The site of old historic Fort Fayette will be put under the hammer by the United States Government next Wednesday. To the highest bidder will be sold the camping ground of men who a century ago stood ready at a moment's notice to defend the village in the basin of the three rivers from Indian attack, or foreign foe that might ascend the Ohio to fight again the battles that changed the name of Fort Duquesne to that of Pitt.
While Fort Fayette did not secure the fame of the stronghold farther down the Allegheny, to it belongs the honor of defending the town of Pittsburg and offering protection to the people who sought frontier life within its borders. From 1791 to 1813 the territory bounded by Liberty avenue, Ninth street, Garrison alley and the Allegheny river was covered with barracks in which Indian fighters found a resting place when not on active duty and where the soldiers that garrisoned the fort, just facing the river, made their homes. The year after the second war with Great Britain commenced, Congress concluded the fort was no longer necessary, and authorized its sale. This was made with the exception of that portion of the property facing 100 feet on Penn avenue, and extending along Garrison alley to the river.
Loss of a Landmark.
This was reserved for a recruiting station, and has been maintained for that purpose ever since. With the sale of Fort Fayette, the street called after it, alone remains in Pittsburg to perpetuate the name of the gallant Lafayette. With it the gift of the son of William Penn to the United States Government passes into the whirl of the real estate market, and only prospective litigation remains to keep history alive.
Ten years after Pittsburg was laid out in 1784, the United States was given the plat of ground described, by John Penn. It was in the wilderness. The outskirts of the town were then near Sixth street, and where the village left off the woodland commenced. Fort Pitt occupied the place on which the Pennsylvania Railroad freight depot now is situated, and Penn's object in giving the ground farther up the river to the Government was for the purpose of taking the signs of war from what was then the center of the city. The new fort was built by Mayor [sic] Craig. It was close to the river, and the ground back of it was reserved for barracks for the troops. It was in the time of peace, and no record of a fight at or near the fort can be found. The turbulent times of the period demanded protection near at hand, however, and for that Fayette was maintained. During the war of 1812 it became a recruiting station, and was the meeting place in Western Pennsylvania for leaders of the war. The spreading city had grown all around it in the meantime, and Congress, after repeated appeals, in 1813, authorized its sale. General Adamson Tannehill, one of the best known men in Pittsburg at that time, was appointed commissioner, and was given the right to sub-divide the ground and lay out Fayette street parallel with Penn avenue, and between it and the river, before making the sale.
An Officer's rendezvous.
For some reason the portion of the territory now remaining was not sold, and was afterward made quartermaster's headquarters. During the period between 1813 and the Civil War it was a favorite place for officers to have social meetings. The most famous men stationed at the place were General Sherman, and General Johnston, of Confederate fame. They were each in charge of the station for a short time, and the records of their service are among the old files.
During the late war the station assumed old-time activity. Stables were built where the fort had been, and army stores were in every corner. The stables are now used for storing scrap iron and the ground where cannon balls and hard tack were piled as high as houses is a very dull-colored plot of green, and father back, the site of the Westinghouse Company's carpenter shop.
Two brick buildings, erected about the beginning of the century, are now used for Government purposes—one as a recruiting station and the other as a storage place for the custom house. The custom house officer in charge, Mr. Shelmer, is one of the oldest citizens of the city, and his pride is the historic building of which he is supreme ruler. "I do not think the Government has a right to sell this property," he said yesterday.
Used for War Only.
"It was given to the United States by John Penn for war purposes, and can not be used for anything else."
In further conversation he said he remembered when the city was a small town. In the early days, he continued, there was a female seminary where Overhill street now is, and the young ladies who lived at the Point only went home once a week, and not that often in bad weather.
The auction will commence at 11 o'clock. The act of May, 1890, authorizing its sale, directs the Secretary of War to sell the property described, subject to such public assessments as may be thereon. The original possession of the Government extends to low water mark of the river, and the question now has been raised that the State had no right to take the wharf room between Duquesne way and the river, and that whoever purchases the lot will get the portion of the wharf extending 100 feet above Garrison alley. The Government officer who is in Pittsburg to make the sale would not give an opinion on whether the State could take the wharf from the United States, but admitted that whoever purchases the ground to-morrow will probably have a claim for damages if he wishes to push it.
A Very Old Act.
The act of Assembly authorizing the city to open Duquesne way and condemn the wharf for public purposes was passed in 1836, and also provided for the payment of damages to property holders. No damages were ever collected because it was held that the improvement was sufficient to meet the loss of ground to real estate owners. It could hardly be proved, however, that the Government gained thereby, and as whoever purchases the property will get all the Government's rights, a suit for damages or a claim for the 100 feet of wharf might be successfully made.
A part of the correspondence discovered with reference to the fort is a letter from Major Craig to the Secretary of War, in which he states that the garrison was necessary in order to protect the inhabitants from turbulent Indians. He states that he has six "six-pounders," and that two are to be mounted in the second stories of block houses. The letter closes with the statement that General Anthony Wayne, the great Indian fighter, had just arrived.
The Westinghouse Company has been given notice to remove its carpenter shop within 30 days. They did not pay rent for the ground and the building is not valuable.