Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Group of people standing in clearing next to tall stone marker
Group of people standing in clearing next to tall stone marker

Defending Fort Dewart, a Legacy of Stewardship

| 5 Comments

When Ron Sehn and Terry Doran bought their properties in Folmont, they never imagined that they were also signing up to be the defenders of the eighteenth-century Fort Dewart. 

Situated atop the Bald Summit of Allegheny Mountain along the Bedford-Somerset County line, Bill Nuzzo founded the residential mountain community of Folmont in 1972. 

The scenic landscape was an important aspect of Mr. Nuzzo’s vision for the community, but he also recognized that the development contained significant historic resources, and as a result, he instituted several restrictive covenants to ensure the preservation of the mountain environment and historic landscape.

Aerial photograph (via drone) of Fort Dewart, showing the star-shaped earthen breastwork of the fort. The north gate location into the structure is discernible in the center of the breastworks’ northern side, bottom of photo. Photograph by Jonathan Burns, November 27, 2017.

Today, covenant-protected parkland makes up 46 acres of the 1600-acre community which includes the entirety of Fort Dewart, a portion of Forbes Road, and the remains of the historic Miller’s Tavern

A view of Forbes Road today, the wide and deep swale delineates the road path through the dense forest. Photograph by Jonathan Burns, November 27, 2017.

A Quick History of Fort Dewart

Constructed by Scottish Highlander troops in 1758, Fort Dewart was a small British military redoubt that was part of a chain of defensive forts and supply stops established by General John Forbes during the second British campaign to repel the French from Fort Duquesne (present day Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War.

Located along the Forbes Road (also established during Forbes’ campaign) and west of Fort Bedford, the four-sided, star-shaped fort was strategically established atop Rohr’s Gap to provide a respite following the climb up the steep and difficult section of Forbes Road.

General Forbes marching journal to the Ohio by John Potts maps, 1758-1759.
This 1758 sketch of Forbes Road shows Fort Dewart as redoubt 5 within the Allegheny Mountains, and includes ‘Sir John’s Road’. Map found in General Forbes’ Marching Journal to the Ohio. The J. Potts copy of the original map is in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Shippen Family Papers.

The British utilized Fort Dewart until 1763, and today it is likely the most intact fortification from General Forbes’ expedition.

While the sites were generally left to the wilderness in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they were not entirely forgotten.  Miraculously, the sites were not disturbed when the area was repeatedly logged during this period, and the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (the predecessor of the PHMC) erected a seven-foot tall granite monument at the center of the fort in 1930, one of thirteen markers to commemorate the Forbes Road.

This stone monument was one of thirteen Forbes Road monuments placed in Bedford, Somerset, Westmoreland, and Allegheny Counties in 1930 to mark Forbes’ army’s route between Fort Bedford and Fort Duquesne. The plaques are believed to have been designed by architect Paul Phillippe Cret, who had a commission to design plaques and markers for the Historical Commission at this time. Photo by April Frantz, January 23, 2020.

Preserving Fort Dewart

These early efforts to preserve Fort Dewart largely resulted in the fort’s current condition: the surviving earthen and stone breastworks form a continuous mounded outline of the enclosure with a surrounding ditch and bastions remnants projecting from each corner. 

This is the condition that Ron Sehn found the fort when the Folmont Property Owners Association (FPOA) president, Peter Folen recruited him to help maintain the fort. 

Mr. Folen had taken it upon himself to keep the fort “park” clear of vegetation, but he needed help.  Mr. Sehn and Mr. Folen, with the help of other Folmont residents, periodically cleared the fort of brush and trees using only hand tools and other non-invasive methods, and to this day, Mr. Sehn only uses a push mower to mow the park to ensure that he does not impact the fort. 

Peter and Ron also sponsored a series of Eagle Scout projects at the site that included the construction of a footbridge led by Mark Mancini (Troop 114, Davidsville, PA) as well as project to build a footpath and some benches throughout the park led by Corey Weigle (Troop 1131, Charleroi, PA).  These efforts along with a series of interpretive panels made the site more accessible, but also educated the community about the site’s importance. 

You can check out a video of Fort Dewart here.

A Scottish Connection

In an effort to foster even more interest, the group reached out to the fort’s namesake descendant community.

Fort Dewart was built by Scottish Highlander troops, and it was named by Sir Allen Maclean for the seat of his ancestral Scottish clan, Castle Duart. 

Lt-Col. Sir Allan Maclean, 6th Baronet of Morvern, 4th Laird of Brolas, 22nd Chief of the Clan Maclean. Image from https://macleanhistory.org/chiefs/sir-allan-maclean-22nd-chief/.

In 2013 the FPOA hosted the Clan Maclean Heritage Trust from Scotland and a boulder with a plaque and interpretive panels were dedicated at the site in recognition of the Highlanders who built Fort Dewart.  

Rankins and Maclean bagpipers at the September 22, 2013 ceremony.
Photo courtesy of Ron Sehn.
From left: Ron Sehn, Folmont; Sir Lachlan Maclean, 28th Chief of Clan Gillean; and Ian Maclean, Clan Maclean Heritage Trust, in September 2013. Photo courtesy of Ron Sehn.

Listing Fort Dewart

Recognizing that they needed a longer-term preservation plan, Mr. Folen decided that the FPOA should pursue the process to get the fort listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).  Folmont resident Terry Dolan and Ron took over as the primary caretakers of the fort and the NRHP nomination process when Mr. Folen left Folmont in 2005. 

Ron continued to do the maintenance at the fort, and, with the support of the FPOA, Terry and Ron led fundraising efforts that with the help of Folmont residents included chicken barbeques, raffles, and selling advertisements in the local business directory to raise the funds necessary to hire a consultant to write the NRHP nomination. 

Because the fort was primarily an archaeological site, Terry and Ron enlisted archaeologists Suzanne Trussell from Fort Bedford and Jonathan Burns from Juniata College to write the nomination. 

Suzanne and Jonathan both specialize in French and Indian War forts in the region and the two conducted a limited metal detecting survey to delineate the site’s boundaries and intensively mapped the site’s breastworks and adjacent portion of Forbes Road. 

Their work resulted in an NRHP nomination that the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board unanimously approved in February 2020.  The National Park Service will review the nomination soon and it will likely be listed on the National Register in the near future.

#PreservAtionHappensHere at Fort Dewart

Ron, Terry, and their predecessors’ efforts to protect the Fort Dewart and Forbes Road is an excellent example of the power of local stewardship. 

The condition of the site is remarkable, and that is direct effect of the community’s recognition of the site’s importance their combined investment in site preservation. 

Ron and Terry are the current leaders in a legacy of stewardship at Fort Dewart, and their efforts have paved the way for future preservation success.  The question is now, who will continue this legacy of stewardship?

PHMC Preservation Board View at Fort Dewart, January 23, 2020.
Left to right, Mark Shaffer (PA SHPO archaeological Reviewer), Ron Sehn, Terry Doran, Jonathan Burns, Ira Beckerman (PAC President and Preservation Board member), Casey Hanson (PA SHPO archaeological Reviewer), Ben Ford (Preservation Board member), Suzanne Trussell and Krista Morris.

Author: Casey Hanson

Casey is the Western/North Central Pennsylvania project review archaeologist for the State Historic Preservation Office.

5 Comments

  1. What a fascinating property and great local preservation success story!

  2. It’s a great place, and has great caretakers–thanks so much to Ron and Terry and their team for their hard work and stewardship!

  3. Very nice. If Muncy is in your area please call me at 570-971-5225 have info and artifacts from fort Brady and Madam Montour and early taverns.

  4. It’s a shame that you do not mention Colonel Henry Bouquet at all in your text. Of course John Forbes was the titular commander of the Expedition, but it was Colonel Henry Bouquet who commanded the army in its everyday activities. And it was Colonel Henry Bouquet who gave Sir Allen Maclean the privilege of naming the redoubt. Why you would not even mention Colonel Bouquet amazes me.

  5. Is there a list of men that served at the fort? I understand that Sir Allen MacLean recruited 330 men from his clan in Scotland to help with the fight in the French/Indian war. I am trying to see if any of the McLeans ended up in Kingston Ontario between 1780 and 1820.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.