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Fort Loudon is at heart of local history

August 01, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

FORT LOUDON, Pa. - Almost 10 years before shots rang out at Concord and Lexington and nearly five years before the Boston Massacre, American colonists traded bullets with British soldiers in Franklin County in a dispute over trade with the Indians.

"They were the first colonists to fire on the British," John Gale of Chambersburg, Pa., told a family from West Virginia that stopped in at the State Historic Site of Fort Loudoun. He and his wife, Anne, both members of the Fort Loudon Historical Society, were holding down the fort, so to speak, for weekend visitors to the Patton House Museum at the fort site.

The fort itself is open all year, but summer weekends afford an opportunity to go inside the Patton House Museum through Labor Day to see the role Fort Loudoun played in the French and Indian War. The museum is open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

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A notebook inside listed visitors this summer from as far away as Minnesota, Florida and Puerto Rico. Then walked in Curtis Zellers of Culver City, Calif.

"Never even heard of it before. I saw the sign. I'm on my way to Gettysburg, (Pa.)" said Zellers, who was driving from Pittsburgh. "When I see little places like this, I stop and look."

While Zellers had never heard of the fort, however, the events that unfolded there in 1765 mark perhaps the only time Hollywood took notice of Franklin County. In 1939, John Wayne starred as frontiersman James Smith in "Allegheny Uprising."

Smith, who had spent more than five years as an Indian captive, led a group of settlers in several raids and a brief siege of the fort over the Crown's failure to enforce a ban on trading weapons to the Indians.

The British soon withdrew from the fort, ending a relatively short history that began with the construction of its log palisade in 1756. That history will be the subject of celebrations next year marking the 250th anniversary of the fort, Anne Gale said.

Anne Gale said the society is planning two events - June 16 to 18 and June 23 to 25, 2006. Anna Rotz, president of the historical society, is writing a pageant on the area's history, and there will also be historical speakers, re-enactments, demonstrations and fireworks, Gale said.

Artifacts from archaeological excavations in the 1970s and 1980s, which also unearthed evidence of Indian habitation, might be available for the public to view next year, she said. Those are in the possession of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which owns the site, but delegated its management to the Peters Township Board of Supervisors, which in turn delegated the society to manage the property, John Gale said.

The fort was built around what remained of the home of Matthew Patton, burned in a 1755 Indian raid, Anne Gale said. The nearby Patton House was built in the late 18th century and belonged to his son John, she said.

What stands on the fort site now is a recreation based on the archaeological evidence, according to a historical society brochure. One of a string of Forts built to defend the frontier during the French and Indian War, the original fort also served as a supply depot to expeditions during that war and Pontiac's Rebellion.

Documentation of that is a copy of a 1764 agreement in the museum for a merchant to supply the fort with 600 bushels of salt at seven shillings a bushel in "Pennsylvania currency."

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