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The Fort Pitt Block House

1 rating: 3.0
A history of a Pittsburgh, PA landmark by Emily M. Weaver
1 review about The Fort Pitt Block House

Preserving Pittsburgh's physical past

  • Dec 3, 2013
It is just a tiny brick windowless outbuilding of a long demolished Fort Pitt, but it's mere existence on its original site and still over 80% original makes this little historical building truly amazing.  When the fort and its blockhouses (small brick vantage points built for defense outside the earthen walls of the larger fort) were constructed in 1764, the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join to form the Ohio was just wilderness claimed by French, British and the native Americans who were being pushed west.  Today it is the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, a thriving modern urban landscape where several hundred thousands live and work.

First time author Weaver does a good job documenting the archaeological, cultural, historical, and documentary story of the blockhouse.  She not only tells how it survived, but why, finding the answer in the building's adaptability to shifting purposes from military to commercial to residential as the fort became the town became the industrial center of the city.  The story also has an undercurrent of an underdog story as the owner of the property deeds it over to the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution for preservation in 1892.and this women's historical and social organization faced threats to the blockhouse s existence from government inaction, encroaching industrial development, and most threatening of all, the expansion of the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

At a time when women were hardly considered capable of business leadership, let alone full participation in society, lacking even the basic right to vote, the women of the DAR stood firm against attempts to bulldoze the blockhouse or compromising to move the intact building to a new city park miles from its original location.  While they couldn't stop the railroad expansion, they saved the blockhouse on its historical (and historically important) site even as it was surrounded by warehouses and railroad sidings.  History has confirmed the victory of the preservationists as the railroads and warehouses have all themselves been bulldozed and an urban park built around the surviving blockhouse in the thriving focal point of downtown Pittsburgh.

Like the blockhouse, Weaver's history is a small gem, well researched and written, with lots of pictures and paintings of the building throughout its history.  One feature that would have added to the value of the book would have been a series of area maps showing the streets and landmarks around the site at various points in its history to show how this vital location has changed over the years.  Even without them, it is well worth a look if you have any historical interest in Pittsburgh.

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December 03, 2013
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