Fort Roberdeau — Sinking Valley, Pennsylvania

I was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania. At the time, my parents owned an old farm house outside of town. I lived there for about a month before my parents sold the house and moved to Illinois.

All my life, I’ve heard stories about the old house, the nearby barn my sister used to play in and the foundation of the Revolutionary War fort right across the road. On this day, I finally got to see it all.

Things have changed. The fort has been reconstructed (in 1976 for the Bicentennial), the barn has become the visitor center and the house, now owned by the state of Pennsylvania, is the site of a archeological dig. What used to be my parents’ driveway was roped off and dug up. But more on that in a minute.

The fort was built to protect miners who were gathering lead for the Continental Army. Indians, backed by the British, were active in the area. Some settlers in the valley were killed, but the fort itself never saw any action.

It isn’t a large fort. There are six small buildings, a powder magazine and an iron-smelting furnace.  (The house is just out of sight in the foreground of the postcard view above.)

Here’s the officers’ quarters and store room.

The kitchen and entrance to the powder magazine

A woman dressed in period costume explained the history of the fort. Linda mentioned that she used to live in the house across the road and asked if we might be allowed to look inside. The lady got excited and asked Linda if she had time to answer some questions. She said she’s writing a book on the history of the house. They headed over to the visitor center with Beth.

Sally, Ken and I stayed in the fort and watched a man, dressed in buckskin, give a demonstration of musket firing. When he finished, we began asking him questions. It quickly became apparent that this was no rocket scientist. He just kinda stared at us, then asked if we wanted to see his demonstration again. Another man, who turned out to be the husband of the woman who was talking with Linda, stepped in and gave some intelligent answers.

I asked him how much of the fort was original. This is what he told us: During the war, there was a fort in Sinking Valley named Fort Roberdeau. It was built in April of 1778 and abandoned in the fall of 1779. Nobody is quite sure what it looked like. There is a crude line drawing of the front that somebody drew at the time, and the reconstruction is based on that. Neither is anybody quite sure where the fort was located. It was rebuilt where it is because a pit, which may have been the powder magazine, was found here. The foundation that Linda used to play on was laid in 1939. The man told us that it is entirely possible that the house we lived in was built on the site of the original fort. So we have a fort that may or may not look like the original, on what may or may not be the right spot, and which wasn’t very significant in the first place.

When Linda, Beth and the woman returned, we walked over to the house. The man said they’ve dug a few thousand Revolutionary War-era artifacts out of the driveway. When we told Dad about this, he was amazed.

There’s a creek that runs right behind the house. It disappears underground about 50 yards from the front door. The entrance has collapsed since my folks owned the house. As we walked around the house, Linda pointed out all the rooms, including Mom and Dad’s bedroom where they told her she was going to have a baby brother. The room still had paneling that Dad put up.

The house in 1992 and in 1957 (or so).

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