The Millers Lived Here

Oliver Miller and his family produced whiskey from their homestead in South Park.

Like most of us who grew up in Bethel Park, I learned early on that the old stone house in South Park was historic. It’s called the Oliver Miller Homestead now, but we kids knew it as “Stone Manse.” It was where the Miller family, some of the first Europeans to settle in the hills south of Pittsburgh, made their home. In 1975, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

When Oliver Miller first came here in the 1760s, this part of the world was wilderness. Miller left Ireland in 1742, lived near Fort Bedford for a while, got married, then reportedly started making “improvements” along our local stream called Catfish Run in 1762. His youngest son, James, was born here in 1763, the first child of European roots born in the area. By 1772, Oliver Miller and his family had a two-story log house with a fancy shingled roof. Nonetheless, when there were threats of attacks by local Native Americans, the Millers hurried to one of the local forts for protection.

Their house became a meeting spot, and when missionary preacher John McMillan came through in November 1776, he held services there and baptized five children. That gathering is considered the first service—the founding event—for at least two local congregations, including Bethel Presbyterian. And that may be why someone dubbed it “Stone Manse,” “manse” being a word for the home of a Presbyterian minister.

The Millers were farmers, however. They cultivated grain and used it to make whiskey, a distinctive and profitable product. When Oliver Miller died in 1782, he left his land to his six sons, and the log house went to James, who was just 19 years old.

Then, in 1794, two federal agents came to serve a writ on brother William who did not live far away. William still hadn’t registered his land and hadn’t paid the new American tax on whiskey. When William ordered the men off his property, farmers in nearby fields fired rifles at the men. No one was hurt, but these were the first shots of what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion. The Millers and neighboring farmers fought against the tax but eventually signed Oaths of Allegiance to restore their status as U.S. citizens.

In 1808, James decided to add a new stone structure onto the log house, and then, in 1830, his son, Oliver, replaced the log house with a bigger stone house, creating the five-room structure that we know today. In 1927, Allegheny County bought the house from the Millers to be part of the new South Park. At the time, Corrigan Drive was still called Catfish Run Road. Since then, groups from the Federation of Women’s Clubs of Allegheny County to the current Oliver Miller Homestead Associates have cared for the house. During the summer months, it’s often open to the public on Sundays.

For several months now, I’ve been gathering material for a TV show about the joys of North Park and South Park and the local pride we develop for these places. My research tells me that there’s nothing like the Oliver Miller Homestead in that other park to the north.

Categories: Rick Sebak