Pittsburgh Chapter, NSDAR Fort Pitt Block House

Fort Pitt Society

The Pittsburgh Chapter, NSDAR, is the parent corporation of The Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (Fort Pitt Society). This holding corporation, chartered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1894, exists in order to maintain and preserve the Fort Pitt Block House. All members of the Pittsburgh Chapter, NSDAR, are members of the Fort Pitt Society. Through the support of these dedicated women, admission to the Fort Pitt Block House always has been free to the public. The site receives no state or federal funding.

Preservation of the Fort Pitt Block House

An interesting narrative of the early preservation efforts of the chapter are described in an essay by Mary O' Hara Darlington. All spellings and abbreviations below are presented exactly as written by her in the 1912 essay about the history of the chapter. The following excerpt is from the NSDAR By-Laws and History of the Pittsburgh Chapter, 1912.

"In 1892, at the request of the Chapter, made by Mrs. Amelia N. Shields Oliver, Mrs. Mary E. Schenley offered to present the Redoubt of Fort Pitt, built by Colonel Bouquet in 1764, to the Daughters of the American Revolution. This gift was gratefully accepted. As no organization can hold property in Pennsylvania without a charter from the State, and the Pittsburgh Chapter was a part of the National Society, a State Charter was necessary. One was therefore obtained under the name of the D.A.R. of Allegheny County Pa.. The deed for the property dates March fifteenth, 1894. Mrs. Schenley was made a life member and presented with a D.A.R. badge set with American precious stones. The business of this society is managed by a board of twelve directors, which elects its own officers. The property is supported by annual and life membership dues, supplemented by the interest of a small invested fund, and the sale of books and souvenirs. It is hoped that some endowment fund will be raised. To procure money for the cost of improving this property two successful performances of the opera "Cascabel" were given at the Alvin theatre in May, 1899. Hardly had these improvements been made when strong and urgent efforts were made to have the Blockhouse destroyed so that the entire property at the Point might be obtained and used for a freight yard by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. This plan was defeated owing to the vigilance of Mrs. Ammon, who spent "the summer at the Point" and the winter in Harrisburg. Great interest in this new siege of Fort Pitt was taken throughout the State. A bill giving railroad companies greater power was vetoed by Governor Pennypacker in 1903. Finally a bill was passed and signed by Governor Stewart, May tenth, 1907, which exempts certain historic sites and buildings of the Colonial and Revolutionary period from the right of Emminent Domain."

PSSDAR Historic Preservation Contest(contest? or grant? in what year did this occur what was the prize)

"In March 1892, the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was a fledgling organization in existence for only nine months. As expected, the minutes of those early chapter meetings chronicle the appointments of officers and various committees through which the membership would carry out its “proposed plan of work.” One brief and unremarkable footnote from March 25, 1892 records the call for a report from the Committee to Secure the Block House. Although the committee asked for a continuance in submitting the report, that reference in the proceedings marks the first written evidence of the association of the Pittsburgh Chapter with the Fort Pitt Block House. It would be three months before the committee could report that the owner of record, Mary Elizabeth Schenley, had agreed to gift the Block House to the chapter for preservation and another two years before the deed of conveyance was recorded in the Allegheny County Courthouse. Thus began the chapter’s stewardship of the Fort Pitt Block House – a relic of the French and Indian War, the only surviving element of the once mighty Fort Pitt and the last vestige of British rule in Western Pennsylvania.

The Block House was constructed in 1764 as a small military redoubt intended to provide enhanced defense of Fort Pitt against Indian attacks. As hostilities with Native populations subsided, the need for defense of the Forks of the Ohio at Pittsburgh was greatly reduced. The British abandoned Fort Pitt in 1772 and the installation evolved into a trading center with the Block House serving as the headquarters of a local Indian Agent. Troops were again garrisoned at the fort during the American Revolution, but by 1785 the fort and its buildings, excepting the Block House, were sold and dismantled for the valuable building material contained therein.

The relatively short and uneventful military use of the Block House gave way to a century-long domestic period when the structure served as a dwelling for early residents of Pittsburgh. During this time, alterations were made to the building that included the opening of doors and windows for the comfort and convenience of its occupants. It is clear that those residents recognized the significance of the site as history records that the generations of families living there hosted visitors and dignitaries wishing to tour the only remains of Fort Pitt. Predictably, however, the age of the building, the lack of resources with which to maintain it and the squalid conditions that grew up around it took its toll such that, by the time the Pittsburgh Chapter acquired it in 1894, it was a dilapidated ruin with little chance of survival.

After 16 months of restoration that involved the removal of ramshackle additions, the infilling of window and door openings and the repair of aging timbers, the Block House was opened to the public as a Museum of the Colonial Era. The efforts of the Pittsburgh Chapter and the pride they took in preserving the Block House were rewarded with praise and accolades from Pittsburgh’s civic and cultural leaders, historians of the period and travelers who continued to visit the site.

In December 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources began a $25 million dollar plan to renovate 40-year old Point State Park. The plans called for improving green spaces, expanding recreational opportunities, replacing the outdated infrastructure and expanding the historic interpretation of the Point. A major portion of the park’s restoration was to be completed by October 2008 in order to dovetail with the celebration of the 250th anniversary of Pittsburgh’s founding in 1758.

Simultaneously, and in compliance with its mandate to preserve, protect and promote the Fort Pitt Block House, the Pittsburgh Chapter, NSDAR, undertook the revitalization of the Block House and its surrounding property. The decision to embark on a major update to the property was driven primarily by the anticipated attention on the Block House as Pittsburgh’s oldest architectural landmark during the Pittsburgh 250 celebrations. Notwithstanding some necessary cosmetic updates to the property’s landscaping, the Block House was also in need of conservation efforts that would preserve the original fabric of the structure.

The focus of the restoration was in the replacement of the shakes and decking of the roof; although, attention was paid to the whole building in terms of evaluation, conservation, repair and interpretation. The preservation work involved stabilization of deteriorating timbers with appropriate materials, the reconstruction of disintegrated members with sympathetic elements, and the resetting and repointing of bricks and foundation stones with historically correct mortar. The conservation was overseen and documented by an historic preservation specialist and all work was done in accordance with the preservation standards set by the Secretary of the Interior.

The restoration was accomplished through the partnering of the Pittsburgh Chapter with regional foundations, local preservation organizations and gracious individuals, each of whom provided some degree of resources, support and much needed publicity for the project. It is through this cooperative effort that the Fort Pitt Block House has been revitalized as the Jewel of Point State Park. In the four months following the June 2008 reopening of the site, over 20,000 visitors, including numerous school groups, passed through the Block House door to discover its history and appreciate its survival. Those visitors numbered 4,000 more than had experienced the site in the entire year prior to the restoration. Under the stewardship of the Pittsburgh Chapter NSDAR, the Fort Pitt Block House is once again a focal point of Pittsburgh and the site can continue for generations to be a place of learning and reflection of America’s earliest history."

Excerpts of first place winning entry submitted by the The Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.