Braddock's Historic River Crossing to Be Re-Enacted
Hollenbaugh, Barbara, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Connellsville has been a crossroads, especially for people heading west, since it first became a community.
The Connellsville Historical Society will present the 7th annual re-enactment of Gen. Edward Braddock's crossing of the Youghiogheny River at Connellsville June 26-27.
Braddock was leading his army toward the Ohio Valley to oust the French from land claimed by the British crown.
Karen Hechler, of the historical society, said that the commemoration was a dream of her mentor, the late Bill Balsley.
"Bill wanted to find a unique way to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War," she said. "He thought that having an actual river crossing, to commemorate Braddock's crossing, would be unique, especially since we have access to the river."
After consulting with the Army Corps of Engineers to resolve safety concerns, everything was in place for the crossing to take place.
"A lot of people thought we'd never pull it off," said Hechler. "But we did."
The festival did not feature an actual river crossing in its first year but the crossing has been held every year since.
Braddock's crossing took place on June 29, 1755. At that time, both the French and the British sought to expand their empires within North America. The French controlled much of eastern Canada and much of the Great Lakes region. The British had their 13 colonies along the Atlantic coast.
Both nations wanted control of the Forks, or The Point as it is now known, of the Ohio River.
The nation that controlled the headwaters of the Ohio River could expand markedly. The land-hungry British colonists wanted cheap, fertile land, which was abundant west of the Alleghenies.
The French wanted control over the regions waterways, to facilitate their thriving fur trade. Alarmed by British expansion, the French built Fort Duquesne. The British, led by Braddock, who was assisted by a young George Washington, attempted to oust the French from the Ohio Valley.
During his march to Fort Duquesne, Braddock crossed the Yougiogheny River at Stewart's Crossing, now Connellsville.
"This crossing was noted on the maps of that time," Hechler said. "Braddock knew that it would be a good place to cross so that he could proceed westward." The area was named "Stewart's Crossing' after settler William Stewart, who came to the area in 1753.
A special event in this year's re-enactment will be the dedication of a historical marker directing people to the Braddock's Crossing site and to Crawford's Cabin.
Hecher says this area is as important today as it was during Braddock's time.
"This area always has been a crossroads," Hechler said. "People always have come through this area, especially as they migrated west. Soldiers came through here during the French and Indian War. Railroads were attracted to this area. Rivers tied people together as well. Now, the bike trails are attracting people."
History alive again
This year's festival will feature re-enactments from both the Native American perspective and the British perspective. Re- enactors will tell stories and demonstrate period crafts. There will be refreshments. Children will be able to participate in Native American games and in mock drills. Re-enactors will perform traditional chores, such as churning butter.
Bryan Cunningham will portray George Washington.
"George Washington was a pivotal person of that time," Cunningham said. "He started one war and finished another."
Cunningham will present several events throughout the weekend, including mock drills with prop guns and discussions about the Southwestern Pennsylvania backcountry. …