Sunday, November 27, 2011

Abandoned A. Overholt Distillery, Broad Ford, PA

This past Saturday was on of those rare days that Chip, Danielle and myself were off on the same day and this time it was warm.  In the past posts, we've been hitting Greene County pretty hard , so we decided to go see what Fayette County had to offer.  I never knew this distillery even existed less then a year ago.While researching something else, this popped up.We took advantage of the unseasonable warmth and went on over.  As we headed into Broad Ford, we caught glimpse first of the grain elevators and stack towering over the rest of the buildings.  To our dismay, the large barrel storage ware house I had seen on the Bing maps was no more.  We received  permission to park in a local guys lot (nice guy), who gave us a brief run down of the property.  This site is heavily posted, but we took the risks anyway.  Once inside, we were struck w/ a sense of awe on how cool the location was, and just how much of the original wooden equipment was still intact.  We should have stayed longer but we had some more locations to hit and it began to rain.We called it a day at the Overholt plant.  We shall return soon, as we think there is plenty more to see.


Old Overholt is a long produced American rye whiskey distilled by A. Overholt & Co, currently a subsidiary of Beam Inc., at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. Old Overholt was originally distilled in Broad Ford, Pennsylvania, 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It is one of the few straight rye whiskies available at most liquor stores in the United States. The company claims to have been established in 1810, and the bottle states that at 80 proof (40% alcohol), this is a four year aged whiskey. (Thanx wiki!)

We are unsure when this plant became idle, as references on this seem to overlook this.   Feel free to jump in and comment if you have any information.
What we do know is that when this plant closed, production moved to Large, PA and Overholt was produced there until 1958 or so, pictures of this follow  at the bottom of the post.
A few fun facts about the Old Overholt label.  The whiskey is named for Abraham Overholt, a farmer and distiller and later, grandfather of the American Industrialist Henry Clay Frick, and we have researched that this was the rye whiskey of choice of Doc Holliday.  Also, the song "American Pie" by Don McLean, the line goes "...and good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye", a reference to rye whiskey....Old Overholt perhaps, distilled  locally? Quite possibly!


View from Bing maps.  The red building w/ the poor roof on the left is collapsed and a pile of rubble now.

1940's era

Present era

In the first building we were greeted by a set of heavily altered stairs that we preceded to climb.  We don't recommend this to anyone.  We shot a quick, quiet video on the second floor as we returned back downstairs.

A short video introduction.....

As always, click on the pictures to view full size!

D going up!

Adding machines were scattered all about.

Very cool!

Yeast hopper

Under the grain silo area.

"Downtown" Chippy G!

Cold storage

Note the missing steps.


Interesting sidebar to this story, for years I've driven north on the "new" toll road 43 to where it terminates in Large , PA right at 51 and I have always seen this:

Apparently, this is the remains of the Large Distillery that was sold to the National Distillery Company, who quit manufacturing the Large brand whiskey and began producing Old Overholt.  From what I have read, production stopped at around 1958 here, but unlike the Broad Ford distillery, this ones buildings seem to still be in use, and you can see some of the original buildings have been added on to.


  1. I, too, have seen the old distillery from the river (canoeing) and I certainly appreciate the additional information regarding the history of the Overholt operation.

  2. Abraham Overholt built the initial buildings here in the 1850s, as an expansion of the distillery operation he had at West Overton (near Scottdale). Broad Ford was chosen because of its access to the river to facilitate shipping both in and out of the distillery complex. Three different labels of whiskey were produced by the company: Old Farm mainly being produced at West Overton, and Monongahela Rye which later became Old Overholt. The name switched in the early 1870s after Abraham's death (and his portrait was added to the label) as a tribute to him, because he was a very popular employer.

    After his death the distilleries were initially handed over to his son, who unfortunately died in the same year. It was then given to other family members, and operations continued for a few more decades, though bad investments and managerial gaffes nearly sunk the entire company. Prohibition shut down the operations at West Overton, and the rest of the salvageable equipment was then sent over to Broad Ford. Broad Ford continued to distill whiskey through Prohibition on a very coveted "medicinal" contract. Whiskey could still be obtained if prescribed by a doctor.

    The Broad Ford operation changed hands a couple of times before it was finally shut down permanently in the 1960s. The Old Farm and Old Overholt labels were picked up by Jim Beam, and production of the latter was finally taken out of the area. It is presently being made in Kentucky in small batches. Old Overholt is a special order label in Pennsylvania and is not presently stocked on the shelves.

    Melissa Strobel
    Former archvist, West Overton Museums

    1. Thank you for all of the information. So, this complex has been idle roughly 40 years or so.

  3. Very nice blog and photos of the place. I like the light and sharpness you got in some of the pics. It's always good to see the place from another person's perspective.

  4. I can give you some info on the Large facility. After its brewery days it was a Westinghouse plant for their AESD - Advanced Energy Systems Design, if I recall. They had a few buildings there and focused on nuclear energy and solar power. After Westinghouse pulled out, some of the employees started new businesses in the same buildings doing pretty much the same stuff. I worked there in the 90's for Ebara Solar growing silicon crystals for solar panels. they moved to Rostraver and changed their name to Solar Power Industries, but have recently (10/2012) gone bankrupt. Clark Testing Labs has a pretty big facility at the Large site doing all sorts of testin.

    When I was there I wanted to climb the water tower, but access to that was from another building so I never got the chance!


  5. I am watching the season finale of Boardwalk Empire and it is all about this place. Very interesting!!

  6. Greetings!

    I have enjoyed seeing a new batch of photos highlighting the remains of "A. Overholt and Company." This collection puts you into a unique circle of Broad Ford photographers, who have braved the dangers there for a chance to capture shadows of a once-peerless industrial enterprise.

    However, everyone should be aware of the very real dangers of exploring the site. By taking the time to seek permission before visiting the buildings, you will be alerting the owners that people are abroad at the complex. This will provide a source of help, should an emergency arise.

    You are cordially invited to visit "The Overholt Family Tree ~~ Karen's Branches" at to learn more about Abraham Overholt and Overholt Whiskey. See many more pictures -- of West Overton and Broad Ford -- and read a newly posted article, "Broad Ford's Overholt Distillery."

  7. Thank you for your reply.We would love to revisit the sight with permission,as to take our time and get better photographs.We apologize if we caused any problems by 'visiting'.Frequently,the situation we run into when seeking permission is it is easier for the landowner to just say "no" then risk anyone getting injured.More often than not,we can't find anyone authorized to ask.The decision we make to 'sneak in' is directly proportional to how great/rare/historic the location is.Several of the buildings we've blogged about are now gone forever.Have we waited,we would have missed out.We will be contacting you for more information.It is a wonderful complex which is a popular post here on our blog.

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  9. I appreciate this insight on the buildings, the history and the photos. You should consider selling some of the black and whites as fame worthy art.

  10. My father was working as a coopers helper repairing barrels when he was drafted ibnto the army to fight WW2. They had told him that he could have his job back when (and if) he returned. After the war dad went on to other jobs. By the time that I was born dad had given up drinking and anything to do with drinking but still he always spoke fondly of his time at Overholt.

  11. My father worked at the Old Overholt Distillery in Broadford from 1948 until its closing in 1950. He was then transferred by National Distillers to Louisville, Ky. where he finished his career and retired in 1972. We lived in a company house across the river that was rent free and all utilities were paid by the company except for water. Dad could drive to work or walk about a mile to the footbridge that connected the two sides. It was a challenge during the cold winter mornings. Company workman came over and mowed the grass and stoked the coal furnace as part of the 'Perks". It was really a different time. The house was large - I was 5 years old so everything was big - and bears would come up and rummage through the garbage cans sometimes.

  12. Thinking about going this weekend, always interested in going and exploring abandoned things. Is it safe to go in and a good place to park?

  13. I'm so happy I found this blog and Facebook page today. Man it's right up my alley. Have you done any exploration of any of the old Montour mine facilities? There's not a lot left, but access from the Montour Trail is pretty easy!

    Also, I didn't know Old Overholt had any sign of distilling left in this area! I actually have a bottle of it left in my bar...although far from being made in this area though.

  14. Frick/Stauffer/Meyer Families

  15. You mention above that Overholt Whiskey was aged 4 years, well I have a bottle with a label stating 8 years old.