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National Historic Landmark FORKS OF THE OHIO

Location: Allegheny County, "The Golden Triangle," Point State Park, Pittsburgh.

Ownership and Administration. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Department of Forests and Waters.

Significance. From about 1750 until 1815 the Forks of the Ohio, where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers join to form the Ohio River at Pittsburgh, was a strategic key to the Ohio Valley and the vast territory drained by the upper Mississippi River. Men of three nations fought and died struggling for control of this strategic location, where the bustling city of Pittsburgh—one of the first permanent settlements by the English west of the Allegheny Mountains—arose in the shelter of a series of fortifications. Still later, the forks was a major gateway to the West for waves of settlers pushing into the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys.

The growing French influence in the Ohio Valley region during the 1750's was incompatible with the westward thrust of England's seaboard colonies. George Washington visited the forks in November 1753, while en route to the French-held Fort Le Boeuf to warn the French away from the Ohio country. Washington strongly endorsed the forks as the most strategic position to command the rivers, and in February 1754 Englishmen began to construct the first outpost there. Two months later, however, a combined force of French and Indians seized the weak stockade. The French proceeded to build a fort, which they named after Duquesne, the Governor-General of New France. This heightened the tensions that led to the 9-year conflict known in America as the French and Indian War and abroad as the Seven Years' War.

When Washington learned that the French had seized the post at the forks, he returned with a small force, which on May 28 surprised and defeated a French scouting party near Great Meadows, 11 miles east of the present city of Uniontown. Troops from Fort Duquesne besieged the hastily built Fort Necessity and forced Washington to surrender on July 4. The French beat off a more threatening English effort the next year, when they shattered Gen. James Braddock's force several miles east of the forks. Thus, for 3 years longer, Fort Duquesne continued to serve as a French base for raids against the English frontier.

In 1758, 6,500 British and colonial troops under Gen. John Forbes made a remarkable forced march through the rugged Pennsylvania wilderness and found Duquesne destroyed and abandoned by the French because of pressures elsewhere and the desertion of their Indian allies. Col. Hugh Mercer was left with 200 men to secure the position for England. In 1759, the English began to construct a major permanent fortification, named Fort Pitt in honor of the Prime Minister of England. The exterior walls of the pentagonal fort were earthen ramparts faced with brick. Frame and brick buildings were constructed inside, parallel to the interior walls. A town that subsequently became Pittsburgh began to take shape in the surrounding vicinity as settlers, mostly Virginians, followed Braddock's trail to take advantage of whatever opportunities might be available.

Fort Pitt was one of the few English forts to withstand attack during the Pontiac uprising of 1763-64. As the French and Indian threat receded, the fort deteriorated, while the settlement of Pittsburgh prospered as a base for traders, backwoodsmen, and westward-moving settlers. The United States built a fifth and last fort, LaFayette or Fayette, at the forks in the winter of 1791-92, when war with the Indians in the old Northwest flamed anew. Located a quarter of a mile above the site of Fort Pitt, which had fallen into ruin, the fort supplied troops during the Whisky Rebellion, in 1794, and served as a supply and training depot in the War of 1812.

Present Appearance. A few years ago the point of land at the forks lay beneath a clutter of commercial structures and railroad tracks. However, development of the 36-acre Point State Park in the shadow of modern Pittsburgh's skyscrapers on the city's "Golden Triangle" has removed the most objectionable modern intrusions and will provide an eloquent historical interpretation. Archeological investigation has provided much useful information about Fort Pitt, whose flag bastion has been restored. Careful plans have been laid for rebuilding the Monongahela Bastion, including a museum under the administration of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The original Bouquet Blockhouse, preserved for years by the Allegheny County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, will remain at its original site. Attractive promenades have been laid out along the shores of both rivers, and stone bleachers seating 3,000 persons have been placed along the Allegheny River. In summer the city of Pittsburgh anchors a barge at the park, and free concerts and other programs are presented. [61]

NHL Designation: 10/09/60

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005