History
5:23 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Artifacts Dug Up at Fort Pitt Block House

The Fort Pitt Block House is almost 250 years old, yet archeologists discovered something “new” on its grounds last weekend.

The Fort Pitt Block House was built in 1764, making it the oldest building in Pittsburgh, and it's survived the Revolutionary War and the Industrial Period. It has been a Block House, a trading post, a residence and is a national historic landmark.

A Block House is basically a guardhouse, where soldiers would go to fend off attacks on the fort.

Last weekend, archeologists unearthed artifacts dating all the way back to when Native Americans were the primary inhabitants of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Lead archeologist Christine Davis said they found marbles, dishes, ceramics, porcelain, pressed glass, stone tools and a bear-tooth pendant.

“The Native American objects were very, very interesting,” Davis said. “But also the nice range of materials that we found that dated to the families that were living here for that century, that was very surprising to me, I thought we’d find a few things, but probably not as much as we did.”

The archeological survey began because the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) are installing a memorial garden to Edith Darlington Ammons, one of their early members.

Emily Weaver, Curator, said they wanted to make sure nothing of historical value would be disturbed by the creation of the garden.

“Part of what we have to do when you own a historical site, historical property, you want to promote archeological research, historical research, and we wanted to make sure … that nothing of extreme historical value was going to be disturbed or hurt by building the garden,” Weaver said.

Weaver emphasized that housing soldiers was only part of the Block House’s history.

Construction for the Block House finished in 1764, three years after the remainder of the fort was built. It was used for protection as well as a trading post.

Fort Pitt was the western headquarters for the Continental Army during the American Revolution, but all of it, except the Block House, was torn down.

“Eventually after Fort Pitt was demolished, the Point became one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city, it was a large tenement district,” Weaver said. “And so not only did you have people living inside the Block House, but you had people living throughout the point and so a lot of the artifacts that we found are actually from that time period when you had people living down here.”

Weaver said the Block House became endangered by plans to build a rail road, but the DAR and Edith Darlington Ammon, Regent of the Pittsburgh Chapter, fought and won the right to exempt the Block House from eminent domain.

“The ladies had to fight the railroads from taking the Blockhouse and tearing it down, so this 250th anniversary is not just about like the soldiers who were there, but it’s about its entire history,” Weaver said. “So we are recognizing that one portion of its history by having that garden made for her.”

The Block House will celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2014, complete with the construction of the garden, a time capsule and a gala event.

Weaver said the artifacts will be on display until winter, when they will be stored away in the collection space.