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Group to rescue Fort Pitt Block House from new threat: rotting timbers

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 12:10 a.m.
Built a year after Fort Pitt was besieged by Indians in 1763, the Fort Pitt Block House avoided future attacks. Now a group of preservationists is trying to save the 249-year-old building from the impact of another threat: flooding that can damage the structure's timbers. File photo
Chris Dugan, Technical Manager and Radiation Safety Office from TUV Rheinland Industrial Solutions (left) checks for radiation with Jake Fetchin, Radiographer with TUV Rheinland Industrial Solutions at the Fort Pitt Block House, Wednesday, January 23, 2013. TUV Rheinland Industrial Solutions was on hand to X-ray the timber gun loops at the Fort Pitt Block House. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Fort Pitt Block House at Pittsburgh's Point State Park. Wednesday, June 25, 2014.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh's Point State Park has earned accolades from the American Planning Association as one of the group’s 10 Great Public Spaces.
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.

Built a year after Fort Pitt was besieged by Indians in 1763, the Fort Pitt Block House avoided future attacks. It later survived an attempt by the Pennsylvania Railroad to convert the Point to a rail yard.

Now a group of preservationists is trying to save the 249-year-old building from the impact of another threat — flooding.

The Fort Pitt Society, owners of the building, plans to begin the first phase of preserving the building on Wednesday when TUV Rhein-land Industrial Solutions takes computerized X-rays of the gun loops — openings in the building where soldiers could fire their muskets at the enemy. The gun loops and the roof are the only parts of the building that are made of wood.

“It's one of the greatest, if not the greatest, historical treasure in the city of Pittsburgh. It's literally where Pittsburgh began, and that should be important to every Pittsburgher,” said Maureen Mahoney Hill, a consultant for the Fort Pitt Block House in Point State Park.

It will take two days to complete the X-rays to determine which timbers need to preserved. Work on the timbers is expected to begin in April, when temperatures are warm enough to inject preservatives.

“Probably the biggest challenge for the Fort Pitt Block House and Fort Pitt was flooding almost immediately after it was constructed,” Hill said. She noted that floodwaters rose to the roof during the 1936 flood.

Emily Hoover, curator of the block house, said 80 percent of the building and 60 percent of the gun loops are original.

“If the gun loops were to fail or completely rot out, the entire building would collapse. That's why it's very important we do this project and do it now instead of later,” she said.

Masonry restoration and French drain repairs are expected to be completed by August. The last phase, interior repairs, is scheduled to be done by the end of October.

“We'll try to keep it open as much as possible,” Hill said. She noted that the building may have to close at times for safety or lack of space.

The Colcom Foundation is paying $90,000 of the cost of the project and an anonymous donor the remaining $50,000

The block house, the only surviving structure from the fort, was given to the Daughters of the American Revolution by Mary Schenley in 1894.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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