The Point: The Block House: Sesquicentennial
Celebration to Mark Birthday of Blockhouse: Sturdy Old Structure Sees Transformation of Pittsburgh to Present Busy Center. Growth of City Sees Place of Protection Turned into Relic of the Days of Indian Warfare.
From The Pittsburgh Telegraph, 6 April 1914.
Pittsburgh's venerable landmark of colonial days, the blockhouse on the site of Ft. Pitt, celebrates this year its one hundred and fiftieth birthday. Many patriots no doubt will declare that the time is ripe for another local sesqui-centennial celebration. And just such a sesqui-centennial has been discussed by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
When the plans for a celebration are announced there doubtless will be provided a program of patriotic functions fittingly to commemorate the service of the historic building in pioneer times. The Pittsburgh Industrial Development Commission in calling attention to the respectable old age of the blockhouse has taken the opportunity to draw a few comparisons showing the amazing growth of the community in that period of 150 years.
Built in Wilderness.
The rusty walls of the little fort have witnessed the transformation of the forks of the Ohio from an obscure wilderness post to the distinction of the greatest industrial center in the world. When the blockhouse was built Pittsburgh had scarcely 100 white inhabitants outside of the garrison at Fort Pitt. Fifty years later the number steadily increased to close to 5,000. Today the blockhouse is the center of a district with an urban population of more than 1,000,000.
The builders of the blockhouse and their neighbors engaged in no business beyond the paltry trading with the Indians and there were no industries aside from the smithies at the fort. Fifty years later the volume of trade passing through Pittsburgh was valued at $1,000,000 annually and the sale of manufactures amounted to $1,000,000 more. The ironmongery, as it was known then, manufactured in Pittsburgh was reckoned to be worth $300,000 a year, and the whole value of manufactured products was estimated worth $500,000. Today the value of Pittsburgh's manufactured products is $578,815,493 a year, of which $348,688,204 is in iron and steel.
The blockhouse is a relic of the days of Pontiac's insurrection and was built in the year 1764 by Col. Henry Bouquet to serve as a greater protection to the garrison at Fort Pitt, which was in constant danger of attack by hostile Indians. During the summer of the previous year Pontiac's warriors had besieged Capt. Ecuyer and his little band of defenders at Fort Pitt for six weeks until relieved by the arrival of Col. Bouquet's victorious army after the memorable defeat of the Indians at Bushy Run, August 6, 1763.
When the elaborate fortifications of Fort Pitt were erected by Gen. Stanwix following the destruction of the French works of Fort Duquesne it was soon found that part of the approaches to the stockade were not secure against the Indian mode of warfare. The fort stood about midway between the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers above their confluence forming the Ohio. The eastern side of the fortifications faced an open field, which extended about 100 rods to the base of an abrupt hill, then known as the scene of Maj. Grant's defeat in September, 1758, and which in later days became famous as the Pittsburgh "Hump." A moat protected the outer walls of the fort, but this in no sense served to make it Indian-proof and the cunning redskins stole along the low banks of the river and made their way into the moat at night when they were able to take pot shots at the sentries.
Guards Moat from Indians.
The blockhouse was erected particularly to guard the moat. It is a rectangular-shaped structure, each side being about 18 feet. Upon a foundation of rough field stone rest square hewn logs of oak with loopholes for musketry, and above this is a wall of brick. About 12 feet from the ground is another range of loopholes. The building contains two floors. There were two underground passages, one connecting with the fort and the other extending to the Monongahela river. The roof is of clapboards.
During the troublous times just preceding the Revolutionary War the British withdrew from Fort Pitt and the ramparts fell into decay. In 1784 the land on which the fort stood was sold and dwelling houses were built on the site.
Of the barracks, quarters, magazines and other buildings of the military post only the sturdy blockhouse reamined. A small brick dwelling was built alongside and for more than 100 years the blockhouse was used as a kitchen and sleeping chamber of the tenement.
The property was inherited by Mrs. Mary E. Schenley, who donated it to the Daughters of the American Revolution, April 1, 1894. The old dwellings were removed and the blockhouse was restored to its original appearance. The patriotic women cleared the ground for a small park surrounding the building, trees were planted and a lodge was erected for the caretaker. The blockhouse stands in the center of the downtown warehouse district, where surrounded by railroad terminals it is the shrine of thousands of pilgrims who annually visit this colonial landmark.