Huzzah! Fort Ligonier has announced for the first time since the pandemic the eight-acre historic site and award-winning museum will be open to the public seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting today.
“Beginning April 1, visitors are welcome to walk into the buildings and become immersed in the fort’s Colonial history from the storehouse to hospital ward and Forbes’ Hut,” said Julie Donovan, Fort Ligonier’s director of marketing and public relations. “Last year, due to pandemic safety precautions we were unable to open the buildings. The doors were open, but a rope prevented visitors from stepping inside. The fort experience is even more special when visitors can explore these wonderful historical structures.”
Donovan reminds visitors that they are required to wear masks inside the museum and socially distance from other guests. Masks are not required at the outside historic site, but socially distancing is still encouraged and appreciated.
Fortifications at Fort Ligonier are full-scale reconstructions on the original site where the fort was first built in 1758. Thousands of people once bustled around the British army community and for years visitors have flocked to the fort to learn how it was designed and constructed to defend the crucial supply line that sustained the community. However, recently the fort has been operating under winter hours, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and under strict capacity regulations because of the pandemic.
The fort’s powder magazine — an original feature from the 18th century — will be reopening for the first time since the fall of 2019. Discovered by archaeologists and reconstructed, the powder magazine was built in 1759 and the original floor can still be seen by descending a steep entrance to the magazine.
Visitors can stop by the George Washington Gallery and learn the story of a young George Washington who nearly died not far from Fort Ligonier. They can ponder his journey from loyal English subject to leader for the fight for American independence — exemplified by the Washington-Lafayette pistols, a national treasure located in the museum.
Visitors can discover the exceptional art collection of original works from the 18th and 19th centuries in the art gallery and check out the archaeology and reconstruction exhibits, which vividly portray the community effort to rebuild the fort and the formation of the Fort Ligonier Memorial Foundation (the Fort Ligonier Association today), a membership-based organization that serves as steward of the fort.
Members of the organization traditionally gather on the fourth Friday in April for the annual meeting. This year, the meeting will be held virtually on April 23 and will feature a brief update on Fort Ligonier, along with a presentation and virtual behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadephia by R. Scott Stephenson, Ph.D., president and CEO of the museum.
It’s something not only members are anticipating, but staff at the fort.
“I can’t wait for this,” confessed Donovan.
For more information about the Fort Ligonier Association’s annual meeting and other upcoming events, visit fortligonier.org.
In addition to the restrictions related to COVID-19, the fort has also been dealing with several other challenges, including the losses of Bradford Mooney, a private contractor with Heritage Restorations who did ongoing preservation work at the site and passed away earlier this month, and the departure of Dr. Erica Nuckles, the fort’s former director of history and collections, who accepted a new role at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
“We are very heartbroken and sad (at the loss of Mooney),” said Donovan.
Mooney was a longtime preservationist and often called Fort Ligonier “his fort,” added Donovan.
His knowledge — not only about the fort, but also of the historic events surrounding the Colonial time period — is unsurpassed and will be hard to replace. However, Eric Lebo, a member of the fort’s staff, worked side-by-side with Mooney for the last six years and has assumed the role of continuing his work.
“The best way to honor his legacy is to continue the important restoration work he committed one-third of his life to,” said Donovan.
While equally sorry to see Nuckles leave, Donovan said she understands the allure of such an opportunity because it wasn’t so long ago that Donovan left a 14-year career with the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau for an opportunity to work at the fort.
Nuckles grew up at the fort, according to Donovan. Her parents were re-enactors and at a young age, she joined them. Donovan said while Nuckles isn’t on staff anymore, she wouldn’t doubt that Fort Ligonier will still be a significant part of her life and she anticipates she’ll come back to speak or give lectures at future events.
While there, Nuckles did curation work on an entirely new interpretation of the museum, along with beginning to work on a variety of future projects that her replacement could continue, including future collection storage, digitizing the museum’s collection, and continuing an initiative that began during the pandemic — virtual educational programming.
According to Donovan, the board hasn’t begun the process to search for a replacement because the position is being evaluated and tweaked prior to launching a search.