Think Back

Traveling back in history for the new year of Pittsburgh’s 250th birthday



So, I’m looking through this slick little book of old travel posters, and like any loyal local resident, I think, “Hmm, wonder if Pittsburgh gets a poster?” and sure enough, there’s a beauty: a vintage Pennsylvania Railroad poster with a classy old illustration titled “Pittsburgh in the Beginning.” It shows some British soldiers and a few Native Americans meeting under a British flag at the Point—they seem to be raising their hands and saying, “How!” just as actors used to do in old movies—on a snowy day in what would later be Downtown, maybe Point State Park. It makes Pittsburgh look intriguing, the site of maybe something important. The snow-covered hills and the icy blue rivers look unspoiled and romantic.

The bottom of the poster says, “Fort Prince George, Established February 17, 1754.” Oh, yes, that little fort that seldom gets mentioned. We all know about Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt, and they’re both memorialized in big bridges, but nobody ever pays much attention to the small fort that was the first English fortification on this side of the Allegheny Mountains.

Construction of this little fort was started by a small band of two or three dozen Virginians, still British subjects then, under the leadership of William Trent, sent by Gov. Robert Dinwiddie down in Williamsburg to help mark the British claim on this part of what was then wilderness.

And I love this: As that little band of Virginians was working their way up here, they happened to bump into the young George Washington, who was headed the other way with bad news from the uncooperative French guys up at Fort Le Boeuf. You can imagine that scene out in the woods somewhere.  

The Virginians got to the Point (which everybody apparently called “the Forks” back then) and started building in February 1754, some say Feb.17, whenever, it was probably cold and miserable. They named it “Prince George” for the 16-year-old heir to the British throne, the Hanover kid who would later become the goofy King George III, hated by Early American revolutionaries, grandfather of Queen Victoria. He had a long and eventful reign.

The little fort named for him didn’t fare so well. It lasted just about two months. William Trent had gone off to get more men and supplies and left an Ensign Ward to watch the fort and keep building it. Then on April 17—and this sounds like a great scene in a movie—about a thousand Frenchmen and Native Americans came down the Allegheny in a flotilla of 60 boats and with 300 canoes, and they quickly convinced  Ward and his 33 men to surrender. The French renamed the little fort and enlarged it to become Fort Duquesne.

The squabbling over who gets to build a fort here eventually expands and becomes the French and Indian War. In November 1758, when British Gen. John Forbes arrives with a bigger army (almost 7,000 men) to tell the French to hit the road, he finds Fort Duquesne in ashes, abandoned and destroyed. And then Forbes (in a classic act of kissing up to his boss) starts to write a letter back to England, telling British statesman William Pitt that he’s naming this place Pittsburgh.  That’s what we’ll be celebrating the 250th anniversary of this year. The naming of Pittsburgh.

But the classy old travel poster convinces me that we shouldn’t forget any of our history.  And the Pennsylvania Railroad obviously believed you never know what tiny unfinished fort might attract a tourist here.  

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Your 10 best bets for this month.
Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Peers, players, and regular observers know him to be one of the best coaches — and people — in college basketball.
15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

From east to west — and north and south — these are the region’s salons and services that make our cut. Having a good hair day doesn’t have to be so difficult after all.
Home of the Year: 2015

Home of the Year: 2015

This year’s selections include a Richland Township house built to appreciate its 160-acre lot and Shadyside garage that was renovated into a stunning, modern dream home.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

5 Classic Pittsburghers Still Popular on YouTube

5 Classic Pittsburghers Still Popular on YouTube

From Fred Rogers to Pittsburgh traffic cop Vic Cianca, these 'Burghers are fun to watch and remember.
Comic Aaron Kleiber to Headline at the Pittsburgh Improv

Comic Aaron Kleiber to Headline at the Pittsburgh Improv

Grab tickets now for next weekend's four-day run.
See the Resume Tape That Landed Sally Wiggin in Pittsburgh

See the Resume Tape That Landed Sally Wiggin in Pittsburgh

Wiggin is celebrating 35 years on Pittsburgh television.
14 Life-Changing Home Products for 2015

14 Life-Changing Home Products for 2015

Home expert Boyce Thompson previews this year's Duquesne Light Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show and speculates on which products will become fully integrated into our homes soon.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Your 10 best bets for this month.
Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Peers, players, and regular observers know him to be one of the best coaches — and people — in college basketball.
15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

From east to west — and north and south — these are the region’s salons and services that make our cut. Having a good hair day doesn’t have to be so difficult after all.
Home of the Year: 2015

Home of the Year: 2015

This year’s selections include a Richland Township house built to appreciate its 160-acre lot and Shadyside garage that was renovated into a stunning, modern dream home.
Preserving August Wilson's Voice

Preserving August Wilson's Voice

Todd Kreidler, who helped to conceive the Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright’s final written work, returns to Pittsburgh to direct that play, continuing his mission to keep the master’s words alive.
Review: Tender Bar + Kitchen

Review: Tender Bar + Kitchen

Lawrenceville hot spot Tender, once favored primarily for its libations, now is known as well for its culinary offerings.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module