In the spring of 2013, as the planning for the celebration of Block House 250 was just starting to get underway, the Fort Pitt Society contacted local landscape architect, Jack LaQuatra of LaQuatra Bonci Associates, about creating a garden on the grounds of the Fort Pitt Block House.
The landscaping around the Block House had been under-utilized to this point, as all efforts and resources had been focused on preserving and protecting the historic structure. The Fort Pitt Society asked LaQuatra Bonci to come up with a plan that would accomplish two goals: create an attractive and welcoming outdoor space and pay tribute to those early members of the Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh Chapter NSDAR) who worked to preserve, protect and promote Pittsburgh’s oldest architectural landmark, the Fort Pitt Block House. The garden especially gives honor to Mrs. Edith Darlington Ammon, who served as the Pittsburgh Chapter’s regent for ten years and as president of the board of directors for the Fort Pitt Society for over a decade.
Edith Dennison Darlington Ammon was born in 1862 on her family’s estate, Guyasuta. Her father, William McCullough Darlington, was a well-respected lawyer. He married Mary Carson O’Hara, granddaughter of James O’Hara, a Revolutionary War hero and early landowner in Pittsburgh. William and Mary Darlington both instilled in their children a passion for history, particularly Western Pennsylvania history. Mr. Darlington had a large collection of early manuscripts and maps of Pittsburgh, and Mrs. Darlington wrote and edited many books focusing on the history of Fort Pitt and the colonial era. Today the Darlington family’s collections make up the majority of the Darlington Digital Library at the University of Pittsburgh.
Edith’s love of history and pride in her Revolutionary ancestry led her to join the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1891. Newly married to Pittsburgh lawyer Samuel A. Ammon, Edith moved forward to work her way up into the ranks of the Pittsburgh Chapter. She arrived at an exciting time, too, for the chapter was in the process of gaining ownership of the Fort Pitt Block House so that it could be restored and opened to the public. The owner of the Point District and Block House, Mary E. Schenley, officially gave the building to the Pittsburgh Chapter free of charge in 1894. In order to legally own the Block House, the ladies had to incorporate their chapter; hence the establishment of the sister organization, the Fort Pitt Society. After gaining full ownership, the Fort Pitt Society began to restore the Block House back to its original appearance as a defensive military redoubt. Once the restoration was completed, they opened the building to visitors, maintaining free admission so that all citizens of Pittsburgh and beyond could learn the history of Fort Pitt.
In December 1901 the Fort Pitt Society was forced to take legal action against city leaders and powerful industrialists trying to close streets and construct warehouses in the Point District surrounding the Block House. The Society went so far as to refuse an offer of $25,000 for the removal of the historic structure to nearby Schenley Park, feeling it was their duty to keep the Block House in its original location. Led by Edith Ammon, the ladies fought hard to stop the industrial development of the Point by petitioning the city for a park at the Point. Although supported by many prominent Pittsburgh citizens, the petition was ultimately thrown out. The Point District was finally sold in 1902 to Henry Clay Frick who in turn sold the property to the Pennsylvania Railroad. Construction of the rail yard began in 1904, and the Block House soon became surrounded by warehouses, terminals, and tracks.
Now more determined than ever to ensure that the Block House would be saved from removal and/or destruction, Edith Ammon went to work drafting a bill for the state legislature to protect historic structures from eminent domain. She lobbied in Harrisburg for months, speaking out against the railroads and those who would destroy history through industrial development. An excerpt of one of her speeches to the state senate is quoted below:
Have you no history? Have you no pride? … Men who allow this precious spot to be sacrificed certainly have no pride at all. If these [historic] sites are destroyed nothing but written pages will be left behind to tell their memory. Future generations will want to see them. We should not deny them the opportunity.
With the help of State Representative Michael H. Kennedy of Pittsburgh, Edith was ultimately successful in having her bill passed into law in 1907. Signed by Governor Edwin Stuart, it was one of the earliest historic preservation laws in Pennsylvania. Its language, written largely by Ammon, reads as follows:
Be it enacted that no corporation now incorporated under the law of this state, or which shall hereafter be incorporated thereunder, shall exercise the right of eminent domain as against the land now occupied by any building which was used during the Colonial or Revolutionary period as a place of assembly by the Council of the Colony of Pennsylvania, or by the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or by the Congress of the United States; or as against the land now occupied by any fort, redoubt, or blockhouse erected during said Colonial or Revolutionary period; or as against any building used as headquarters by the Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army; or as against the site of any such building, fort, redoubt, blockhouse or headquarters, which said building, redoubt, blockhouse or headquarters, or site thereof is now or shall hereafter be preserved for its historic memories and associations, and not for private profit. Provided, That the said Colonial and Revolutionary period, as applied to the buildings, forts, redoubts, blockhouses or headquarters, or the sites thereof, as aforesaid, shall be taken as ended on the third day of September, Anno Domini one thousand seven hundred and eight-three. Approved the 10th day of May, A. D. 1907. Edwin S. Stuart.
Edith passed away in 1919 while serving as president of the Fort Pitt Society. The Edith Ammon Memorial Garden honors Mrs. Ammon and the other early members of the Fort Pitt Society who saved the Block House from destruction. Because of their work, the Fort Pitt Block House remains in its original location, preserved as a historic site and museum, free and open to the public.
In the words of Edith, “Men…with but the thought of gain and gold were dreaming of tracks and trains, of massive walls and wreathing smoke from towering chimneys, while we dreamed of fame and power, of peaceful paths where once was strife, of space and breeze, of floating flags and trees, not smoke and noise. They planned for vandalism…we for patriotism. Patriotism wins.”
Planting a Garden
Nestled in one corner of the grounds surrounding the Block House, the Edith Ammon Memorial garden features wide pathways and attractive gardens of native plants culminating in the sandstone and bronze memorial to Edith Ammon. The memorial is set on a plateau of bluestone featuring an etched rendering of Fort Pitt as depicted in 1795. The large sandstone benches encourage visitors to stay and enjoy the grounds.
“When we were asked by the DAR to provide ideas for designing a new garden honoring Edith Darlington Ammon at the Block House, we noticed something very interesting about the site.
Just as two rivers become one to form a perfect triangle called Point State Park, two pathways in the park ironically become one to create another triangle. This ‘mini point’ has become Edith’s Garden just west of the Fort Pitt Block House. And just as the fountain is the park’s focal point, a triangular stone plinth monument becomes the main feature in the garden. The monument features a plaque describing Edith’s efforts to save the Block House from destruction. The garden also features walking paths, stone benches, and native plants to create a quiet place for visitors. We were honored to be selected to design one of Pittsburgh’s smallest, but most important places in its history.” – Jack LaQuatra, LaQuatra Bonci Associates
All plantings within the garden are native to Western Pennsylvania and would have existed in the 18th century – the time period in which the Fort Pitt Block House was constructed. The border fencing around the garden and Block House property is faced with Red Sprite Winterberry shrubs and Blue-Eyed Grass. Plants featured in the garden proper include Dwarf Fothergilla, Jim Dandy Winterberry, Heavy Metal Switch Grass, Purple Dome New England Aster, Flying Saucer Coreopsis, Sweet Dreams Coreopsis, Turk’s Cap Lily, Husker’s Red Beardtongue, and Miss Manner Obedient Plant.
Edith Ammon Memorial Garden Donors
The beautiful new garden was made possible through a generous lead gift from Colcom Foundation and critical in-kind contributions from LaQuatra Bonci Associates and the Pennsylvania Department of Conversation and Natural Resources, managers of Point State Park. Our special thanks to all of the donors who supported the garden project; they are listed below and recognized on the walkways of the garden.
Rachel Mellon Walton Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation
Pittsburgh Pirates Alumni Association Inc.
Allegheny Conference on Community Development / French and Indian War 250, Inc.
Mr. David Roderick
Be a part of history! Buy a brick, engraved with your custom message, and support the Fort Pitt Block House. Each brick sold will be placed along the walkways of the new Edith Ammon Memorial Garden and in front of the entrance to the Block House.
Participation in this project offers you a unique opportunity to become a permanent part of history by placing your family name, message or remembrance on the grounds of the Block House. Your brick will help fund the ongoing costs to maintain and protect the Block House and support our educational programming.
Learn more about the brick program by downloading a PDF of the program’s brochure. To purchase a brick online, click here. All mail-in orders, complete the form on the brick brochure and return with payment to: Fort Pitt Block House, 601 Commonwealth Place, Building C, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Please make checks payable to “Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.”