NPS Logo

Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading

Founders and Frontiersmen
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark FORKS OF THE OHIO

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. Later the forks became 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 Britain's seaboard colonies. In 1753 Maj. George Washington visited the forks, while en route to the French-held Fort Le Boeuf to warn the French away from the Ohio country. Washington endorsed the forks as a strategic position, and in 1754 the English began to construct a fort there. The French seized it that same year, however, completed it, and named it Fort Duquesne. The new fort was the keystone of a defensive line of forts the French founded in western Pennsylvania to block the spread of Anglo-American settlement into the Ohio Valley. The resulting tensions between the two nations led to a 9-year conflict known as the French and Indian War (1754-63) in America and abroad as the Seven Years' War (1756-63). In 1754 the French defeated Washington, who failed in his attempt to recapture the Duquesne area, at Fort Necessity. The following year Fort Duquesne was the objective of the ill-fated force under British Gen. Edward Braddock that suffered a disastrous defeat a few miles east of the forks. Thus for 3 years Fort Duquesne continued to serve as a French base for raids against the English frontier.

In 1758 Gen. John Forbes made a remarkable march with a force of British regulars and colonials through the rugged Pennsylvania wilderness, only to find that the French, weakened by the desertion of their Indian allies, had abandoned and destroyed Fort Duquesne. Its loss, a decisive blow to the French, gave American colonists a convenient entry into the great basin beyond the Alleghenies. The next year the English began to construct a major permanent fortification on higher ground a few hundred yards away from the site of Fort Duquesne; they named it 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 along side the fort as settlers, mostly Virginians, followed Braddock's trail to take advantage of whatever opportunities might be available at the forks.

Fort Pitt, though besieged, was one of the few English forts to with stand attack during Pontiac's uprising, in 1763-64. A relief column under Col. Henry Bouquet lifted the siege 4 days after decisively defeating the Indians in the Battle of Bushy Run. As an outer work to Fort Pitt, Bouquet built a small brick blockhouse. Fort Pitt served as a base for operations against the British Northwest during the War for Independence. The post then deteriorated, although traces could be seen for many years.

After the war the forks became the center of a rapidly growing frontier settlement, which in 1800 had a population of more than 1,500. By flatboat and wagon thousands of emigrants passed through Pittsburgh en route to the old Northwest, and the town became a commercial and industrial center. With the coming of the steamboat, Pittsburgh became a major port for the traffic that plied the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Missouri; in this way it served the Western frontier from the Great Lakes to the gulf, from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi, and the Plains beyond.

In the winter of 1791-92, when war with the Indians in the old Northwest flamed anew, the United States built a fifth and last fort, Lafayette or Fayette, at the forks. Located a quarter of a mile above the site of Fort Pitt, which had fallen into ruin, the fort supplied troops in the Whisky Rebellion of 1794 and served as a supply and training depot in the War of 1812.

The Forks of the Ohio is a Registered National Historic Landmark relating primarily to the development of the English colonies.

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 in the park, and free concerts and other programs are presented.

NHL Designation: 10/09/60

Previous Next
Last Updated: 29-Aug-2005