LIGONIER, Pa. —Fort Ligonier is an impressive wooden fort-within-a-fort and an interesting place for families to learn a little history.
The outer log walls stretch about 1,700 feet and enclose 3.5 acres. The outer walls are topped by sharpened wooden pickets or oversize stakes set at a 30-degree angle to thwart enemies.
The inner fort is 200 feet square with three gates, four bastions and seven interior buildings.
An artillery battery is located on the western edge, flanked by a moat and bundles of wooden sticks to buttress the walls. Outer buildings include the hospital, sawmill, smokehouse, bake oven, forge and a log dwelling.
The grounds are also filled with imposing portable wooden obstacles, called cheaux de fries, used to slow or halt oncoming troops.
It is the most authentic French and Indian War fort of wood and earth in the United States. The British fort, built in September 1758 on a knoll overlooking Loyalhanna Creek, came under attack twice by French and Indians. Both attacks were repulsed.
Unfortunately, today the re-created fort in southwestern Pennsylvania tends to be overlooked. That's because it goes back to the French and Indian War, a conflict between England and France for control of North America, a war that far too many Americans never learned about in history class.
The war was a key training ground for Col. George Washington, first as a diplomatic courier and then as a soldier in the British Army. Washington was at the fort in 1758.
Fort Ligonier is one of about 10 historic sites tied to the French and Indian War within what is called the Historic Triangle, an hour southeast of Pittsburgh.
In 1758, the fort was a staging ground for the campaign by Gen. John Forbes to regain British control of the Ohio River Valley. Forbes, with 5,000 men, ordered construction of a road across Pennsylvania, guarded by a chain of forts, including Fort Ligonier.
His goal: the French-held Fort Duquesne in what is now Pittsburgh. The French abandoned Fort Duquesne, and it was occupied by Forbes on Nov. 25, 1758.
Fort Ligonier was decommissioned and abandoned in 1766. It was rebuilt starting in 1954 on the original site. The Daughters of the American Revolution had purchased the land in the late 1940s.
The fort and the adjoining museum are at U.S. 30 and state Route 711 in Ligonier, about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. The facilities are operated by the nonprofit Fort Ligonier Association.
Artifacts on display include two saddle pistols given to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette and later owned by President Andrew Jackson; Washington's Remarks, an autobiographical 11-page handwritten manuscript of his military experiences on the Pennsylvania frontier; and a painting of Washington by Rembrandt Peale.
The museum features five galleries with displays from around the world focused on the French and Indian War. In addition, the art gallery features 13 bigger-than-life paintings of key figures on both sides. The museum has more than 130,000 artifacts recovered during archaeological digs at the site.
The association has an impressive collection of re-created British artillery and wagons parked outside. They include cast bronze howitzers, mortars and cannons.
The original parlor from Arthur St. Clair's house, the Hermitage, is preserved behind glass walls in one exhibit. St. Clair was a major general in the Continental Army, was elected to the Confederation Congress after the Revolutionary War and was governor of the Northwest Territory.
The museum features a 14-minute video to inform visitors of the role Fort Ligonier played in the French and Indian War. Nine buildings within the fortress feature interpretive displays.
Fort Ligonier hosts a major military re-enactment on the second weekend in October, Fort Ligonier Days.
The season runs April 15 to Nov. 15, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults and $5.50 for children 6 to 14. Group rates are available.
The fort is 12 miles north of the Donegal exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
For information about the fort, contact Fort Ligonier Association, 216 S. Market St., Ligonier, PA 15658, 724-238-9701,http://fortligonier.org.
There is another often overlooked battlefield in southwestern Pennsylvania: Bushy Run. The 213-acre site, near Greensburg, marks the place of the Aug. 5-6, 1763, battle between British Col. Henry Bouquet's 400 troops and Indians in what has been called Pontiac's War (1763-64).
After the French had abandoned the Ohio Valley, Ottawa chief Pontiac resisted British policies and colonial settlement. His warriors seized nine British forts, attacked frontier settlements and lay siege to Fort Pitt. Bouquet won at Bushy Run and that ended the threat to Fort Pitt.
The battlefield is managed by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The state historical park outside Jeannette in Westmoreland County offers self-guided hikes, guided tours and interpretive programs.
Park hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday from Nov. 1 through March 31. From April 1 to Oct. 31, the center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Admission is $3 for adults, $2.50 for senior citizens and $2 for children 6 to 17.
For information, contact Bushy Run Battlefield, P.O. Box 468, Harrison City, PA 15636, 724-527-5584, http://www.bushyrunbattlefield.com.
Washington first came to western Pennsylvania in 1753-54. He was 21 years old and an envoy to the Virginia governor. He traveled more than 450 miles on foot in winter, visiting French forts with a letter demanding that they abandon the country. The French declined.
Washington was nearly shot by his Indian guide on that trek, and he nearly drowned crossing the Allegheny River near what is now Pittsburgh.
Washington played a key role during the French and Indian War at another southwestern Pennsylvania site: Fort Necessity National Battlefield at Farmington. It is about 60 minutes from Fort Ligonier.
At this site, now an 852-acre national park, Washington and his troops built a wooden stockade in 1754 in defense from the French. Washington was forced to surrender, the only time that happened in his military career.
Not far from Fort Necessity is the grave of British Gen. Edward Braddock, who was killed in 1755 with his army in retreat from the Battle of Monongahela; and Jumonville Glen, where Washington had his first military engagement in 1754 during the first battle of the French and Indian War.
You can also visit the old National Road that opened Ohio and the Midwest to development in 1811. It ran from Cumberland, Md., to Vandalia, Ill.
For information, contact Fort Necessity at 1 Washington Parkway, Farmington, PA 15437, 724-329-5512, http://www.nps.gov/fone.
For Laurel Highlands information, contact the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, 120 E. Main St., Ligonier, PA 15658, 800-333-5661, http://www.laurelhighlands.org.