Association commemorates vision to preserve Ligonier's history
Members of the Fort Ligonier Association honored the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Fort Ligonier Museum Nov. 8 during a reception that will also commemorate Col. George Washington's November 1758 “Friendly Fire Incident.”
In addition, the association will recognize Charlie Stahl and his more than 52-year career as the fort's maintenance supervisor.
“We have had a very full year of events here at Fort Ligonier,” said Annie Urban, director of operations and development. “Culminating with the 50th-anniversary of the building of the museum and the retirement of a 52-year employee, it all just goes together.”
Edward R. Weidlein III, president of the board of trustees, will honor Stahl during the opening remarks of the program.
“Not only is Charlie an icon of Fort Ligonier but he is revered in the entire community,” said Urban. “He deserves all the attention he is getting.”
Ralph Kinney Bennett, a board trustee, will make remarks about the Oct. 12, 1962 dedication of the Fort Ligonier Museum.
Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, director of collections and interpretation at the American Center in Philadelphia, will present the evening's education program to commemorate the anniversary of the “Friendly Fire Incident.” Stephenson will talk about Gen. John Forbes' Highlanders. The program is sponsored by Somerset Trust Co.
Urban said today's event provides an opportunity for the members to gather and recognize the accomplishments not only for the past year but since the group was organized as the Fort Ligonier Memorial Foundation in 1946. That group of “public-spirited citizens” make the decision to permanently preserve Ligonier's significant place in American history.
The fort was founded in September 1758 by Col. James Burd, who set up a final supply depot on the banks of the Loyalhanna Creek in preparations for an attack on Fort Duquesne.
On Oct. 12, 1758, the fort defeated an attack by 1,200 French and several hundred Indians. The victory paved the way for the capture of Fort Duquesne. If the French had won the battle in Ligonier, the middle part of the country could have become a French colony.
On Nov. 12, 1758, a few miles from the fort, Washington's troops were firing against each other. Washington rode down the line, knocking guns down and ordering the soldiers to cease fire. Washington wrote about the incident later in life, noting that it was the most dangerous threat to his life he had ever been experienced.
By Nov. 24, 1758, Brigadier Gen. John Forbes occupied Fort Duquesne and renamed it Fort Pitt. He renamed the Loyalhanna post Fort Ligonier after Field Marshal John Ligonier, commander in chief of land forces in Great Britain.
Fort Ligonier was an active fort for less than eight years. It was decommissioned in 1766 and deemed no longer a military necessity. For the next 164 years, it fell into ruins and the town of Ligonier grew up around it.
In 1930, the William Kenly Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the site and erected a monument there.
They donated the property to the Fort Ligonier Memorial Foundation in 1946 and exploratory excavations were started to reconstruct the fort.
During the excavation, knives, bullets, coins and other relics were discovered. For the next eight years, the foundation continued with archeological surveys and researched original maps and records to determine the exact location of the original fort.
The reconstructed fort was dedicated on Oct. 12, 1954, the 196th anniversary of the Battle of Ligonier.
On Oct. 12, 1962, the Fort Ligonier Museum was opened to house many of the artifacts. It was dedicated during the three-day 204th anniversary commemoration of the battle.
The museum told the story of Ligonier in a graphic way using dioramas and topographical maps. It housed Gen. John Forbes sword and pistol, Col. Henry Bouquet's pistol and other relics and paintings. The center of attraction was a painting of Lord Ligonier by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The painting was acquired from the Duke of Sutherland and presented to the fort from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
Since that time, Fort Ligonier's art collection has expanded and now features 14 portraits of noted 18th century figures including “George Washington” by Rembrandt Peale.
By 1978, an additional wing was added to house the ever-expanding collection including the parlor room from Gen. Arthur St. Clair's Hermitage home that was moved to the fort property in 1961 from Oak Grove.
Since the association was formed, eight acres of the original site of Fort Ligonier have been preserved. Many of the fort's original features have been reconstructed. The inner fort includes officers' mess, barracks, quartermaster, guardroom, underground magazine, commissary and officers' quarters. Outside the fort, Gen. Forbes's hut has been reconstructed. Other buildings include two hospital wards and a surgeon's hut, a smokehouse, a saw mill, bake ovens, a log dwelling and a forge.
The museum includes a history gallery, French and Indian War art gallery, The World Ablaze: An Introduction to the Seven Years' War exhibit, and the George Washington Collection, which showcases the George Washington pistols.
“When you look back through the past years, you see the vision the founders had to build this fort and museum,” said Urban. “They created this historic site for future generations.”
Urban said it is now the responsibility of future generations to continue to grow that vision.
“Now, the next generation and future generations will continue to expand on their original ideas,” said Urban. “We are so fortunate. Our members continue to keep up the tradition of supporting Fort Ligonier in so many ways.”
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.