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Public can help re-create history in Connellsville

| Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Huron Indian re-enactor Todd Johnson, known as “Ghost in the Head,” is shown at the site by the Youghiogheny River where the historic crossing and re-enactment will take place.
Huron Indian re-enactor Todd Johnson, known as “Ghost in the Head,” is shown at the site by the Youghiogheny River where the historic crossing and re-enactment will take place.

The three flags flying high over the Memorial Bridge in Connellsville tell the story of the struggle that took place for the control of the water below, as the French, English and American flags wave proudly as a reminder of the importance of waterways in the days before highways and roadways.

“Rivers are nature's highways,” said Karen Hechler, president of the Connellsville Historical Society. “They needed the rivers to get around, and they needed the rivers to move their furs and get them out of the country. Having control of the rivers was extremely important. If you had control of the river, then you had control of the land.”

The struggle for river and land control was one of the factors involved in Gen. Edward Braddock's expedition in the summer of 1755.

Braddock's expedition was just one of a British offensive against the French in North America that summer. As commander-in-chief of the British army in America, Braddock led the main thrust against the Ohio Valley with a column some 2,100 strong, leading his men right through the Fay-West area, crossing the Youghiogheny River in Connellsville.

Braddock was aware that the crossing of the river was essential in his quest to move on to his destination of Fort Duquesne, and he — along with a young and eager George Washington — decided that crossing the Yough at Connellsville was the ideal location.

In honor of the historic crossing that took place on June 29, 1755, the Connellsville Historic Society has been conducting a re-enactment of the event, inviting period re-enactors and the public alike to take part in the crossing, following in the footsteps of history.

“This is the 10th anniversary of the (celebration of the) crossing,” Hechler said of the annual gathering at the Yough River Park. “This is our unique way of taking part in the historic event that took place right here in Connellsville.”

The opening ceremonies for the event will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday and will include the dedication of a handicap ramp built by Jonathan Soisson, who made the ramp as an Eagle Scout project.

Starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, the re-enactment of the crossing will take place.

“Members of the public are invited to cross, but you must be 18 years of age or older and you must wear shoes,” said Hechler, adding that the event is made possible by the members of the New Haven Hose Company, which monitors and guide the water crossing.

Hechler said that the event brings in interest from all over the area, and community support for the annual crossing is always appreciated.

“The local VFW here in Connellsville has supplied food for the re-enactors every year,” Hechler said. “The re-enactors said that they love it, and Connellsville treats them better then any other town.”

In recognition of the 10th anniversary, the Greater Connellsville Chamber of Commerce has chosen the event as its annual banner display showcase.

“We are so happy to have the Chamber of Commerce recognize us,” Hechler said. “We are honored by it.”

About 25 re-enactors from a few re-enactment groups are expected to take part in the events, and Huron Indian re-enactor Todd Johnson, known as “Ghost in the Head,” said that re-enactment is fun and unique.

“We are going to be giving ‘Washington' and his men a little trouble as they try to cross, chest deep in the river,” Johnson said of his part in the re-enactment. “This is a unique event, and the crossing itself is super, super original, and it gives people a truly unique experience.”

In addition to the crossing, there will be other activities, games and demonstrations at the park, symbolic of colonial life and the era of Braddock.

“This is something that Connellsville does that is different,” Hechler said. “This is our way to celebrate our local involvement in the French & Indian War.”

Marilyn Forbes is a freelance writer.

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