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Fort Ligonier offers hands-on history

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Brad Mooney (left) and Dave Felitsky remove a six-pound cast iron cannon in need of repair at Fort Ligonier.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Mabel, a black labrador retriever belonging to Fort Ligonier's restorationist, Brad Mooney is the new 'fort dog.'
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Fort Ligonier's restorationist Brad Mooney and his black, Labrador retriever, Mabel, walk around the grounds while making repairs. The site reopened over the weekend. The fort, overlooking Loyalhanna Creek, withstood an attack by the French and their Indian allies on Oct. 12, 1758, a battle that is commemorated with the popular Fort Ligonier Days festival.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Brad Mooney places a descriptive sign next to a cart as he prepares for opening day at Fort Ligonier.

When you ask Mary Manges why learning about 18th-century Ligonier is so important, she is quick to quote author David McCullough, “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

“As education director, I believe it is crucial for students to know who we are and why we are the way we are, not just locally, but nationally and globally,” Manges said. “At Fort Ligonier, our local history has strong national and global implications and we want students to make that connection and understand the significance of Fort Ligonier.”

This season, the fort's education department plans an interactive approach to history with the many programs in the line-up.

“We have added some new “hands-on history” activities to our tours, such as candle dipping, quill pen writing, and museum quests,” Manges said. “For regular visitors, we'll offer hands-on activities through the use of our activity cart on select days and times.”

Led by Manges, the education department continues to introduce new programs to meet the needs of school groups, homeschoolers and Scout groups.

“We have a team of outstanding people in our education department,” said Annie Urban executive director at the fort. “We all enjoy bouncing new ideas off of one another and, as a result, have come up with creative, high energy, new programs.”

The fort officially opened Saturday. More than 120 area Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and leaders participated in the opening day activities at the first of three Scout Days planned this season. An “Indian Lore Merit Badge Day for Boy Scouts” is planned for May 24 and Sept. 13 is a Scout Day for both Boy and Girl Scouts.

“Why America Is Free,” a pilot program for homeschool students, was completed during the winter. Manges said she is already planning the next session.

“We schedule these programs so that we can provide more specific programming and a format that meets the needs and interests of scouts and homeschool families,” said Manges. “We can also provide tours for individual scout or homeschool groups as requested, but these special programs allow us to offer special and unique activities for these groups.”

Spring Homeschool Days are planned for April 22 and 30 and Fall Homeschool Days are Sept. 15 and 23.

Every year, the fort plays host to more than 55 school tours, reaching more than 3,300 students.

They cater to the educational needs of these school groups by offering a variety of programs.

This year, STEAM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) will demonstrate how these components were used to build and maintain Fort Ligonier from 1758 to present day.

Several professional development programs are lined up for teachers this year as well.

Manges said the most important thing to do with school groups is to teach the fort's history in a way that makes every student want to learn more.

“We hope that something we share, discuss or show them will pique their curiosity and that they will want to learn more — and hopefully visit us again,” Manges said.

The new Fort Ligonier brochure lists nearly 20 different events including several new events.

“French forces will present various living history activities including drills and military tactics June 7 and 8,” Urban said. “The internationally renowned Plymouth Fife & Drum Corps, from Michigan, featuring students age 12 to 18, will perform on the fort grounds on Aug. 3. And, noted artist Chas Fagan will be the guest presenter for the “Commemoration of Washington's Friendly Fire Incident on Nov. 7.”

Fagan is a Ligonier native. He has gained national prominence and recognition as an accomplished and gifted portraitist, sculptor and painter, Urban said.

Fort Kids Camp will return for two weeks this summer — June 16 to 20 and July 14-18.

“We will keep the same basic format of camp again this year, but we always add new activities, games and information to keep it fresh for those who like to come back each year,” Manges said. “We'll continue to play the wildly popular game of “Cannonball” and also have balloon grenade battles (while wearing 18th-century Grenadier caps made during craft time) like last year. We always have a few new activities up our sleeves, so campers will have to come to camp to find out.”

During camp, children have the opportunity to dig deep and learn about Fort Ligonier through special tours, participation in 18th-century games — as well as modern games with an 18th-century twist, hands-on activities and the mini-reenactment.

“By being here every day for a week they are immersed in our history in so many ways, and we believe that is how deep learning occurs,” said Manges.

A new level of membership will be offered to students who join the Cannonball Club.

“Members of the Cannonball Club will be able to participate in special events and activities offered throughout the season,” Manges said.

Manges invites anyone who has not been to the fort in many years to visit and take advantage of the educational opportunities.

“Fort Ligonier is a treasure with a rich global history that should not be overlooked,” she said.

For more information about the calendar of events, go to or call 724-238-9701 for a brochure. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors (age 62 and older) and students (age 17-21), $6 for youth (ages 6-16) and free for children 5 and under, active military and members of the Fort Ligonier Association.

Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or

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