Fort Ligonier adds extensive education complex, opens April 29 |
Art & Museums

Fort Ligonier adds extensive education complex, opens April 29

Shirley McMarlin
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
The new history education center, extending from the second door on the right, at Fort Ligonier.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Annie Urban, executive director of Fort Ligioner, talks to area lodging partners inside the new history gallery, which features the parlor from “The Hermitage.” Arthur St. Clair’s Ligonier Valley estate, during a preview event of whats to come, at Fort Ligonier.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
The new history education center at Fort Ligonier is site of the museum's first annual Seven Year's War Symposium April 7-8.

If only George Washington could see Fort Ligonier now.

From a rough-hewn frontier outpost on the Forbes Road, it’s grown from its humble 1758 beginnings into one of Western Pennsylvania’s premiere historical sites.

The latest addition is a 5,000-square-foot history education complex that will be unveiled to visitors when the fort reopens April 29.

“A lot of people ask, why did you build this center,” says executive director Annie Urban. “Part of the reason we built the center was that we have this overachieving director of education. Every time we turned around, she was getting more kids’ groups here. She started a whole program of teacher workshops.

“We realized that we really didn’t have any function space. We just had the museum and the fort.”

Attached to the existing museum, the center can seat 150 at round tables or 300 in theater-style rows of chairs. There’s a dais at one end, and a wall of windows that faces the garrison.

“As part of this new center, we have state-of-the-art audio visual equipment,” Urban says. “It includes a big screen that drops down. We hit one button and the blinds come down to cover the windows, and the screen comes down, and the lights go off. It’s magical.

“We have all kinds of electrical outlets; you can plug in your laptops — just like when George Washington was here!”

Joking aside, Washington’s presence will be felt in a new gallery devoted to artifacts from the nation’s first president, including a set of 18th-century steel-mounted saddle pistols inlaid with gold and silver, given to Washington by France’s Marquis de Lafayette, and Washington’s handwritten account of his years on the Pennsylvania frontier during the French and Indian War.

The gallery also will have an informational video that Urban says, “will comprehensively tell the story of his early military career and his time at Fort Ligonier.” Noted artist and Ligonier native Chas Fagan will provide an oil painting of the friendly fire incident, when Washington is said to have ridden between two lines of troops who were mistakenly firing at each other.

The museum’s other galleries and gift shop have been reconfigured to accommodate the new construction. Urban says traffic flow through the building also should be improved by creation of an exit separate from the museum lobby.

Not all exhibits will be ready by opening day, Urban says. Installation will continue through the summer. When completed, the lobby will house a video of fort highlights and a reverse timeline exhibit, taking visitors from the present back to the construction of the fort as they proceed into the building.

Urban says the goal of the $8 million project, for which $7.3 million has been raised, is to double the number of visitors in the next two years. Currently the fort averages about 25,000 to 26,000 visitors per year.

To that end, parts of the site now will remain open year-round. While the fort itself will close from mid-November through March, the museum and education space will be open Fridays through Sundays during the winter months, says director of marketing and public relations Julie Donovan. Friday hours also will be extended during the summer.

Learning opportunities for students, teachers, scouts and history buffs and social events like the History Happy Hours and Night at the Fort Museum will go on as usual, while new programming also is being added, says education director Mary Manges.

A redesigned website will launch on Oct. 1.

“On May 26, for the first time, we’re hosting trivia night,” Manges says. “It’s a family event. We’ll do a tour of the fort beforehand and, even if you’re not a history buff, if you pay attention, you just might win.”

CNN political analyst John Avlon will visit on Aug. 31 to discuss and sign copies of his book, “Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations.” Avlon is executive editor of the Daily Beast and served as chief speech writer for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The fort’s signature Musket Ball fundraiser will return Sept. 15, rebranded as the Cannon Ball to reflect all the expansion.

The only thing not getting bigger, Urban says, are admission prices, which will remain the same as last year.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.