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Group hopes to build replica of Doddridge's Fort

| Sunday, March 9, 2003

When winter broke in late-18th century western Pennsylvania, those who settled in the region would gather their belongings and head to the nearest fort.

They knew that warm weather would bring American Indians from the west, and the fort would be the only way to protect themselves from an attack.

Families would spend months behind the walls of the fort until the weather turned cold again.

"You can imagine the conditions during that time, socially, emotionally and physically," said Bryan Cunning, an archaeologist and member of the Washington County Historical Society.

"That's the kind of thing we hope to bring to life," said society President Patrick Cooper.

The society plans to recreate the experience of life in the late 1700s by building a replica of one of the county's 44 frontier forts, complete with a log cabin settlement and a log palisade.

Washington County commissioners will lease about 25 acres of land in Cross Creek County Park to the historical society for the structure, to be called The Washington County Frontier Experience Center.

Cooper said they hope to have the first phase of the project complete in time for an Indian summer celebration at the site later this year.

"We hope someday to have school tours, living history events and people on site to bring history to life," Cooper said.

To do that, members of the society's fort committee spent hours researching what the fort might have looked like.

"There's not a blueprint of any of these forts, so to speak," said Jim Ross, director of the historical society.

They chose to pattern the fort after Doddridge's Fort, built in 1764 by John Doddridge.

The society used a book written by Doddridge's son Joseph about his experience growing up on what was then the frontier of expansion in the New World.

Joseph Doddridge's details of the fort built by his father laid the groundwork for the society's renderings, and offered them details they never would have thought of, Cunning said.

Instead of doors, for example, Doddridge's fort had a hinged gate, connected at the top of the fort and kept open by two wooden posts.

Cooper said the center could be a future site for a French and Indian War encampment, which could draw hundreds of re-enactors and thousands of visitors to the area.

Next year marks the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War

Many events center around the military forts in the region that played a major part in the war, including Fort Necessity in Fayette County and Fort Pitt and Fort Ligonier in Westmoreland County.

Mark Tallarico, director of the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency, said the society's fort would provide another perspective into that period.

"It wasn't all military forts," he said. "There are a couple of military forts in the vicinity, but this is truly more of what the frontiersmen would have lived in."

Andy Masich, the president and chief executive officer of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, said that while many people in the region are interested in history, their knowledge of the period this fort would replicate is limited.

"Any effort made by local history organizations... anything they can do to further the knowledge of people of the history that took place right in their own backyards is admirable," he said.

Along with donations and in-kind services from private groups, the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency has given the project a $10,000 grant and pledged more money to improve the access road to the site.

"We are hoping this will have a very big impact "on Washington County tourism, Tallarico said. "It is so much a part of our American heritage and it really is truly a part of Washington County heritage."

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