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National Historic Landmark FORKS OF THE OHIO

Location: Point State Park, Pittsburgh.

Ownership and Administration (1961). Department of Forests and Waters, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg.

Significance. The point of land where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio is a site of surpassing significance in the story of American expansion westward from the Appalachian Mountains. From the mid-18th century through the early years of the 19th, the Forks of the Ohio was a strategic key to the Ohio Valley and the vast territory drained by the upper Mississippi. Control of this point was a major objective in the struggle for North America, and men of three nations fought and died struggling for the forks. The bustling town of Pittsburgh arose sheltered by the series of fortifications on the point, the first permanent English settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. This was a point of entry in the late 18th and early 19th centuries for the waves of settlement pushing into the Ohio and upper Mississippi Valleys, making it an early gateway to the West.

George Washington visited the forks in November 1753, during his mission to Fort Le Boeuf to sound out the intentions of the French and warn them away from the Ohio country. Washington strongly endorsed the forks as the best site to command the rivers. In February 1754 workmen of the Ohio Company under Capt. William Trent began building the first outpost at the forks. In April a force of French and Indians seized the hastily built stockade. They built Fort Duquesne, named in honor of the Governor General of New France. The rival French and British claims to the Ohio country, emphasized by the determination of each power to control the forks, precipitated the final pre-independence struggle, which spread abroad and became the Seven Years' War.

Lt. Col. George Washington, commanding a small force raised to support the new fort at the Forks of the Ohio, learned that the French had captured the position and pushed through the mountains to establish a camp at Great Meadows, 11 miles east of present Uniontown. He surprised and defeated a French scouting party on May 28 near Great Meadows, firing what some historians have called the first shot of the French and Indian War. Coulon de Jumonville, commanding the French scouting party, was killed in the ambush in the glen that now bears his name. A short time later French troops from Fort Duquesne laid siege to Washington's command and on July 4, 1754, forced him to surrender the hastily built Fort Necessity. Fort Duquesne was an objective the following year of Gen. Edward Braddock, whose British regulars met shattering defeat a few miles east of the Forks of the Ohio. For 3 years longer Fort Duquesne served as a French base for raids on the English frontier.

In 1758 British and colonial troops under Gen. John Forbes made a remarkable march through the Pennsylvania wilderness and found Duquesne destroyed and abandoned by the French because of pressures elsewhere and the desertion of Indian allies. Col. Hugh Mercer with 200 men was left at the point, now named Pittsburgh, to built a temporary fort farther up the Monongahela Work on an ambitious permanent fortification began early in September 1759 and was completed 2 years later. Pentagonal in outline, the walls of Fort Pitt (named for the then Prime Minister) were earthen casements and represented a notable engineering achievement for the time and place. Buildings constructed parallel to the inside faces of the walls were of frame-and-brick construction.

Fort Pitt invited settlers, mostly Virginians, to follow Braddock's trail and settle at the adjacent town that now began to take shape. In 1763, during the Pontiac uprising, Fort Pitt was one of the few frontier outposts that held out against the warriors swarming down from the Northwest. A relief column under Col. Henry Bouquet lifted the siege 4 days after decisively defeating the Indians in the Battle of Bushy Run, August 5-6, 1763. Bouquet built five redoubts as outworks to Fort Pitt, one of which, a small brick blockhouse, stands today. Fort Pitt deteriorated as the French and Indian threat faded, although the settlement at the forks remained an important base for traders, backwoodsmen, and westward-moving settlers. As pioneers moved rapidly into the Northwest after the Revolution, the forks became the center of a rapidly growing frontier settlement. A fifth and last fort was built at the forks in the winter of 1791-92, when war with the Indians in the Old Northwest flamed anew. This post, LaFayette or Fayette, was built near the banks of the Allegheny, a quarter of a mile above the site of Fort Pitt, which had fallen into ruin. This post furnished troops in the Whisky Rebellion in 1794 and served as a supply and training depot in the War of 1812. But the military significance of the site was now secondary to its geographical location as the gateway to the trans-Appalachian interior.

Early in the 19th century, by flatboat and wagon, thousands of American and foreign immigrants passed through Pittsburgh en route to the old Northwest. The town became an industrial and commercial center where pioneers could outfit themselves for the trek west.

Present Appearance (1961). A few years ago the point of land at the Forks of the Ohio lay beneath commercial structures and railroad tracks. Development of the 36-acre Point State Park, however, has removed the commercial and industrial intrusions, including 15 acres of railroad tracks. When completed, the park development will have opened the sites of Forts Duquesne and Pitt. Archeological investigation has uncovered much useful information about Fort Pitt, and a study commissioned by the regional planning commission in 1945 provided the ground work for developing the State park, including the task of relocating bridges and traffic arteries. The flag bastion of Fort Pitt has been restored and the Monongahela bastion will be rebuilt. A museum will be developed within the Monongahela bastion under the administration of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The Bouquet blockhouse will be retained on its original site. Promenades on the Allegheny and Monongahela riverfronts extend 50 feet beyond existing harbor lines, and stone bleachers seating 3,000 persons have been erected along the Allegheny riverfront. In summer the City of Pittsburgh anchors a barge here, and free concerts and other programs are presented. Point State Park, in the shadow of the skyscrapers of modern Pittsburgh, when completed, will provide an eloquent interpretation of the origins and growth of this Gateway to the West. [56]

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Last Updated: 09-Jan-2005