A storage cupboard contains pots, tablewear, and baskets. A small shoulder yoke and wooden buckets are used to bring water from the springhouse, the only source of water for the Homestead. Beyond the back porch is an outdoor oven.

     To the right, at the top of the stairway in the 1808 addition, are two bedrooms. The smaller is furnished as a child's room, and the other with a cherry rope bed. The interior walls and ceiling are made of wide boards cut from trees that grew here. On the walls are Miller family pictures.

     To the left of the stairway is one large bedroom called the Granny's room. It has a poster bed complete with a tester and a trundle bed. This and other pieces are of the Empire period dating about 1835. Near the fireplace is the Miller quilting frame used by the Homestead volunteers in the making of quilts.

    OLIVER MILLER HOMESTEAD ASSOCIATES

    The property was purchased by Allegheny County in 1927 to become a part of South Park. Miller belongings were removed at that time. In 1934, given the name Stone Manse and declared a national historic site, the Miller home was open to the public. For a short period of time the building was furnished and under the care of the County Federation of Women's Clubs. Later the house was staffed by an Allegheny County caretaker.

     In January 1973, a new dedicated volunteer organization, the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates, was given the approval of Allegheny County to be the official curators of the Homestead. Through the years, this all volunteer organization, with the help of Allegheny County's Department of Parks, has improved conditions of the house and grounds, constructed an outdoor bake oven, repaired the springhouse, and provided herb gardens, trees and shrubs of the period.

     Individuals who have an interest in historical interpretation, pioneer crafts, early American life and related subjects are invited to join the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates, an informal group of volunteers dedicated to preserving and interpreting pioneer skills, values and lifestyle as a heritage of great worth to twentieth century Americans.

     A major goal was realized in 1988 when a two-story log house was built. Dedicated in 1989, it serves as a visitors' center. A reminder of the first Miller house, it contains the Miller whiskey still, a chart of the Miller family, farm items of the period, a research library for members, and a trading post.

     In 1991, the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates built a fully equipped 18th century blacksmith shop on the Homestead grounds. On special days, a blacksmith is at the forge to demonstrate the making of basic items used on the farm.

     

     The Oliver Miller Homestead is open to the public every Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. from April through December. A special event for the public is planned each month. Members in period dress conduct tours. Advance notice for weekday tours is necessary. Please call (412)835-1554.

     ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

     The Oliver Miller Homestead is owned by Allegheny County and administered by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation. The Oliver Miller Homestead Associates, under agreement with Allegheny County, operate and program the historic landmark.

     The text for this brochure was researched and written by Ann Connor, the late Peg and Frederic Bolander, and the late H.R. Philips of the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates. Revised in 1992 by Ann Connor, Jane Moser, Grace Maits, and Edie Munn.

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