A newsmaker you should know: Miller Homestead feeds woman's love of history

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When Lynette Sell -- then Lynette Anderson -- was a girl, she recalled that she "devoured" a collection of historical books belonging to her father.

She also accompanied her dad, Benjamin Anderson, on trips to Civil War sites, such as Gettysburg, where documents show three family members fought with the Union Army.

"One was 16 and small enough to run through the woods and not be seen as he carried messages back and forth between generals.

"My father learned all about him, discovering his record and picture in federal documents," she said.

As an adult, Mrs. Sell jumped at the chance to transfer to Boston in her secretarial post for the Federal Reserve Bank for the opportunity to visit the house where Paul Revere lived, the harbor in which the tea was dumped in the Boston Tea Party and the city's many other historical sites.

"I was completely absorbed in early American history," she said.

Today, the Lawrence, Washington County woman, 76, continues her love of the Colonial era as the longest-serving member -- three decades -- as a volunteer with the Oliver Miller Homestead Associates.

The group maintains, operates and serves as official curator at the pioneer landmark site on Stone Manse Drive in South Park, which is owned by Allegheny County.

Sunday, homestead volunteers welcomed hundred of visitors to an 18th Century Thanksgiving in which a traditional meal of turkey, squash, pies, cheddar and apple biscuits was prepared at the open hearth.

On Thanksgiving, Mrs. Sell will enjoy her holiday dinner with family, but her heart is never far from the homestead.

"To be able to show people what life was like over 200 years ago is an amazing thing," she said.

She grew up in a Mt. Lebanon home that included extended family, reminiscent of pioneer households: There were two parents, four children, two grandmothers and a great-aunt.

Her father, whose ancestors emigrated from Scotland, enjoyed researching his roots, which included touring Andersonburg, Perry County, which is said to be named for the Andersons.

As the only family member who shared her father's fascination with the past, Mrs. Sell often traveled with him to Andersonburg, with a highlight being sleeping in the bed in which her father was born.

After marrying Walter Sell, a Sears manager, and moving to Beaver, she put her historical interests into practice as a docent at the nearby Old Economy Village in Ambridge, home to 17 restored structures from the early 19th century.

When Mr. Sell was transferred to the Sears at South Hills Village in Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park, Mrs. Sell returned to the area and discovered the Miller Homestead.

Today -- in period garb of handmade shift, petticoat, jacket, apron and cap -- Mrs. Sell can usually be found in the one-room log house, explaining to guests that, while not the original structure, it was similar to the first home of the Millers and their nine children in 1772.

She also details how Oliver Miller and his family arrived at their new home from Bedford County by walking over the mountains and crossing the Monongahela River and Peters Creek.

"A roof over your family's head became the main focus along with getting a crop in," she said.

Outside, she maintains her herb garden of rosemary, lavender and sage as the pioneers would have, but in those days it was for medicinal purposes.

"You would not have come without herb seeds to plant because you were the doctor, and you knew which seeds worked as [the information] was passed on from your mother and grandmother," she said.

Besides the homestead's history, Mrs. Sell retains her family history compiled in a book her father penned, and which he entrusted solely to her.

"He knew I was the daughter who would take over," she said.


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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