Fort Pitt Block House marks birthday in style

Music, re-enactors, more help landmark celebrate 250th

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Since its construction in 1764, the Fort Pitt Block House has served as a center for trade, diplomacy and defense — its historic claims to fame. For decades, it lost prominence as waves of immigrants crowded into what we now call The Point in Downtown Pittsburgh.

It was about to succumb to the demands of industry when the Daughters of the American Revolution mounted a fight that would have made their forefathers proud. Today, the Block House stands in Point State Park because of that fight.

The DAR’s Pittsburgh Chapter commemorated the building’s 250th anniversary Saturday with drums, bagpipes, Boy and Cub Scouts, re-enactors, crafts demonstrations, tours, lectures, music and a tribute to Great Britain in a five-hour event in collaboration with the Fort Pitt Museum.

Dru Simeone, regent for the local DAR, said that when the DAR took on the likes of Henry Clay Frick, the warehouse syndicate and the Pennsylvania Railroad, “their vision was for this entire tenement district to be improved. The industrialists wanted the Block House either moved or demolished.

“At a time when women couldn’t work outside the home, these women stood tall. They were pretty remarkable.”

Edith Darlington Ammon “wrote the legislation that became the Historic Sites Act and lobbied for six months” to get it passed, she said. Because of that 1907 act, other historic sites in Pennsylvania have been saved, she said.

The DAR has operated the Block House ever since and offers free tours to the public.

Throughout the day, bicyclists slowed to watch processions of Scouts, men in kilts, men dressed as British colonial officers in woolens and tri-corner hats, frontiersmen and women, Indians and tradesmen. They gathered to take pictures as the British Maritime flag was raised to the top of the flagpole.

Matt Stein and Tom Klingensmith worked on a trestle using a pit saw to demonstrate how a tree trunk was turned into planks. In the mid-1700s, the sawyers positioned the trunk over a pit and sawed vertically — one man in the pit, the other above. Rather than dig a pit in Point State Park, on Saturday they demonstrated using the trestle. Mr. Stein carries the apparatus to various re-enactment events.

Mr. Stein and Mr. Klingensmith belong to the Independent Battalion of Westmoreland County.

Dressed in period garb and drinking water out of a crock, Mr. Stein said he started going to re-enactments originally to sell reproduction furniture he makes, but he started enjoying “the living history thing” and attends several events a year dressed as a soldier.

Brady Crytzer, author of “Fort Pitt: A Frontier History,” said Fort Pitt played a far bigger role than a defense in the war for independence. He delivered a lecture in the Fort Pitt Museum as part of the festivities.

“The building of that fort was an act of diplomacy,” he said. ”The first log was laid by the strongest Iroquois. It was a trading post. In the western world, the opposite of war is peace, but in the native world it was war and trade. If you weren’t trading with someone, something had gone wrong. Fort Pitt was the heart of diplomacy” on what was then the frontier.

The event served as an educational experience for a Cub Scout troop from Avonworth, who might be among few children in America who know what the British maritime flag looks like.

Scout Jeremy Fresh was accompanied by his parents, Jim and Stephanie Fresh, and brother Aaron, who said his class had recently studied the American Revolution.

“It was pretty interesting,” he said. “We were awed by everybody.”

“Who in particular?” his dad prodded. “You like Benjamin Franklin.”

“That’s you,” Aaron said.

“Oh yeah,” Mr. Fresh said. “I love history, especially the Revolutionary War.”

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626.

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