Exploring Fort Ligonier in Westmoreland County

Historical reenactors staging an attack on Fort Ligonier.

Fort Ligonier in Westmoreland County is a historically accurate reproduction of a British fort originally constructed in 1758 during what would become known as the French and Indian War.

Entering Fort Ligonier.
Entering Fort Ligonier.

Brief History of Fort Ligonier

In the mid-1750s, what is now western Pennsylvania was a wild frontier, with ownership claimed and contested by the French, British, and Native Americans.

The French occupied a position of strength in the form of Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio River, now known as Pittsburgh.

Controlling the Ohio River meant controlling travel and trade routes in the interior of North America, and British General John Forbes was determined to remove the French from this fort and establish control of the region for the British empire.

The British flag flying over Fort Ligonier.
The British flag flying over Fort Ligonier.

So General Forbes set out to build a road (to become known as Forbes Road) from Philadelphia in the east to Fort Duquesne in the west, by which he could move troops and supplies across Pennsylvania and into position to eventually capture Fort Duquesne.

Along the route, approximately every 50 miles, he built a series of forts, with Fort Ligonier being the final fort along the road before the intended target of Fort Duquesne.

Artillery overlooking the Lincoln Highway below Fort Ligonier.
Artillery display at Fort Ligonier.

Construction on the Post at Loyalhanna (as Fort Ligonier was known at the time) began in the late summer of 1758, and the fort withstood a major attack by the French and their Indian allies in October of 1758, before the fort was even completed.

French and Indian reenactors at Fort Ligonier Days.
French and Indian reenactors at Fort Ligonier Days.

In November of 1758 French and Indian forces again staged a raid on the Post at Loyalhanna, this time trying to steal horses and cattle from outside the fort.

British Army reenactors at Fort Ligonier Days.
British Army reenactors at Fort Ligonier Days.

French prisoners captured during the raid were interrogated and provided information that Fort Duquesne was in fact very undermanned and undersupplied.

Sensing an opportunity to attack the French position in its weakened state, General Forbes immediately launched plans to strike.

British officer reenactors at Fort Ligonier Days.
British officer reenactors at Fort Ligonier Days.

But before the British troops could reach Fort Duquesne, the French and their Indian allies, sensing imminent defeat, burned and abandoned the fort.

This British took control of the position on November 24, 1758, where they built a new fort, Fort Pitt, later to become Pittsburgh.

To commemorate the victory, General Forbes changed the name of the Post at Loyalhanna to Fort Ligonier, in honor of Field Marshall Sir John Ligonier, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army at the time.

Fort Ligonier in Westmoreland County.
Fort Ligonier is named in honor of Field Marshall Sir John Ligonier, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army from 1757 to 1766.

Fort Ligonier remained in use until it was decommissioned in 1766.


The Museum at Fort Ligonier

The museum at Fort Ligonier contains one of the most complete collections of French and Indian War artifacts in existence, many excavated from the ruins of the original Fort Ligonier itself.

Mortar outside the Fort Ligonier museum.
Mortar outside the Fort Ligonier museum.

Fans of military history will enjoy the various small arms and artillery pieces inside the museum.

Weaponry on display inside Fort Ligonier museum.
Weaponry on display inside Fort Ligonier museum.

Numerous interpretive exhibits show what day-to-day life was like at Fort Ligonier.

Life at Fort Ligonier exhibit inside the Fort Ligonier Museum.
Life at Fort Ligonier exhibit inside the Fort Ligonier Museum.

One particularly fascinating exhibit is a pair of pistols once owned and carried by George Washington.

A pair of pistols once carried by George Washington now on display at the Fort Ligonier Museum.
A pair of pistols once carried by George Washington, now on display at the Fort Ligonier Museum.

Ironically, the pistols were a gift from Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette, who served the Continental Army with distinction during the American Revolutionary War, providing tactical leadership while securing vital assistance from his native France.

HIstory of the George Washington pistols on display at the Fort Ligonier Museum.
HIstory of the George Washington pistols on display at the Fort Ligonier Museum.

This a little more than a decade after Washington had fought WITH the British AGAINST the French forces in North America!

The reasons for the French and Indian War summarized in this exhibit at the Fort Ligonier museum.
The reasons for the French and Indian War summarized in this exhibit at the Fort Ligonier museum.

Another interesting display from more recent history tells of the connection between Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers of children’s television fame) and Fort Ligonier.

Mister Rogers link to Fort Ligonier explained in this exhibit at the Fort Ligonier Museum.
Mister Rogers link to Fort Ligonier explained in this exhibit at the Fort Ligonier Museum.

The Fort Ligonier museum also boasts an impressive art gallery, with portraits and paintings of subjects related to the fort and/or the French and Indian War.

Art gallery inside the Fort Ligonier museum.
Art gallery inside the Fort Ligonier museum.

And what historical attraction would be complete without a well-appointed gift shop!

The gift shop at Fort Ligonier.
The gift shop at Fort Ligonier.

Touring the Fort

Once you’ve toured the museum and more fully understand the backstory, it’s time to explore Fort Ligonier itself.

Fort Ligonier on a late summer morning.
Fort Ligonier on a late summer morning.

Much of the original fort has been painstakingly recreated in a historically accurate way.

Trench between the outer and inner defenses at Fort Ligonier.
Trench between the outer and inner defenses at Fort Ligonier.

Numerous artillery pieces are on display around the outer defenses of the fort.

Cannons at Fort Ligonier overlooking the town and Route 30 below.
Cannons at Fort Ligonier overlooking the town and Route 30 below.

Behind the inner defenses you’ll find numerous quarters, including those of General Forbes himself.

General Forbes quarters at Fort Ligonier.
General Forbes quarters at Fort Ligonier.

The barracks themselves were/are quite spartan.

Barracks at Fort Ligonier.
Barracks at Fort Ligonier.

While some of the cannons are beautifully ornate.

An ornately decorated cannon at Fort Ligonier.
An ornately decorated cannon at Fort Ligonier.

Life in a frontier fort was certainly not glamorous, and one can begin to grasp what the “daily grind’ was like by touring the various buildings inside Fort Ligonier.

Storehouse at Fort Ligonier.
Quartermaster’s storehouse at Fort Ligonier.

Fort Ligonier Days

One weekend every October (in a non-COVID year), near the anniversary of the 1758 assault on Fort Ligonier, a town-wide celebration know as Fort Ligonier Days takes place at the fort and various other locations around Ligonier.

Historical reenactors marching in the Fort Ligonier Days parade.
Historical reenactors marching in the Fort Ligonier Days parade.

At the fort itself you can witness battle reenactment scenes, scheduled throughout the weekend.

A battle reenactment during Fort Ligonier Days.
A battle reenactment during Fort Ligonier Days.

Between “battles” you can interact with the reenactors and learn from folks whose passion is recreating and passing on the history of this fort and era.

Interacting with historical reenactors at Fort Ligonier Days.
Interacting with historical reenactors at Fort Ligonier Days.

There is also a MASSIVE parade associated with Fort Ligonier Days, quite possibly the longest parade I’ve ever personally witnessed!

The Latrobe Fire Department Pipes and Drums Corp at the Fort Ligonier Days parade.
The Latrobe Fire Department Pipes and Drums Corp at the Fort Ligonier Days parade.

Of course it wouldn’t be a western PA parade without the Shriners in their tiny cars.

The Shriners in the Fort Ligonier Days parade.
The Shriners in the Fort Ligonier Days parade.

Even YouTube sensation Pittsburgh Dad has been a participant.

Pittsburgh Dad at the Fort Ligonier Days parade.
Pittsburgh Dad at the Fort Ligonier Days parade.

The Fort Ligonier Days parade is about as All-American as you can get!

Uncle Sam in the Fort Ligonier Days parade.
Uncle Sam in the Fort Ligonier Days parade.

Fort Ligonier Hours and Location

Fort Ligonier is located at 200 S Market St, Ligonier, PA 15658, literally right alongside Route 30 / the Lincoln Highway.

The front of Fort Ligonier next to the Lincoln Highway.
The front of Fort Ligonier next to Route 30, AKA the Lincoln Highway.

Of course in the age of COVID, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to check the Fort Ligonier official website for the latest hours, admission prices and practices, and any potential closures BEFORE you make the drive there!

A cannon guarding Fort Ligonier.
A cannon guarding Fort Ligonier.

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A rental cabin in a wooded setting in the Laurel Highlands.
Photo courtesy of Vrbo.

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Many of the events that lead up to the construction of Fort Ligonier took place a few years earlier at and around what is now the Fort Necessity National Battlefield in neighboring Fayette County.

The modern-day replica of Fort Necessity at the National Battlefield in Fayette County PA
Fort Necessity in Fayette County, PA.

Fort Necessity itself, along with several related historic sites maintained by the National Park Service, tell the story of how the French and Indian War in North America got started.

Inside the entrance at the Fort Necessity museum.
Inside the entrance at the Fort Necessity museum.

The Fort Bedford Museum in Bedford County pays tribute to the original Fort Bedford, built the same year as Fort Ligonier during the same military campaign by General Forbes and Colonel Bouquet.

Entrance to the Fort Bedford Museum in downtown Bedford Pennsylvania.
Entrance to the Fort Bedford Museum in downtown Bedford, Pennsylvania.

Like Fort Ligonier, the Fort Bedford Museum features exhibits and artifacts related to the French and Indian War and colonial life in general.

Inside the Fort Bedford Museum in Bedford Pennsylvania.
Inside the Fort Bedford Museum in Bedford, Pennsylvania.


Nearby Attractions

The Lincoln Highway Experience, located just a few miles west of Fort Ligonier, is a museum dedicated to telling the story of the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental automobile route linking the east and west coasts of the United States.

A petroliana exhibit at the Lincoln Highway Experience in the PA Laurel Highlands.
A petroliana exhibit at the Lincoln Highway Experience near Latrobe.

Adam Falls is just one of the many extraordinary sights to see at nearby Linn Run State Park.

Looking down on Adams Falls at Linn Run State Park after heavy spring rains.
Looking down on Adam Falls at Linn Run State Park after heavy spring rains.

The abandoned hunting lodge at Linn Run State Park is a remarkable set of ruins from the early days of “retreat camping” in western Pennsylvania.

The front entrance to the former McGinnis Rod and Gun Club on Linn Run.
The abandoned hunting lodge at Linn Run State Park.

Spruce Flats Bog is a unique high altitude bog that features trees and plants you won’t find anywhere else in Pennsylvania.

Late summer at Spruce Flats Bog in the PA Laurel Highlands.
Late summer at Spruce Flats Bog in the PA Laurel Highlands.

Wolf Rocks Overlook in the nearby Forbes State Forest offers panoramic views of Westmoreland County.

November morning at Wolf Rocks in the Forbes State Forest.
November morning at Wolf Rocks Overlook in the Forbes State Forest.

Beam Rocks Overlook, also located in the Forbes State Forest, offers sweeping views of Somerset County.

Beam Rocks Overlook in the Forbes State Forest.
Beam Rocks Overlook in the Forbes State Forest.

The Flight 93 National Memorial is located in neighboring Somerset County, also along the Lincoln Highway.

The 40 wind chimes that make up the Tower of Voices at the FLight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County PA
The 40 wind chimes that make up the Tower of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, PA.

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Rusty Glessner is an award-winning photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

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