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Tour offers glimpse of frontier living

| Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2003

Kittanning wasn't always the county seat of the land that surrounds it.

Before Armstrong County was carved out of Westmoreland, Allegheny and Lycoming counties, the county seat for most of this area was in Hanna's Town -- a collection of a few homes and a stockade in rural Westmoreland County.

According to the Westmoreland County Historical Society, which runs Hanna's Town, the county seat was established there as the population in the area grew, making it harder for authorities in Bedford to govern the area.

The aggressive presence of Virginia, which also laid claim to western Pennsylvania, also made it necessary to have an authority in the area.

The tavern owned by Robert Hanna was established as the first English court west of the Allegheny Mountains when it convened on April 6, 1773, according to the society.

Hanna's Town served as the county seat from 1773 until a short time after it was sacked and burned by British rangers and their Native American allies in 1782.

Archaelogical work started at the site in 1969, according to the society, and resulted in the partial construction of the town and its stockade. Those areas are available for touring.

At Hanna's Town, which is located just west of Route 119 near Greensburg, visitors can go back more than 200 years, when western Pennsylvania was still on the frontier. Hanna's Town is less than one hour's drive from Kittanning.

During the summer, tours are offered between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Tours are offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays in the fall. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for children 12 and under.

On the site are several colonial-style log homes, a stockade, a museum and a picnic area. One of the world's largest conestoga wagons is a highlight of the tour.

An archaeological dig is also on the site, and has yielded more than one million artifacts, according to Hanna's Town brochures.

The site keeps a full schedule of events including court days, family dig days, colonial and archaeology camps, and antiques and collectible sales.

Hanna's Town will be holding its 17th annual Heritage Quilt show from Wednesday through Sunday. An antiques and collectibles sale is also scheduled on Sunday.

But mostly Hanna's Town is about history -- and because it is smaller than a place like Williamsburg, Va., the tours are much more personal, according to Sarah Boice, a student from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania who serves a summer guide at Hanna's Town.

"The smaller sites are pretty neat because it's more personalized," she said. "(Hanna's town) is a nice place to visit."

The tour usually lasts about an hour, which would give the history-seeker plenty of time to cruise over to Bushy Run Battlefield, about five miles away.

Hanna's Town might never have been established if not for the victory by British Col. Henry Bouquet over Native Americans at Bushy Run on Aug. 5 and 6, 1763.

Shortly after their victory over the French in the French and Indian War, the British faced a new threat from the Ottawa chief Pontiac, whose forces overran nine frontier forts and were threatening Fort Pitt and Fort Detroit.

Bouquet's forces won a decisive victory in what became known as "Pontiac's War" at Bushy Run, ending the siege of Fort Pitt, according to information on the battlefield's Web site at www.bushyrunbattlefield.com.

The battlefield offers a museum, a walking trail, picnic areas and a gift shop on its site.

Later this month, the battlefield will host a nature tour at 10 a.m. Sept. 27 with naturalist George Heasley, exploring the fall foliage at the site. Cost is $2 per person.

Both sites present a taste of when western Pennsylvania was the frontier, and offer a unique historical perspective at a reasonable price.

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