Those who take the Westmoreland County Historical Society's bus tour April 22 will visit two of the region's most significant historical sites -- only a few miles apart from each other but separated by 137 years of history.
While searching for a site to tour, Anita Zanke, society library coordinator, discovered an article announcing the opening of Braddock's Battlefield History Center in 2012. The center is at the site where 250 French soldiers and 600 of their Indian allies rushed from Fort Duquesne and encountered the British force advance guard July 9, 1755.
In the ensuing battle, Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock, commander of the British army in North America, was wounded seriously and died soon after. In the years that followed, several places in southwestern Pennsylvania were named after the ill-fated general, including the town of Braddock and Braddock's Trail.
"The museum was the dream of Robert Messner, a retired lawyer, whom I got to hear speak of his proposed museum several times over the last 20 years," Mrs. Zanke said. " ... I decided to visit and came away impressed. I decided it would be a good place for our tour bus to visit."
Knowing the center would not involve an all-day visit, she looked for another site and discovered that the Rivers of Steel Heritage Museum was just across the Rankin Bridge in Homestead.
That museum's visitor center is in the 1892 Bost Building at East Eighth and Heisel avenues, which was built as a hotel and used as the temporary headquarters for the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers during the Homestead Lockout and Strike. A new exhibit titled "J&L: An American Icon" tells the story of Jones & Laughlin Steel and how it represented the image of Pittsburgh as an American industrial giant.
"Being a member of a third-generation steelworker family, I thought it might be something I would be interested in, and I made another scouting visit," Mrs. Zanke said. "I came away thinking it would also be a good match for our bus tour."
The April 22 tour will leave at 9 a.m. from the parking lot behind the PetSmart store in Hempfield Square on Route 30, Hempfield, and arrive at 10 a.m. at the Bost Building. After touring the visitor center, participants will cross the Monongahela River to Braddock's Battlefield History Center, 609 Sixth St., North Braddock.
From there, the bus will arrive at the Grand View Golf Club in North Braddock for a buffet lunch. Participants will be back by 4 p.m. The cost of the tour, which includes lunch, is $65 for society members, $75 for nonmembers. Reservations must be made by Friday by calling 724-532-1935, ext. 210.
"The view from the golf club restaurant is really spectacular," Mrs. Zanke said. "I like it better than the view from atop Mount Washington. From the restaurant, you can see all the way from Downtown to McKeesport, including the site where Braddock and his troops crossed the Monongahela near present-day Kennywood."
Rivers of Steel
Due to time constraints, the tour of the Rivers of Steel will include only the Bost Building, which opened in 2002 as the visitor center after a $4 million renovation. Two rooms have been restored to look as they did in 1892, with original floorboards and reproduction period wallpaper. One room tells the story of the Homestead Strike; the other contains photographs that chronicle the restoration of the building from dilapidation through its opening as the Rivers of Steel Visitors Center. The Jones & Laughlin exhibit uses photos, artifacts and personal stories to show the development of iron-making in the 1850s through the boom of 20th century and finally to the decline of the industry in the 1980s.
The Braddock Battlefield History Center is a three-acre site that includes a former car dealership that now serves as a museum. Displays include Capt. Robert Stobo's detailed map of Fort Duquesne, which he drew while he was a prisoner of war; a detailed diagram of the musket used in that era by gunsmith Kit Ravenshear; and Howard Pyle illustrations of the battle that appeared in Scribner's Magazine. It also includes historically accurate scenes painted by local artists Robert Griffing and John Buxton, plus 250 artifacts found on the battlefield.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.