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Friendship Hill FestiFall slated for this weekend

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 1:24 p.m.

Other than being the name of a school district and high school, few western Pennsylvanians may recognize and identify the name Albert Gallatin.

One of the without question lesser-known monuments that sits in front of the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, noted retired Albert Gallatin High School physics teacher John Gruskowski, is that of Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury from 1801-14.

This weekend, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, a celebration of the life and times of Albert Gallatin is being held at Friendship Hill National Historic Site, replete with historic crafts, foods, music and other entertainment, said Kitty Seifert, Park Ranger and front-line interpreter at school programs and coordinator of the volunteer program at Friendship Hill. The site is three miles north of Point Marion.

Since 1982, the Friendship Hill National Historic Site website notes, the FestiFall celebration, which offers free admission, has been held, illustrating how people lived during Gallatin's lifetime from 1761–1849. Gallatin owned the Friendship Hill property from 1786 to 1832, with the site recognized as having been his country estate. Born in Switzerland, Gallatin initially settled in Boston after immigrating to the United States.

Among the activities offered at FestiFall is something for every member of the family, the website continues, including demonstrations of historic trades and crafts, such as candle making, flower garlands, head garlands, braiding rugs, and cornhusk dolls. Period music has been provided by the Albert Gallatin High School Fife and Drum Corps, and FestiFall-goers will enjoy period foodstuffs, including the ever-popular bean soup, made, incidentally, in outdoor kettles; beef sandwiches; and cornbread, added Albert Gallatin, who will mingle among the crowd.

Who? Yes, Albert Gallatin…almost.

For more than a decade, Gruskowski said, he has been informally portraying Gallatin at FestiFall.

Referring to himself as an ordinary citizen interested in both American history and local history, Gruskowski says he loves the Friendship Hill Historical site, but added, “it is not known enough. The more I discovered at Friendship Hill the more interested I became, and I started to read more and study the life and career of Albert Gallatin, including his role in local history. Friendship Hill spurred my interest in Albert Gallatin and I continually read about him. Being more interested in the historical site, I pay more attention to everything associated with Friendship Hill and Gallatin.”

But, Gruskowski emphasized, “In no way do I consider myself an expert on Albert Gallatin, but I am interested that Gallatin's story gets out.”

Dressed in period clothing as he portrays Gallatin, Gruskowski relates the story about Gallatin's involvement with the 1804-06 Lewis and Clark expedition that opened territory west of the Mississippi River for settlement. Gallatin was a leader in supporting the financing the expedition.

“I try to represent some things I know about Albert Gallatin and the things he's done,” Gruskowski said. “I try to bring what I know and have discovered to the attention to visitors at Friendship Hill. Few people seem to be aware that Gallatin was Secretary of the Treasury under presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. As I portray him I relate stories in a storytelling way about him and the era. From reading and studying about him, it bothers me that Albert Gallatin is not more recognized, as he should be, especially regarding the early financial history of our nation. He did his job. To me the Friendship Hill Historical Site is a local treasure.”

Gruskowski also proudly notes that the Gallatin River, a 120-mile-long river in Wyoming and Montana, is a tributary of the Missouri River known for its brown trout and whitewater rafting and is named after Gallatin.

After initially landing in the future state of Maine, Gallatin made his way to western Pennsylvania, via Richmond, where he boarded at the home of the mother of his future wife, Sophia Allegre.

“Gallatin came to this area to speculate in land and found the area above the Monongahela River,” Gruskowski said. “That is where he built his mansion and legend is that Sophia Allegre is buried at Friendship Hill. I have a fond feeling for the locality of the area, and it's good to see young people becoming interested and getting involved with the life of Gallatin through the FestiFall.” Gallatin, incidentally, is buried in New York City.

Additional volunteers dress in period clothing, adding to the authenticity of the event.

“Most of the people who dress in period clothing are volunteers and are not portraying any particular person from the past,” said Seifert, a California University of Pennsylvania grad who began her career as a seasonal worker at Fort Necessity and who has been with the National Park Service for 33 years, 29 at Friendship Hill and Fort Necessity. “They dress in period garb to give a sense of the past to the visiting public. Individuals who portray specific historic figures are known as first-person interpreters and have to be well-versed in all facets of an individual's life to be effective at what they do.”

Seifert, who interprets the story of Friendship Hill to the public, added that Thomas Jefferson is portrayed by Thomas Pitz.

“FestiFall is our way of not only celebrating the life of Albert Gallatin, but of informing the public who he was, what he accomplished, and about his contributions, especially to our region,” Seifert added. “FestiFall is a great opportunity for people to become acquainted with and appreciate Albert Gallatin.”

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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