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Pittsburgh's Fort Pitt Blockhouse celebrates quarter-millennium

| Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Fort Pitt Block House at Pittsburgh's Point State Park.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Fort Pitt Block House at Pittsburgh's Point State Park.
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
The earliest known photograph of the Block House, taken around 1890 before the building was given to the Daughters of the American Revolution. At the time of the photograph, the Block House was in use as a tenement with a family living on the second floor and another family occupying the first floor. The people featured in the photograph are unknown, but they may include some of the actual inhabitants of the Block House.

Alan Gutchess says the Fort Pitt Blockhouse has a meaning that surpasses its role as a historical site.

“It has always been an eyewitness to Pittsburgh, whether as a fortification that protected the town, a building overlooking an industrial site, or now, as part of Point State Park,” says the director of the Fort Pitt Museum.

The blockhouse is 250 years old this year, and its history as the oldest building in Pittsburgh is being celebrated Aug. 9 and 10 at its location next to the museum. While the old brick building seems like part of the museum, it is owned and operated by the Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, while the museum is part of the Senator John Heinz History Center.

Events will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days throughout both sites. A key event will be at 2 p.m. Aug. 9 with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, historian David Wilson and the River City Brass Quintet.

The Emerald Society Pipes and Drums will perform at noon Aug. 9, when a British 6-pound cannon will be fired, and the British Red Ensign flag will be raised.

Besides the events, Gutchess says, re-enactors from the museum will illustrate blacksmithing and log-hewing, trying to illustrate how the blockhouse was put together — and the strengths that allowed it to stand for a quarter-millennium.

The blockhouse is the only one remaining of three built in 1764 and two constructed later to provide added fortification on the water sides of the fort, he says. Serious flooding the previous two years had weakened the earthen walls on the water sides, causing British Col. Henry Bouquet to see the need for the redoubts.

The location of the other blockhouses is not known, but this one is in its original site, having never been “razed or rebuilt,” Gutchess says.

The blockhouses evidently had names, too; this one was called the “Bouquet blockhouse.” Another was named after Gen. James Grant, Gutchess says, and the others are unknown.

As the oldest building in the area, Gutchess says, the blockhouse always has played an important role in the image of Pittsburgh.

“In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the blockhouse was the symbol of Pittsburgh,” he says. “Not the Point, not the fountain, but the blockhouse. You'd see it everywhere from postcards to beer cans.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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