Liberty Day to celebrate freedom at Oliver Miller Homestead
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History will repeat itself once again, this time at the Oliver Miller Homestead in South Park.
At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, on what organizers are calling Liberty Day, re-enactors playing the roles of the Miller family will read the Declaration of Independence to an assembled crowd, just as they probably did in 1776.
"In all likelihood, the Miller's invited their family, friends and neighbors to the homestead to hear a reading of the declaration," said Barb Powischill, director of publicity and member of the Oliver Miller Homestead Association, the volunteer organization that curates the site. "It did take a while for the text of the declaration to arrive on what was then the American frontier."
Rumors circulated at the time as to what course the nation was taking in its relationship with Great Britain. Frontier residents were very interested in the events taking place in Philadelphia, Mrs. Powischill said. As a local magistrate, Oliver Miller probably would have gotten a copy of the document drawn up by Philadelphia delegates, as did Miller's neighbor, John Neville, a large landholder, slave owner and distant relative of the Millers.
There is also some chance that the declaration might have been brought back to southwestern Pennsylvania by Miller's eighth child Oliver Jr., a pack train driver who frequently made the journey back and forth to Philadelphia.
Association president Art Farley of Bethel Park will portray Miller's neighbor, James Kiddoo, who operated a gristmill on the site of the present South Park fairgrounds demo building.
"I'll stand on the porch of the log house and start the reading," he said. "Then 12 others, including my wife Patricia, will continue reading from various locations in the crowd."
Beside getting to hear Miller family re-enactors dressed in frontier period attire recite different portions of the declaration, onlookers will be asked to sign up for the militia to help fight for independence, which is exactly what the Millers did.
"Three of the Miller sons, Thomas, John and William, were sharpshooters and joined the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment for three years," Mrs. Powischill said. "William also fought with Daniel Morgan's Rangers and marched with them to Saratoga where his marksmanship and expertise with a Kentucky rifle were instrumental in defeating the British under the command of General John Burgoyne."
Unfortunately, the two-story, split shingle log house the Millers built shortly after they moved from Fort Bedford to southwestern Pennsylvania in 1772 no longer stands. In 1776, the onlookers probably would have assembled just outside the log structure to announce the deliberations of the Philadelphia delegates.
The stone manse that stands today and dominates the property was built in sections, starting in the late 1700s with a stone kitchen. A two-story stone addition to the log house was built in 1808, and the largest stone section of the existing structure replaced the log house in 1830 to accommodate a Miller grandson and his new bride.
The stone house stayed in the family for five generations of Millers until 1927 when Allegheny County took control of the property by eminent domain for the creation of South Park.
On Liberty Day, the homestead will open at 1:30 p.m. for self-guided tours of the stone house and nearby log house, built on the property in 1980 as a reminder of the original Miller dwelling. A fully equipped blacksmith forge built on the grounds in 1991 also will be available for touring.
"We'll also have live demonstrators showing how men on the frontier fixed broken implements and built things from wood," Mrs. Powischill said. "In our reproduction bank barn built by the Amish in 2005, we'll also have an exhibit on the signers of the Declaration of Independence."
To see the entire property, including the new smoke house built last year by an Eagle Scout, tour-takers should start no later than 4 p.m. The homestead will close at 4:30 p.m. Admission to Liberty Day is $2, but military members and veterans will be admitted for free. Information: 412-835-1554.
First Published June 28, 2012 5:05 am