Drain is 1st vestige discovered of Fort Duquesne

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Sacre bleu, they've unearthed part of Fort Duquesne!

Digging during the ongoing, $35 million renovation of Point State Park has exposed the remains of a drain that archaeologists say is part of the fort built at the Forks of the Ohio by the French in 1754.

Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
Tom Kutys, an archaeological field technician, kneels in a ditch at Point State Park, where he unearthed the remains of a drainage system that apparently once serviced Fort Duquesne in the mid-1700s. Bricks from the system can be seen at the bottom of the picture.
Click photo for larger image.

The discovery is the first physical evidence of the French fort ever dug up, according to Brooke Blades, an archaeologist with A.D. Marble & Co., the firm hired by the state to oversee historical matters on the park renovation project.

"This is an exciting day in the history of archeology," Mr. Blades said during a tour of the archaeological dig site in the park yesterday afternoon. "This is tangible evidence of the past, where permanent European occupation of Pittsburgh began."

The drain, a 6-inch wide water course lined with irregular, handmade red bricks and capped with sandstone slabs, was found about 21/2 feet under the surface of the Great Lawn on the Point, or water side, of the park during an exploratory dig in advance of an electric line installation. It is believed to be part of a series of brick-lined channels drawing water away from a storehouse or munitions magazine built in a south outwork of Fort Duquesne.

Fort Duquesne was destroyed by the French as the British advanced in 1758 during the French and Indian War. The British, in turn, built Fort Pitt between 1759 and 1761.

State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Michael DiBerardinis called the discovery at Fort Duquesne, "perhaps the most notable archaeological find at the park in decades," and said it would be documented and preserved.

The brick drain excavation is located about 50 yards west of the Block House, and about 40 feet south of where Fort Duquesne is believed to have stood. It's also a stone's throw from where construction workers digging a water line in December stumbled upon the Colonial-era skeletal remnants of at least three people.

Tom Kutys, 24, an archaeological field technician with A.E. Marble, found the brick drain two weeks ago. At first Mr. Kutys and Mr. Blades thought he'd found the top of a wall, but more digging revealed the drain.

"I put a tape into the drain and found it's hollow for at least 8 feet," said Mr. Kutys, who had only been working in Point State Park for two weeks when he found the drain. "I'm working on some of the first masonry in Western Pennsylvania. It doesn't get any better than that."

Mr. Blades said the archaeological digging will continue on the south side of the fort and new digging will begin soon on the fort's north side.

"The purpose of our work is not to do a major archaeological excavation, but to identify, record and preserve what is there for possible future exploration," Mr. Blades said. "The major question, now that we've found evidence of the fort, is to determine how extensive it is. Once we do that, we've provided a baseline record for future projects that could come in and look at it."

He said that to do a full archaeological exploration of the fort would take five to 10 years.

Mr. Blades said the state has asked the archeological firm to expand the excavation to expose the drain back to the wall of the fort. After its location is documented, the drain will be filled with clean sand and covered with a thick, felt-like blanket, topped by a layer of crushed stone.

None of the archaeological work now planned will delay the park renovation work, which is progressing mainly on the eastern, city-side end of the 36-acre park, and is slated to be finished by the end of this year.

The point of land between where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers meet was extensively developed and redeveloped by commercial and industrial interests through the 1950s, before it became the keystone for Pittsburgh's first urban renewal or "renaissance." It was dedicated as a state park in 1974, but in recent years, due to overuse and neglect, fell into disrepair.

Several historical preservation groups have criticized the park renovations for ignoring historical considerations and burying the wall of Fort Pitt's Music Bastion to create a concert space on the city-side of the park.

But Laura Fisher, senior vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which has supported the park renovations, said the "construction mitigation archaeology" being used by the state is a necessary compromise in a park where "the natural and historic landscapes are the same."

She said a participatory public archaeology program could be developed as part of the park's interpretive history program.

"In a perfect world, the entire park would be an historic preserve, but this is a complicated place," said Ms. Fisher, who is also a member of the state's Historical and Museum Commission. "We can try to elbow a greater role for history here, but it will never be that. It's a people's park, and the master plan makes room for everyone."

Don Hopey can be reached at dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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