Preservation begins on colonial-era structure

Fort Pitt Blockhouse

Preservation efforts began Wednesday on Pittsburgh’s oldest-known building and the oldest authenticated structure west of the Allegheny Mountains.

The Fort Pitt Blockhouse was built in 1764, in the immediate aftermath of the French and Indian War. Much of the stone foundation, bricks and timber in the two-story structure are original, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The blockhouse was built to reinforce Fort Pitt, the largest British fortification in North America.

The project will take 10 months and is being funded by an anonymous donor and the Colcom Foundation, according to the Fort Pitt Society, which owns the structure.

Fort Pitt was completed in 1761, amid the lengthy French and Indian War, a good bit of which took place in the Ohio Valley. During Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763, a weakness in the fort became apparent when British forces noted that the structure’s design impeded efforts to repel snipers.

In response, Col. Henry Bouquet constructed several redoubts, or blockhouses, for sharpshooters in 1764. The structure being renovated is the lone surviving remnant of Fort Pitt.

A key aspect of readying the Fort Pitt Blockhouse for its 250th anniversary is inspecting its timbers.

“In the past, if there was a rotted timber the tradition was to completely replace it,” curator Emily Hoover told Pittsburgh television station KDKA. “That is not something that we want to do. What we want to do is preserve the building.”

The original wood in the blockhouse will undergo radiographic inspections.

Fort_Pitt map“We’re looking for any kind of void which would be black spots, which show a lack of material inside that timber,” radiation safety director Chris Dugan said.

If holes are located, an engineering firm will fill them.

“Our highest priority is to insure the stability of the gun loop timbers,” project architect Ellis Schmidlapp of Landmarks Design Associates said in a statement.

The entire effort will be done to “assure that this preservation project is managed conscientiously to preserve the maximum amount of the original timbers,” Schmidlapp added.

The soldiers in the blockhouse and other similar outbuildings kept watch over the fort and provided its first line of defense. A series of gun loops allowed them to fire their muskets at attacking enemies.

Fort Pitt was built between 1759 and 1761 next to the site of the former Fort Duquesne, where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join to form the Ohio River.

The French built Fort Duquesne in 1754 at the beginning of the French and Indian War, and it was a point of great importance due to its location on the water.

Attempts by the British to take Fort Duquesne failed in 1755 and 1758, but the French abandoned and blew up the structure in November 1758 when an expedition under Gen. John Forbes got within a few miles of the site.

After Fort Pitt was demolished in the 1790s, the blockhouse was used for multiple purposes, including serving as a private residence, before being given to Daughters of the American Revolution in 1894.

The city of Pittsburgh developed in the area where Fort Pitt was located.

(Above: Fort Pitt Blockhouse, the last remnant of the fortifications the British buildtat the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. Photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

3 thoughts on “Preservation begins on colonial-era structure

  1. I love that they are doing their best to preserve the timbers rather than rip the whole lot out and redo it.
    Any restoration of old buildings is a good thing, but keeping as much as possible of the original structure is excellent.

    • It’s amazing how much the mindset of society has changed in just 50 years, at least here in the US. We’ve gone from wiping out huge sections of old parts of cities in the name of “urban renewal” to doing our best to preserve every bit of original piece of important structures when possible. I know it’s not possible to save every old building, but it’s nice to see efforts such as this, where such care is being devoted.

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