Fort Pitt Blockhouse Lodge (1905-1966)

Fort Pitt Blockhouse Lodge - April 10, 1954    Fort Pitt Blockhouse Lodge - June 30, 1963
The Blockhouse Lodge, shown on April 10, 1954 (left) and on June 30, 1963. The lodge stood until March 23, 1966.

The Fort Pitt Blockhouse in Point State Park, built in 1764, is the most historic structure within the Golden Triangle, an iconic vestige from the days when Pittsburgh was a frontier outpost.

From 1905 to 1966, there was another building called the Blockhouse Lodge that stood next door. The lodge may not have had the historic significance of its neighbor, but it did have a certain charm that has been missing from the scenic park for more than half a century.

Fort Pitt Blockhouse Lodge - May, 24 1915    Fort Pitt Blockhouse Lodge - September 24, 1942
The Blockhouse Lodge and caretaker's residence, shown on May 24, 1915 (left) and on September 24, 1942.
During the time these photos were taken, the caretaker was a lady known as Aunt Mollie Beck.

The blockhouse, now going on 257 years young, served the fort in a defensive capacity for less than ten years. In 1772, it was used as a trading post by Alexander McKee, and in 1785 was converted into private home.

When Fort Pitt was abandoned and demolished in 1797, the blockhouse was left standing. It was then the residence of Isaac Craig, the town's Chief Burgess from 1802-1803, and the birthplace of author Neville B. Craig. The building remained a private dwelling for over a century.

In 1894, the blockhouse was donated to the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution by Mary Schenley. Eight years later, in 1902, the Pennsylvania Railroad moved in with a complex of rail yards, roads and warehouses.

Henry Clay Frick, who purchased the land surrounding the building, attempted to acquire the blockhouse plot with the intention of moving the structure to Schenley Park. This effort was blocked in court by the D.A.R. and preservation work on the site began.

Fort Pitt Blockhouse Lodge -
1923 map of the Point area showing the position of the blockhouse and the Pennsylvania Railroad freight complex.

Despite its prominence as a national treasure and a local tourist destination, the tiny redoubt became lost in the midst of the bustling railroad complex.

To increase visibility and provide some security, the D.A.R. arranged for the construction a small two-story brick Blockhouse Lodge along Penn Avenue with an attractive, gated entrance. A mere fifteen feet in width, the lodge opened in 1905 and became the permanent residence of the blockhouse custodian.

On the day of the grand opening, the front room of the lodge was decorated in colonial style. Visitors signed a register and proceeded to the back door, where the blockhouse stood a few feet away. A terrier named "Aliquippa" stood guard wearing a red, white and blue bow.

Aunt Mollie Beck - February 7, 1946
Aunt Mollie Beck in February 1946.

The most well known of the blockhouse caretakers was a Scottish immigrant named Aunt Mollie Beck. In 1913, she was hired as housekeeper for a Civil War veteran then serving as blockhouse custodian. When that gentleman passed, Aunt Mollie took over.

Early one Sunday morning, the stunned caretaker received a surprise visit from General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I.

Not expecting visitors at such an hour, she stood in the yard raking leaves while wearing bedroom slippers and a bathrobe. After anxious introductions, the general was shown the large copper blockhouse key and given an impromptu tour by a slightly embarrassed Aunt Mollie.

During the St. Patrick's Day Flood in 1936, she stayed at her post until the last minute and had to be rescued by police and firefighters from the second-story window. A decade later, in July 1946, Aunt Mollie Beck passed away after serving as custodian for thirty-three years.

Despite the best efforts of the D.A.R., the popular tourist attraction remained surrounded and obscured by the industrial jungle that dominated the Point, and visitors often mistakenly took photos of the gated lodge, thinking it was the blockhouse. That problem was solved by the ambitious Renaissance I initiative, which redrew the appearance of the Golden Triangle.

Fort Pitt Blockhouse Lodge -
The Point in 1955, a barren landscape except for the blockhouse and caretaker's residence.

In 1950, plans for Point State Park included demolition of the caretaker's residence and the blockhouse. The Daughters of the American Revolution once again went to court to save the building and successfully blocked the action.

Within five years, all of the buildings in the designated park area had been demolished, with the exception of the lodge and blockhouse, which stood as lonely outposts in a vast, empty landscape.

Fort Pitt Blockhouse Lodge - March 1965
The blockhouse and caretaker's residence in March 1965. One year later the lodge was demolished.

In 1960, the blockhouse was granted status as a National Historic Landmark, but the four-room lodge was foresaken. The sixty-year old home was demolished on March 23, 1966.

It would have been nice if a modern-day Henry Clay Frick could have stepped in and moved the by-now historic building to Schenley Park, preserving Aunt Mollie's Place for future generations.

Fort Pitt Blockhouse Lodge -

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