Fort Ligonier crew hauls history back into place
By Deborah A. Brehun
Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013, 10:27 a.m.
The cannons and wagons are on the move at Fort Ligonier. The artillery park is being moved to the upper fort area to better illustrate where they were actually located at the fort in 1758.
“It will provide a more authentic experience for the visitors,” said Brad Mooney owner of Heritage Restorations.
Mooney was hired in 1996 to reconstruct Fort Ligonier's outer retrenchment, hospital, officers' quarters and the fascine cannon battery as well as artillery, carts and wagons.
Mooney and assistant Dave Felitsky began moving the 12 artillery pieces into the fort last week.
The cannons, howitzers, gun carriages and wagons were initially placed in the lower fort area in the outer entrenchment for display purposes but fort officials always suspected the true placement more than 250 years ago was actually somewhere up inside the fort.
“This has been a work in progress for 50 years, but, now everything is in place as it was originally,” said Mooney. “Our philosphy is to keep improving and keep making it better,” said Mooney.
Mooney said he had help determining the original location of the cannons from Andrew Gaerte education manager at the Fort Pitt Museum, who discovered an inventory list of equipment on a photocopied scrap of paper while researching some files.
“He recognized it as an important document and an important piece of history,” said Mooney.
Mooney said he recognized the handwriting of Capt. Henry Ward the pay master at Fort Ligonier as soon as he saw the piece of paper revealing a partial list of artillery.
“Finding the list was like finding the Holy Grail for me,” said Mooney. “We always wanted to move the artillery where it should be.”
Last week the artillery collection was hooked to the back of a tractor or hoisted on a fork lift to make the short journey to the inside of the fort.
“Back then they would have used man power and animal power,” Mooney said.
Mooney said the artillery pieces would have been delivered to the fort originally from Philadelphia.
“I bet they wish they had a tractor,” he said.
The move is just a part of the ongoing reconstruction going on at the fort.
“We were happy to find the list of actual artillery at Fort Ligonier,” said Annie Urban director of operations at the fort.
Urban said the extra space in the lower fort area will provide an expanded for special events and space tour groups to gather.”
Last year the reconstruction crew reinterpreted the hospital to a building in the lower fort area where it would have been located in 1758.
“Now it is in the lower fort and not up by the buildings where the soldiers were,” said Urban. “We want the areas to be as accurate as possible, more period specific.”
During the off season, Mooney's crew also reinterpreted the South Shore House, located in the upper fort, to better depict what was actually stored in the building. “We replaced the crates with barrels of stored food items,” Urban said.
Urban said 2⁄3 of the building would have been filled with food items like butter, meat, dried peas, rice, bran and Indian wheat (corn). The other 1⁄3 of the building would have been used to store entrenchment tools.
“We made it more of an authentic experience for the visitors,” she said.
“So many things were out of place in the store house before, said Mooney. “Now, everything is very orderly. It has a military look with things put in precise places you get a better feel of what it was.”
Museum adds French and Indian War paintings
A collection of five 19th century paintings depicting scenes of western Pennsylvania sites of the French and Indian War will be installed on the wall behind the St. Clair parlor exhibit. The artwork was acquired in 2011 from the Philadelphia History Museum at Atwater Kent and sold through Christie's Auction House.
“The pieces were restored by Michael Mosorjak of Johnstown last year,” said Urban of the artwork gifted to the museum by an anonymous donor. “The images include scenes of Gen. Edward Braddock's grave, Braddock's field, Fort Necessity as well as a block house at Fort Pitt and a magazine at Fort Duquesne.”
Kids Camp returns to fort
Urban said the kids camp will return this year for two sessions June 17 to 21 and July 15 to 19.
“It was so successful last year, we added a second week for this year,” said Urban.
Urban said more than half of the camp participants last year were from the Ligonier Valley.
“History is right in their back yard,” she said. “They get to spent time in the fort and learn about what happened in their home town and how the town started.”
Fort opens Saturday
Fort Ligonier officially opens Saturday.
Upcoming programs include Home School Days on April 22 and 24; Scout Day on April 27; an artillery demonstration on April 27 and 28; and colonial customs, culture and craftsmen at the fort on Community Day May 5.
The free event for Ligonier Valley community members on May 5 will include living history events featuring blacksmithing demonstrations and field oven baking, A British officer will greet visitors and there will be children's activities.
Urban encourages the community to take advantage of the free admission to six local museums on Community Day. “We all should know the history of the town we live in,” she said.
Fort Ligonier is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday through November 10. For more information, call 724-238-9701 or visit www.fortligonier.org or www.facebook.com/fortligonier.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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