One of the many pleasures of working downtown in an old city such as Pittsburgh, is that I am never far from history, in fact, I brush up against it daily. In this case, I didn’t need to venture far, as the museum encompassing what was once the British, and before that French, Fort Pitt (formerly Fort Duquesne) is a short walk from the city’s bustling center.
The old fort has vanished with the passage of time, but its blockhouse still remains, complete with appropriate musket openings to shoot through. Because the French burned the structure of their Fort Duquesne as General Forbes and his army advanced, the British had to rebuild once they had control of the juncture of the three rivers (Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio). This sturdy Fort was a bustling center for the British army in the western part of the Pennsylvania colony, it strengthened the British grip on the region and gave birth to what is now the city of Pittsburgh. During the War for Independence, it even served as the western headquarters for the Continental Army. All that is left today is the blockhouse, which is open year round, and right next to the museum proper.
Having lived in Pittsburgh for most of my life, and being a history buff and a museum connoisseur, I knew I had to visit this rather little, but very significant, attraction. On the first floor there is a wonderful old diorama of how the fort looked at its peak, complete with orchards and gardens. Mixed in with the rural landscapes and portraits of prominent historical figures (including my favorite image of George Washington) there were also replica rooms decked out as they would appear in the late 1700s: the soldiers’ barracks and a fur trading post which visitors can walk through and touch.
There are also many examples of period guns, canon and ammunition shells
On the second floor, there were 2 rotating exhibits, to complement the permanent ones on the first level.
Since I was on my lunch break, I only had time to go thru one exhibit, so I chose Captured by Indians, which used real life accounts, documented history and artefacts to tell the tale of those settlers that were captured by Native Americans and assimilated into the tribe, or killed. It was fascinating and I wish I had taken more pictures. How terrifying it must have been to be taken captive, where your fate is chosen by the warrior party in a split second. Once over the terror, however, many captives grew to love their adopted family and the new social roles it entailed. Many refused to leave.
Being that close to the personal stories and possessions of people living at this meeting of civilizations was very impressive. Seeing what my city looked like prior to its development was also interesting; to see this beautiful land the way the Natives saw it was simply awesome.
Before I left I did manage to snap 2 photos of the view from the 2nd floor of the museum on a bright spring day. The Fort Pitt Museum was such a nice hidden gem and I’m glad I could spend an extended lunch hour amongst her trove of treasures.