Fort Pitt Block House gets set for its 250th anniversary
December 1, 2013 11:00 PM
The Fort Pitt Block House, Pittsburgh’s oldest authenticated structure, will celebrate 250 years next year.
By Len Barcousky / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tourism at the Fort Pitt Block House got a boost this fall as visitors coming to see the giant Rubber Duck moored at Point State Park also stopped at the historic building.
"Many of the adults probably hadn't been here since they were children," Joanne Ostergaard said. She is coordinator of "Block House 250," a yearlong commemoration of the oldest authenticated building in Pittsburgh.
The blockhouse was a redoubt -- a free-standing, defensive structure -- built just outside the walls of Fort Pitt in 1764. The oldest example of English Colonial architecture west of the Alleghenies, it still stands in its original location. Most of its bricks, stone and timbers are original materials.
Since its construction, the building has served as a fortification, trading post, private residence and store.
The building has been owned since 1894 by the Fort Pitt Society, which is part of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Allegheny County.
As part of the building's quarter-millennial celebration next year, the Fort Pitt Society will dedicate a garden next to the blockhouse in April. The garden will honor its early members, especially Edith Darlington Ammon. Mrs. Ammon led successful efforts to halt plans by industrialist Henry Clay Frick and the Pennsylvania Railroad to move the building elsewhere.
The society has opened a fundraising effort to help finance anniversary events, educational programs and maintenance of the building,
For donations of $100 or $250, people can have paving bricks engraved with family names, messages or remembrances. Those bricks will be placed in the new garden and along the walkways and entrance to the blockhouse.
More information about the paver program and 250th anniversary events is available at the Fort Pitt Block House website, www.fortpittblockhouse.com, or by calling 412-471-1764.
Preliminary work on commemorative events began last summer with an archeological dig at the site of the memorial garden.
The Fort Pitt Society this fall released "The Fort Pitt Block House," the first complete history of the building. The book, written by site curator Emily M. Weaver, is published by The History Press.
"It's a complicated story about how hard the Daughters [of the American Revolution] worked to save the building," Ms. Weaver said. A graduate of Clarion State University and Duquesne University, she has been curator since June 2011.
Coke magnate Frick and Pennsylvania Railroad executives had made plans to redevelop Pittsburgh's Point with train yards, a project that would have meant relocating the block house.
The daughters, led by Mrs. Ammon, fought to preserve the building where it stood, said Elizabeth Wheatley, president of the Fort Pitt Society.
"She told Frick, 'This building is historic and you will not demolish it,' " Ms. Wheatley said.
Aided by her husband, lawyer Samuel A. Ammon, Mrs. Ammon battled all the way to the state Supreme Court and prevailed, Ms. Wheatley said.
"That woman was a fighter," Ms. Ostergaard said.
In addition to the April 24 garden dedication, the Fort Pitt Society is planning an outdoor celebration for August and a September gala at the nearby Wyndham Grand Hotel.
The organization also plans to assemble items for a time capsule that will be kept at the Heinz History Center and opened during the 300th anniversary.
The blockhouse is in Point State Park in Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle. Winter hours are 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Admission is free.
Len Barcousky: firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-0184.
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