Historic Lochry Blockhouse
The Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve was built with the idea of preserving the view of Saint Vincent College, but picture what it might have looked like before the industrial revolution. Ninety percent of the land was covered with 100 year old forests. Traveling by foot was difficult because of the rivers, forests, and mountains within Pennsylvania, but they did allow the wildlife to grow in both abundance and size.
The 1768 “Treaty of Fort Stanwix”, between Iroquois Six Nations and Great Britain
opened the Pennsylvania Frontier to settlement. As the settlers began to move westward over the hills and the Allegheny Mountains, they travelled mostly on foot, to forge their life on the Pennsylvania frontier. They traveled with just the necessities carrying everything and using their horses and cows to carry larger items and small children.
As war began in the east in 1775, the news traveled to the frontier families in Westmoreland County quickly. The families had traveled a far distance and suffered so much to escape the British rule, that they developed a regiment to protect themselves against British rule and invasion. John Proctor was elected to lead the county as the Colonel and Archibald Lochry as his Lt. Colonel.
Lochry came to this country with his parents from Ireland in 1737. He served in 1763 as an ensign in the Second Battalion in the provincial service. Other appointments included the offices of Justice in Bedford and Westmoreland Counties, deputies to the provincial convention in Philadelphia, County Lieutenant, Prothonotary and Clerk for the Court of Quarter Sessions and the Orphans Court.
Life on the frontier was harsh and demanding. Some of the Native American Nations refused to accept the terms of the Treaty of Stanwix because they were not represented at the negotiations. Others misunderstood the agreements of the treaty. As a result, settlers’ homesteads were continually raided by Native Americans on the frontier. The settlers’ numbers had decreased drastically due to deaths and fleeing. Families struggled to feed themselves. They would often hide out in their houses and were not able to work the fields or allow children to play outside for fear of attack from Native Americans.
Numerous correspondences have been recorded between Lochry and the Executive Council, much of it about the lack of support of both supplies and food. Often the gun powder, when sent from the East, would be damaged while traveling over the frontier, leaving only a small portion usable. The most notable letter is one from April 17, 1781 when he requests more ammunition and states that he has built a magazine (in the form of a Blockhouse) to house the ammunition and requests permission to keep a guard at it. The response from President Reed (President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania) on May 2, 1781 was that ammunition is hard to come by and the County should be frugal and not waste it. He was also reprimanded about the magazine because the Council felt that putting all the ammunition in one place was exposing it to the enemies and they did not want buildings like this to be erected without permission.
The Blockhouse wouldn’t be used by Lochry for much longer. In July of 1781, Lochry, who was the Westmoreland County Lieutenant, was asked to organize a militia group from Pennsylvania to join General George Rogers Clark from Virginia. A group of 107 men were collected to travel down the Ohio River and meet Clark at Fort Henry. Delays stopped Lochry from getting to Fort Henry on time, and because of desertions, Clark did not wait for them. The two militia groups would never meet, rations were disappearing, and men were tiring. Lochry sent a letter to Clark describing the lack of food and ammunition, which was intercepted by the Native Americans down river. The Native Americans, led by Joseph Brant, organized an attack party of about 150 warriors who followed Lochry and his men down the Ohio River until they stopped. On August 24, 1781, Lochry decided to stop and rest on the north side of the Ohio River, near Aurora, Indiana to allow the horses to graze and the men to look for food. As they shot a buffalo for food and were preparing to cook it over an open fire, the Native Americans attacked. The attack was strong and short. They were unable to escape or defend themselves, Col. Lochry surrendered. Forty-one were killed in the attack or shortly after and Col. Lochry was killed after the battle while he was sitting on a log. Sixty-four prisoners were moved up river and eventually taken to British strongholds such as Detroit, Niagara, Montreal and an island on the St. Lawrence River. Some were held captive in Native villages.
In the 1990’s the Lochry Blockhouse became the focus of an important search. The landmark was rediscovered in 1999 by Floyd Eiseman, who was involved with the Latrobe Historical Society. Eiseman was interested in the history of Forbes Trail, which was the military road created by Brigadier General John Forbes through the wilderness. Forbes Road became the key landmark that helped with the discovery of the Blockhouse. Two different blockhouses were mentioned in historical references as being in the Westmoreland County area along Forbes Road, both the Lochry Blockhouse and Fort Shippen. Fort Shippen was located on the John Proctor property and was thought to be near Saint Xavier’s along Route 30. The Lochry Blockhouse was thought to be located near Saint Vincent College. The discovery of the Blockhouse happened by a chance conversation with a Saint Vincent College employee, Dennis Gilbert, who explained that, the blockhouse, belonged to his Uncle Anthony Todaro in the 1930’s. The original Lochry property had changed hands many times through the years. When discovered, the house had been changed to be more modern with a second floor, bathroom and a dug out basement for a furnace and porches were added, but most of the original blockhouse remained underneath the clapboard and shingles.
The discovery of the Blockhouse began a string of events that would eventually allow the Blockhouse to remain at its original site. The initial plan, before the Nature Reserve came into existence, was to move the blockhouse to another location near the Latrobe Schools. After the development of the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve, the directors felt it would be a valuable part of the development and proposed keeping the Blockhouse at the original site. The blockhouse timbers were marked for reassembly; the blockhouse was dismantled and put back together in the original site with as little alterations as possible. Recently added to the blockhouse property was a Colonial Garden with both vegetables and ornamental plants that would have existed in the Pennsylvania frontier, and would have been utilized for cooking or medicine.
The Blockhouse is maintained by the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve, which also provides tours to interested groups. The Blockhouse is usually the focus of the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve’s annual Fall Fest, where groups and individuals participate in a portrayal of both military and homestead life during that time period