The Land and its Inhabitants
When Captain Armstrong chose the Fort Loudoun site, he was just following in a long line of others that had seen the distinct advantages of the area.
Through archaeological investigations, it has been determined that this site has been occupied by Native Americans beginning in 8,000 B.C. and up until 1450 A.D. The site was fairly level, close to the Conococheague Creek and protected from harsh northwest winter winds by the Tuscarora Mountains.
Investigations found proof of such life when a Native American village was uncovered in the open field between the reconstructed fort and the amphitheatre.
Matthew Patton saw these same advantages when he and his family settled on the spot in the mid-1700s.
After the fort was abandoned in 1765, the Pattons moved back and claimed their land. A grand house was built on the northeast corner of the fort - it appeared on the first tax records in 1798. The fort site remained a farm until its 207 acres were purchased the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1967.
Searching for the Past -- digs, etc
Discovering the exact location of Fort Loudoun was a popular pastime for some. During the 1950s and 1960s some local history buffs had made some artifact discoveries that led them to believe they had discovered the fort and it wasn’t where the state marker stood. The state also did some official small-scale digs in 1963 and 1968 that resulted in some fragmentary remains of the fort period but nothing that indicated the location of the fort stockade. The State of Pennsylvania had purchased the fort site farm in 1967 under the Project 70 program.The state dug on the fort site farm, steadfast that it was the correct location. During a dig in 1977, Dr. Barry Kent and a small crew found evidence of the palisade walls and a fort period cellar hole within the immediate vicinity of the farmhouse.
Kent returned to the site with Steve Warfel in 1980, 1981 and 1982 to complete an in-depth investigation of the site. Features exposed, excavated and mapped included the entire palisade trench, a stone-lined well, post hole and mold remains of structures (i.e. barracks), midden, root cellars, and drains. The first Matthew Patton house was uncovered as well as the one burned by the Native Americans. Thousands of artifacts from the 18th century were collected.
During the 1981 session, part of the field season was spent investigating the prehistoric sites. Artifacts from 8000 B.C. to 1450 A.D. were found. Further subsurface testing revealed evidence of a late Woodland Period village with circular houses, fire pits, refuse pits and burial pits.
Another prehistoric site was found in 1982 when a location for the farmhouse was being sought. The farmhouse sat on the northeast corner of the fort palisade trench and needed to be relocated to complete the archaeological work. This time two unusually large pits were found containing debris dating to 1800 B.C. and the late Woodland period. Another location was found for the house with an eye to further investigation of the prehistoric sites in the future.
The archaeological work provided what most people had been searching for - a visualization of the fort. No drawings of the fort had ever been found and there were only brief descriptions of the many who passed through her gates.
The stockade fortification was constructed of 8-inch wooden posts with smaller back up posts of 3 inches in a trench measuring 127 feet by 127 feet. Three of the four corners were uncovered and were found to be angled. Shooting platforms appeared to have been on the northeast and southwest corners based on the tripod post configurations uncovered. The gate was located on the northern wall. Inside the fort was found several fort-period structures, a well and a drainage trench. The northern end showed postholes which indicate a catwalk and a building in the northeast part with a root cellar.
One of the most surprising finds during the dig was during the well excavation. Not only was the well filled with a wealth of debris that told of the inhabitants of the fort, it was also filled with a different type of treasure at the bottom. The original well bucket was resting in water at the very depths. The State Museum Commission is in charge of the artifacts uncovered at the fort including the bucket which they are working to conserve. The well was featured at the William Penn Museum in a display that pointed out the time periods and what types of artifacts were found in each layer.
Other buildings on the fort site property have also been investigated. The Patton House, though moved to a new location, was built sometime between 1765 and 1798 when it appeared on the US Direct Tax of 1798. The house measures 29 feet by 29 feet and features nine windows with six over six lights. The second story appears to be added a few years after the first story. The clapboards, a rear addition and fort porch were removed after the house was relocated to reveal log walls. The exterior was later covered with wooden siding at the direction of the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission. The downstairs interior had been modernized in the kitchen but the living room retained its logs. The second floor retained some original flooring and paneling. A new concrete basement was dug when the house was moved to its current location.
The Patton House Gift Shop, housed in the former kitchen, was renovated in the spring of 2006. The front two rooms will be museum space.
A small house sits on the bluff above the creek. The former porch was enclosed sometime in the 1940s or the 1950s. It was originally two rooms inside with a loft. The loft has very wide planks on the walls and ceilings. It has been speculated that this could have been the bower house that General Bouquet refers to in his writings. However, tests to ascertain a date of the house were inconclusive. The Society plans to remove the enclosed porch and return the building to its humble beginnings.
Below this house by the creek stands a springhouse. Made of lovely native limestone, it lies just below a huge stone along the Conococheague Creek. Its age has not been determined.
A modern amphitheater was added to the site in the 1980s. Shaped like a teepee, it serves as the backdrop for musical entertainment and plays.
Fort Loudon Historical Society
The Fort Loudon Historical Society was formed in 1975 with Rev. Greg Beck as the first president. One of their first jobs was to plan the celebration for the United States Bicentennial in 1976. With that success under their belts, the group began researching Fort Loudoun in earnest -- looking for any clues that may have been missed before. A local historian traveling to England was asked to check out libraries there for a Fort Loudoun mention. At this point, it was still hoped that a sketch or more complete description of the fort would turn up. The Society used their enthusiasm and energy to compel the Pennsylvania State Historic Commission to take a preliminary look at the site again in 1977 to see if the up-to-then elusive fort could be located. Persistence and timing paid off as enough evidence was found to launch full scale digs beginning in 1980.
After the digs concluded, the society continued the never-ending task of fundraising through the annual Frontier Days along with planning and developing the Fort Loudoun site. When Anna Rotz became president of the group in 1980, it was always her goal to recreate the fort on its actual location. The remainder of the 1980s was spent doing that. But as with any group, there are as many positive advances as there are steps backwards. A log fund was started where individuals purchased logs for $10 each. The amphitheater was constructed. But then vandals burned the barn that was on the property. While the barn would have been removed at a future date, the society was going to use the wealth of lumber in the barn for various projects. The size of Society varied through the years while we cleaned the site, painted picnic tables, built outside restrooms, and moved Frontier Days from the community grounds in Fort Loudon to the fort site itself. In 1993, Rotz’s dream of recreating the fort on it original site became reality as Fort Loudoun was dedicated on a warm June day with the sound of bagpipes wafting in the air. With that goal attained, Rotz began to work towards the next set of goals - to have the site open on a regular basis. In the summer of 2006 we are very close to that goal. The museum gift shop opened in the Patton House in 2006. A summer kitchen and breezeway were added in 2011 and bathrooms were installed in 2012.