Craftsmen create replica cannon for Fort Pitt Museum
When the Heinz History Center decided to acquire a reproduction cannon for the Fort Pitt Museum grounds, they discovered they did not need to go far. In fact, they found the right company for the job at nearby Fort Ligonier.
“We were interested in getting a reproduction cannon to use at museum to raise awareness of historic importance of our site and draw attention to museum and what we have to offer here,” said Andrew Gaerte, education manager at the museum.
Gaerte said they researched some of best who makes cannons. They chose Brad Mooney of Heritage Reconstruction.
“It made sense. Brad worked at Fort Ligonier and his work is fantastic. Brad is not only a skilled craftsman, he is a student of history himself. I knew if we worked with Brad, we would get the best possible product.”
Gaerte said every part of the project was made locally for the cannon.
The barrel was made in Meadville at U.S. Bronze. The wagon wheels were made by local Amish in Ohio and all of the ironwork was made in Ambridge by Jym Hoffman.
The remainder of woodwork and final assembly, polishing and engraving was done in Ligonier and Kittanning by Mooney and his son, Drew.
“Drew polished and painted the cannon to get it ready for delivery to Fort Pitt.” Mooney said. “All of the engraving is done by hand with a hammer and chisel.”
Drew Mooney operates a custom woodworking business in Butler where he makes historic reproduction furniture.
For two months, Mooney worked to finish the cannon.
“I do it all by hand with a file, sandpaper and hand tools, no electric is used,” he said. “As it was in the 18th century. It is very labor intensive.”
He said he learned by trial and error.
“Fort Ligonier is where I started doing this stuff,” he said. “After college I worked with my dad in Ligonier. I went to school to be a teacher but this is what I like to do.”
Mooney, 41, said working in Ligonier was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I put 15-16 years of my life into the place. The two of us worked well together,” he said about working with his father.
“My dad would take me on the job sites with him since I was 6 years old. I would want to run around the fort but he would always find something for me to do. I have been involved in history and restoration my whole life.”
The working bronze cannon is an 18th century replica of a 1757-58 cannon.
Brad Mooney and his crew also constructed a field cart with side boxes and created the tools, sponges, rammers and wad holder that will be used when firing the cannon.
Mooney said his company has created many cannons for other sites.
“We made a cannon for Saratoga National Historic Park and for the Clark County Recreation Department in Ohio,” he said. “We are recognized as the premiere manufacturer of 18th-century bronze artillery. No one else goes to the detail we do to use the proper tools for the hand work to construct them. We are self-taught. We make sure we are true to detail.”
Mooney said they learned how to manufacture the replica cannons by studying the originals and by reading books about 18th century artillery.
“To me it is nice that people want to do what we do here in Ligonier,” Mooney said about being commissioned to build the Fort Pitt artillery piece. “It is because of Fort Ligonier’s uniqueness as a non-profit organization that has funding available to create artillery and support vehicles when no one else has them. People see them and want them.”
Gaerte coordinated the delivery of the cannon with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources park manager to bring the cannon in to the fort across the portal bridge and drop it off in front of museum, just like they would have delivered originally.
“Eighteenth-century artillery was one of the game changers as to which military force was going to have the upper hand,” said Gaerte. “So the transportation of artillery to Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne was an important event in 1763. They had 40 pieces here at Fort Pitt then, 10 were brass six-pounders.”
Gaerte said they chose to go with English six-pounder because it fired the standard cannon ball and was the most widely used piece of artillery in the British military during the last half of 18th century.
They will fire black powder fire blanks from the cannon to create an audio and visual spectacle to draw in visitors so they can educate the public about Pittsburgh’s past.
“The construction at Point State Park is wrapping up. The fountain will open June 7. It is the perfect time to draw some attention back down to the park,” said Gaerte.
Brad Mooney said he is proud of the finished cannon.
“It is good to have a gun they are going to fire at Fort Pitt,” said Mooney about sharing his unique skills with other historical sites. “Whenever we all work together, we all do better,”
We are all on the same side.
Mooney said his claim to fame is Fort Ligonier.
“Anything outside of that is because of Fort Ligonier,” he said.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or [email protected].