Friday, August 17, 2012

Fort Pitt - Fort Duquesne Visit


Visited 15 Aug 2012 - Fort Duquesne (1754-1758) and Fort Pitt (1761-1792) are located in Pittsburgh right at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers where they form the Ohio River. It's difficult to find a more important set of forts to our early history and our nation could be quite different if things had not gone as they did.
Flag Bastion/Parking Lot
Flag Bastion/Parking Lot

We travelled to Pittsburgh from our camp site near Erie straight down I79 and I279, a really easy trip and things went well until we crossed into downtown Pittsburgh. Our GPS got confused at the maze of intersecting roads and bridges and before we knew it we were headed out of town. We recovered by coming back over another bridge but it was still difficult to figure out where to park. We found a parking lot that was literally in the Flag Bastion of Fort Pitt (not a good sign) at $13 for the day. 
Flag Bastion Interior
Flag Bastion Interior



The Flag Bastion was once restored to it's former glory but now it is just a neglected path from the parking lot to the other side of the bridge approach that goes over it, a sad fate. A single ground level marker tells you that this is the Flag Bastion, if there isn't a car parked over it. There is nothing in the Flag Bastion except bare dirt, cracked concrete and rotting timbers. Strangely enough this was the good news because it still exists, almost everything else about the forts has been leveled and to the uninformed it appears to be just a large park.
Fort Pitt Blockhouse Museum
Fort Pitt Blockhouse Museum



There is one bright spot in this picture, an original blockhouse remains and is operated as a museum and gift shop by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The people who man this free museum were knowledgeable and helpful. It was easy to gain some feel for what life was like for the soldiers who manned the blockhouse. You can pick up reproductions of old maps and overlays that tell you where everything was.



Fort Pitt Museum
Fort Pitt Museum



The official Fort Pitt Museum is located alongside a bridge approach ramp where the Monogahela Bastion once stood. The outside of the museum roughly resembles the bastion but it simply encloses the modern museum building. Two cannons are mounted at the entrance to the museum and a cross section of a typical bastion wall is exposed. The inside of the museum is modern and geared toward the education of the large groups of school children who visit every year. It seemed dimly lit and not very inspiring but it does have a big model of Fort Pitt in the center of the first floor. There is an admission charge for this museum.
Fort Duquesne Bastion Tracery
Fort Duquesne Bastion Tracery


The outlines of both forts are marked with what the state park service calls a granite "tracery". The tracery is really a kind of sidewalk that outlines the forts but is flush with the ground. To the uninformed it could be just a sidewalk or a pattern and there are no signs to tell them otherwise. The Fort Duquesne tracery is smaller and you can see all of it at once so it is much more effective than the Fort Pitt tracery which just seems to be random. At the center of the Fort Duquesne tracery is a large brass medallion that pictures the fort and describes a small bit of it's history, don't miss that.
Fort Duquesne Medallion
Fort Duquesne Medallion

Between the Fort Duquesne tracery and the tip of the point is a large construction project which is rebuilding the fountain that was built not that long ago. The construction signage seems to be advertising a "New and Improved Point State Park Fountain" at a cost of about $10 million dollars ($5 million private funds and $5 million from the State). You could probably build replicas of both Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne for that amount of money and have a world class attraction. A model for what can be done with just private money is just down the road at Fort Ligonier.
$10 Million Dollar Fountain Reconstruction Project at the Point
$10 Million Dollar Fountain Reconstruction Project at the Point

One of the most annoying things about this state park is the concerted effort to remove the history from it. Most of the state roadside markers have been removed and are rumored to be stored in the museum. There is almost no outdoor signage to explain the history of the site and visitors are on their own, no visitor center on site and no rangers visible. If it wasn't for the DAR Blockhouse it would be difficult to know it was a historic site. It's still worth visiting but you really have to use your imagination and study up before you come.

For more information on the forts check out the FortWiki pages on Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt.

2 comments:

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  2. Great site. We walked right through the Flag Bastion recently and I had no idea the history. This will sound crazy but citizens should make it a long term goal to remove, relocate or bury the interstate and restore the fort. There's simply too much history and beauty at this location.

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