Overtoun Bridge

Overtoun House is a 19th-century country house and estate in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. It is located on a hill overlooking the River Clyde, 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north of the village of Milton, and 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) west of the town of Dumbarton. The house was built in the 1860s, and was gifted to the people of Dumbarton in 1938. It was subsequently a maternity hospital, and now houses a Christian centre. The house is protected as a category A listed building, while the grounds are included in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland.

Overtoun Bridge, an arched approach bridge over the Overtoun Burn, has gained media attention because of the unusually large number of dogs that have reportedly leaped to their deaths there over a number of decades.

Estate history
White family

In 1859, James White, a retired lawyer and a co-owner of the J&J White Chemical Works in Rutherglen, bought Overtoun Farm with the purpose of building a mansion there. He intended for it to be a country retreat, and initially acquired 900 acres (360 ha); he soon increased this to 2,000 acres (810 ha). White hired the Glasgow-based architect James Smith (1808–1863) (father of the murder suspect Madeleine Smith) to design and construct the house. A farmhouse on the site was demolished to make way for the mansion. Overtoun House was built between 1860 and 1863, though Smith died before work was completed, and the house was completed by one of his partners. White's family began living in the mansion in 1862. It is recorded that the grounds were laid out by Mr C Kemp of Birkenhead, which is thought to refer to the landscape gardener Edward Kemp (1817–1891), who was superintendent of Birkenhead Park for Joseph Paxton.

In 1884 James White died, and his son John moved to the estate in 1891 after the death of his mother. John White wanted the house to be expanded further, so he came to an agreement in 1892 with a local pastor, Reverend Dixon Swan, the heir to the adjacent Garshake Farm lands. Under the deal, John White was able to lay out the West Drive and its lodge. The eastern and western sides of the estate were split by a waterfall on the Overtoun Burn. To connect the two sides, a road was built and the Overtoun Bridge erected to designs by Henry Milner, son of Edward Milner.

John White took the additional surname of Campbell, and was elevated to the peerage as Baron Overtoun in 1893. However, he died childless in 1908, and was succeeded by his nephew Dr Douglas White, a London-based GP. Lady Overtoun continued to live in the house until 1931, after which Dr White, who seldom visited Scotland, gave the house to the people of Dumbarton in 1938.

Later reuse

During World War II, the British government had the house's interior utilities and furniture moved over to London. The house remained mainly isolated, but it was not damaged by the bombings of the nearby Clydeside shipyards.

In 1947, Overtoun was turned into a maternity hospital. A fire destroyed part of the house in 1948, although there were no deaths, and the hospital remained in operation until 1 September 1970. By this time many of the garden structures, including a folly castle and the walled garden, had been demolished. In 1975 the British government decided to use the house as a base for its Quality of Life Experiment. From 1978 to 1983, a religious group, the Spire Fellowship, utilised the home, and from 1984 to 1994, the estate was used by a group named Youth with a Mission.

The house fell into abandonment soon after Youth with a Mission left the area, but in 2001 Pastor Bob Hill from Fort Worth, Texas, leased the property from West Dunbartonshire Council to use as a Christian centre for Scottish youth. Renovations to the house are currently underway to repair extensive damage and to better use the facility. Specifically, the services that will eventually be provided include but are not limited to: youth sports/life training, residential care for expectant teenage mothers, short term care for mothers in crisis, family and leadership training, counselling centre, and tearoom and bed and breakfast.

Overtoun Bridge dog deaths

It is not known exactly when or why dogs began to leap from the bridge, but studies indicate that these deaths might have begun during the 1950s or 1960s, at the rate of about one dog a month. The long leap from the bridge onto the waterfalls of the Overtoun Estate almost always results in immediate death. Inexplicably, some dogs have actually survived, recuperated, and then returned to the site to jump again. These dogs are known to the locals of Dumbarton as "second timers." The dogs have mostly jumped from one side of the bridge, during clear weather, and have mostly been breeds with long snouts.

The phenomenon has received international attention, and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has sent representatives to investigate. David Sands, an animal habitat expert, discovered there to be mice and mink residing in the underbrush of the bridge. In a test, he distributed odor from all three species in a field and unleashed ten dogs - of the varieties which have died at the bridge - to see which one most interested them. Of the ten dogs tested, only two showed no interest in any of the scents while 70 per cent made straight for the mink.