There is probably no more valuable and coveted plot of land in the area than the 36 acres known as Point State Park. Two rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, converge here to form the Ohio river. The triangular-shaped land where the rivers merge has been desired ever since humans have laid eyes on it. So much so that this area was battled over by the French and British for years.
In 1753, a young Lieutenant George Washington, who was serving in the Virginia militia, came this way while traveling to negotiate with the French in the area and wrote in his journal a description of the land we now know as Point State Park:
“As I got down before the Canoe, I spent some Time in viewing the Rivers, and the Land in the Fork; which I think extremely well situated for a Fort, as it has the absolute Command of both Rivers. The Land at the Point is 20 or 25 Feet above the common Surface of the Water; and a considerable Bottom of flat, well-timbered Land all around it, very convenient for Building: The Rivers are each a Quarter of a Mile, or more, across, and run here very near at right Angles: Aligany bearing N. E. and Monongahela S. E. The former of these two is a very rapid and swift running Water; the other deep and still, without any perceptible fall.”
The area was originally established as a trading post in the 1740s by fur trader William Trent, and in 1754 construction began on the first fort there—Fort Prince George. But before it could be completed, the French, led by Indians in the area, captured 1,000 British soldiers and erected their own fort instead, calling it Fort Duquesne. An attempt to reclaim the land for the British by General George Braddock failed in 1755, but in 1758, General John Forbes marched on Fort Duquesne. When the French learned of his impending attack and realized they were vastly outnumbered, they burned the fort and fled two days before Forbes arrived.
Until they could construct a permanent fort, the British erected a temporary one: Mercer’s Fort. In 1759, construction of a permanent outpost, Fort Pitt, began and was named in honor of William Pitt, Britain’s Secretary of State. Although the fort came under attack during Pontiac’s Rebellion, the fort remained in British hands.
In 1777, Fort Pitt served as the Continental Army’s western headquarters, and in 1778, the first peace treaty between American Indians and the fledgling United States was signed at Fort Pitt. By 1792, the fort was deteriorating, and it was abandoned, leaving only the Blockhouse, a redoubt from the old fort remaining.
As the city grew and changed, the area became an industrial hub, and by the 1930s, the Point was filled with warehouses and railroad yards. By the 1940s, this most sought-after plot of land was blighted, and its value was in decline.
After World War II, civic leaders resolved that the doorstep to our city would be spruced up. In 1945, architects drew up plans and initiated the long process of acquiring the land at the point, demolishing the structures there, and rerouting two bridges. The Manchester Bridge crossed the Allegheny and the Point Bridge spanned the Monongahela and traversed the tip of the Golden Triangle. In addition, retaining walls were constructed as was a tree-lined great lawn.
Three traceries, one of Fort Duquesne, one of Fort Pitt, and the original confluence of the point, were marked in the park. The Fort Pitt museum was added and The Blockhouse, the oldest authentic building in Western Pennsylvania, was preserved in the park. Point State Park was completed in 1974 with the focal point being the 150-foot fountain that pumps water into the sky, which is taken from an underground glacial stream sometimes called Pittsburgh’s “fourth river.” It was also in 1974 that the area became a Pennsylvania State Park and was operated by the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks.
In 2006, the park was renovated in time for Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary in 2008. The fountain was also refurbished and rededicated in 2013. Point State Park was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1960 and is listed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places.
Ever since the park opened, this green space has been the central place where Pittsburghers come together. Whether it is to watch Fourth of July fireworks, enjoy the Three Rivers Regatta, ride bikes, or celebrate a Stanley Cup Championship, the Point has for centuries and still remains the heart of Pittsburgh.
By Janice Lane Palko