Weather puts damper on Braddock's Crossing re-enactment

| Friday, July 5, 2013, 11:00 a.m.

Yough River Park in Connellsville is a pleasant place to pass the time. This place was not so peaceful nearly 260 years ago, when the French and the British vied for control of the Ohio River Valley. The Connellsville Historical Society recently hosted the 10th annual re-enactment of a pivotal event of that era — Gen. Edward Braddock's crossing of the Youghiogheny River at Connellsville while on his ill-fated campaign to oust the French from Fort Duquesne.

Karen Hechler of the Connellsville Historical Society is pleased to have reached this milestone.

“I didn't go into this event with the idea of having an annual event,” she said. “Ten years is amazing. It's a compliment to the re-enactors who keep coming back, to the community who supports this event and to the hotel tax that provides the income that makes this event possible.”

Hechler said that the actual event is cathartic.

“I start planning this event in January,” she said. “Once the event is here, I'm glad.”

Hechler said that the re-enactors are treated well, noting that the VFW Post 21, Connellsville, provides them with a picnic. The re-enactors were unable to do a river crossing because of recent heavy rains.

Braddock's Crossing took place on June 29, 1755. At that time, the French and the British sought to expand their empires within North America. The French controlled much of eastern Canada and much of the Great Lakes region. The British had their 13 colonies along the Atlantic coast. Both nations wanted control of the “Forks,” or “The Point” as it is now known, of the Ohio River. The nation that controlled the headwaters of the Ohio River could expand markedly. The land-hungry British colonists wanted cheap, fertile land, which was abundant west of the Alleghenies. The French wanted control over the region's waterways to facilitate their thriving fur trade. Alarmed by British expansion, the French built Fort Duquesne. The British, led by Braddock, who was assisted by a young George Washington, attempted to oust the French from the Ohio Valley. During his march to Fort Duquesne, Braddock crossed the Youghiogheny River at Stewart's Crossing, now Connellsville.

“This crossing was noted on the maps of that time.” said Hechler. “Braddock knew that it would be a good place to cross so that he could proceed westward.” The area was named Stewart's Crossing after settler William Stewart, who came to the area in 1753.

Jack Oelschalter, a re-enactor at the event, said that this event is a pivotal part of American history.

“This event helped make America what it is,” Oelschalter said. “We gained territory by moving from the East Coast westward. This immigration helped us become strong enough to stand on our own, without Great Britain's help.”

Mary Jo Williams of Connellsville sees the event as an opportunity to celebrate her Native American heritage.

“This event is one of the few local events that celebrate Native American culture,” she said.

Williams, who is part Huron and part Cherokee, wants her daughter to appreciate this heritage. She also believes that this event has a positive impact on the community in that it brings families together.

Barbara Starn is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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