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Annual Braddock's Crossing planned for weekend in Connellsville

| Sunday, June 23, 2013, 6:36 p.m.
Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Gen. Edward Braddock, along with George Washington and their troops, crossed the Youghiogheny River in 1755. This crossing will be re-enacted on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. each day with encampment taking place at the Yough River Park in Connellsville. Ghost in Head, historical recreationist, prepares to fire upon the troops as they cross the river on their way to Fort Duquesne. History appropriate games, a blacksmith, a kid's scavenger hunt and other activities will take place with Indian and settlers living conditions set up for the weekend.

The 10th annual Braddock's Crossing will be held Saturday and Sunday at Crawford's Cabin.

The Connellsville Area Historical Society presents the two-day event to commemorate Gen. Edward Braddock and his troops' crossing of the Youghiogheny River at that very spot in 1755.

Those who would like to cross the river with re-enactors on either day can sign up before 1 p.m.

Those who want to watch can do so from the banks of the river.

On Saturday, the opening ceremony takes place at Balsley Pavilion at 11 a.m., and activities continue until 5 p.m.

A handicapped ramp built by Jonathan Soisson as his Eagle Scout project will be dedicated.

At dusk on Saturday, there will be Indian stories and legends told around the campfire at Crawford's Cabin.

On Sunday, the activities will begin at noon and end at 5 p.m.

River crossings will take place both days at 1 p.m.

The river crossing is held under the direction of New Haven Hose Company. Those who participate must be 18 or older and wear shoes.

As European settlers pushed civilization farther west in the mid-1700s, they encountered rivers that they needed to cross. There were no bridges, which created a major challenge. Two brothers from Virginia, with the last name of Stewart, saw an opportunity, transporting travelers across the Youghiogheny River on rafts. Early maps in the mid-1700s began identifying this area as Stewart's Crossing, now Connellsville.

In 1753, a young Virginia militia officer, George Washington, was sent by Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia to tell the French to leave the Ohio Country. On this trip, his party included Christopher Gist. They were traveling 110 miles of undeveloped area with over 2,000 soldiers and equipment that included wagons, cannons and supplies. They crossed the Youghiogheny River at Stewart's Crossing.

Gen. Edward Braddock's army crossing at Stewart's Crossing took place in 1755. The tactical accomplishment of bringing a major militia through the wilderness was unfathomable.

“As preparations were being made in our area to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War, (1754-63) the significance of Braddock's Crossing was obvious. A portion of Braddock's army had arrived at Stewart's Crossing in late June 1755. They camped there for two days. After crossing to the east side of the river, the army baked bread for the last time before the assault on Fort Duquense,” said Karen Hechler, president of the Connellsville Area Historical Society.

So the Historical Society combined with the Connellsville Bicentennial Committee in June 2004 to hold the first Braddock's Crossing of the Youghiogheny event. The actual crossing with re-enactors and civilians started the next year.

Braddock was defeated in 1755, but another British general, John Forbes, was sent to capture Fort Duquesne in 1758. Included among the soldiers with Forbes army was William Crawford of Virginia. Crawford had been a boyhood friend of George Washington.

“When Crawford saw the beauty of our area during the war, he vowed to return and settle here on the banks of the Youghiogheny River, and he did in 1765-66. He purchased land and built a cabin, which overlooked the spot where Braddock's army had crossed the river,” said Hechler.

Col. Crawford's home, because of its location, was visited by many western travelers, among them, George Washington and Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia. Crawford became one of the most prominent people in the area. Another chapter of his life began when he recruited soldiers for the Revolutionary War right from his cabin on the Youghiogheny.

Crawford's Cabin was reconstructed by the historical society. The location has seen many historic events since those early years of America.

Today, on the last full weekend in June, the Crawford's Cabin site is turned into a French and Indian War period camp complete with British, French and Colonial soldiers, Native Americans and civilian participants. Visitors can enjoy music and food. Children's games include Indian tug of war, Indian jewelry making, tin smithing, black smithing, marching with the soldiers, a scavenger hunt and others.

“I am so pleased that this river crossing has lasted so long and been supported by the community for 10 years. The Connellsville Historical Society could not have accomplished our goal of Braddock's Crossing without so many other organizations who have assisted us. I especially wish to thank the Connellsville Bicentennial Committee, who helped with expenses during the early years, and the Fayette County Hotel Tax Grant, which has financed us for the last four years. We see many visitors from out of the area for this event. Special thanks to the New Haven Hose Company who supply security and VFW Post 21 who treat the re-enactors to dinner on Saturday evening. Come and enjoy our amazing history and cross the river with the troops,” said Hechler.

The Greater Connellsville Chamber of Commerce chooses a community group, person or event to recognize each year with a design reflecting that choice on city street banners. Various businesses, civic organizations and similar entities support the project by sponsoring a banner. The 2013 banners are a bright and colorful image of Braddock's Crossing to honor the historical society's 10th anniversary of presenting the re-enactment.

The encampments, demonstrations and crossing take place at Crawford's Cabin at Seventh Street and the Youghiogheny River. There is no admission charge.

Nancy Henry is a freelance writer.

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