Downtown Pittsburgh is unique in that it sits at the point where three rivers, the Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela, converge. The resulting land at the tip of downtown Pittsburgh has played an important role for the city throughout its history, and today is a gorgeous public space known as Point State Park that is a must see spot for all visitors to the city.
A Gorgeous Park With a History
If you were to walk or ride a bike around the river trails of Point State Park, you probably wouldn’t notice anything historical about the land at all. It is a gorgeous stroll with views of the stadiums, Mount Washington, and the rivers all in one vantage point. Unfortunately, if you stick on these trails you’ll miss one of the most important parts of Point State Park: the historical landmarks!
It may sound silly for us to point this out, but unless you knew what was there ahead of time, this is one feature of the park that is actually easy to be missed thanks to how the park is arranged. To truly see everything this park has to offer, you have to exit the river view trails and check out the historical landmarks at the park’s center- one of the most important spots in the early days of Pittsburgh.
The reason Point State Park was so popular throughout the years was that the region offered significant strategic advantage thanks to being located at the merging point of the three rivers. Since its founding, no fewer than five forts are said to have been build at the point and in present day downtown Pittsburgh, with two of the largest being Fort Duquesne (a French fort) and Fort Pitt, which followed when the English took over.
The central grounds of Point State Park honor the history of these two forts with a simple stone outline of the forts in their original places, as well as commemorative plaques in the ground illustrating what the forts are said to have looked like when in use.
It doesn’t look like much from a distance, which is why this monument is one you have to get up close to thoroughly enjoy.
Visit the Fort Pitt Museum
If you live in Pittsburgh, the Fort Pitt Museum is also probably one of those places you’ve walked past dozens of times but never gone into. Located in the middle of Point State Park, this gem of a museum is a great place to learn about the history of the region and of the land you’re standing on at the Point.
Start off your visit by checking out the huge diorama of Fort Pitt near the entrance and listening to an overview of its construction and design. Then peruse the ground floor of the museum where you can get a glimpse into 18th-century Pittsburgh through an art gallery and life-sized replicas of different areas of Fort Pitt like the barracks and the casemate. (Be sure to check out the Fort Pitt blockhouse just outside of the museum as this is the oldest building in the city and the last remaining piece of Fort Pitt.)
The main exhibits are on the second floor of the museum. Artifacts, videos, maps, and placards tell the complicated story of the struggle for control of the region amongst the Native Americans, British, and French. There’s also a beautiful view of the Ft. Pitt bridge and Monongahela River from this floor. The second half of the second floor is for rotating exhibits. At the time of our visit, the exhibit was a somewhat eerie and gut-wrenching exhibit on the mid-18th century Native American practice of taking Europeans and Africans into captivity.
Overall, the Fort Pitt Museum and Point State Park make for a great afternoon out in downtown for those who are interested in taking in great scenery and learning a bit more about how Pittsburgh came to be.
For those who want more history about the city, a little-known fact about the Fort Pitt museum is that you can get half off admission to the Heinz History Center in the Strip District by presenting your ticket from the Fort Pitt Museum on the same day. So if you plan it right you can visit both museums for less than the cost of the ticket to the Heinz History Center alone!
The Fort Pitt Museum is located at 601 Commonwealth Place in Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh.
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