Fort Roberdeau - History of the Original Lead Mine Fort

From the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, June 1973.

The location of the Fort is in the Sinking Valley region on the slope of Brush Mountain. The site is in an area of dense growth -- trees, shrubs, weeds -- recently removed by concerned citizens. Removal of the vegetation revealed a concrete foundation outlining the fort, poured between 1939-1941 for the purpose of reconstructing the site. Impetus for reconstruction was begun by concerned local agencies with National Youth Administration workers doing the physical labor. This was based upon the work of Donald A. Cadzow, State Archaeologist, who uncovered the original stone and brick foundation. The only remains above ground surface were the powder magazine walls of stone and brick and a square of masonry work, probably part of a smelting plant. Reconstruction efforts were discontinued in 1941 with the advent of World War II.

By Pubdog [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Few descriptions are available on the forts original appearance. The Columbian Magazine (September 1788) notes the erection of "a large fort of logs." Africa (1883) mentions the log fort upon which were mounted two small cannon, possessing a good armament, and manned by a regular garrison of 10-40 men. He also makes note of a smelting furnace. A sketch appearing in The Columbian Magazine of Fort Roberdeau (December 1788) shows a wall of what appears to be horizontal logs with a gate in the center and various out-buildings outside the wall. Craine (1941) notes the accompanying wording, "a timber fort, used for the same purpose as a blockhouse, but designed to accommodate a greater number of persons. Such a structure was generally made in the shape of a hollow square with various buildings and a watchtower within showing the line of loopholes at shoulder height." Craine notes that the stockade logs were horizontal rather than the customary vertical or up-right position because of the out-cropping of limestone which made it difficult to excavate deeply enough to place the logs in a vertical position.

The Fort site presently comprises 1.978 acres. The outline of the fort itself reveals a square structure with blockhouse-type protrusions on each of the four corners.

With the advent of the Revolutionary War, lead for the Continental Army became of great importance. Lead deposits were discovered in what was then the Sinking Spring Valley region, presently Sinking Valley, in Central Pennsylvania. General Daniel Roberdeau, a prominent Philadelphia merchant, an Associator, and a member of the Committee of Safety, was assigned the task of supervising mining operations in the area. Roberdeau, in order to house the miners of the area and to protect them from both Indians and Tories, erected the Fort in l777-l778 near the lead deposits in what is today Blair County. Eugene Craine, citing an original Roberdeau letter, states that he probably set up some kind of fort on an initial visit during 1777 and strengthened it on a second visit in 1778 by building a stockade.

The amount of lead derived from local mines is unknown. The enterprise was apparently abandoned by 1779 due to lack of assistance and expenses involved in mining operations. However, The Columbian Magazine (September, 1788) notes that the miners were from the old country, unused to the frontier life, and that the "whole undertaking fell to the ground." The Fort nevertheless remained standing even after its abandonment by garrison troops and continued to serve as a refuge for the local settlers. Craine notes that the Fort was occupied at least through 1781.

Fort Roberdeau was one of five frontier forts in Blair County in the 1777-1778 time-period. However, the other four were built by private enterprise, of the block-house type. Fort Roberdeau, commonly known as the Lead Mine Fort, appears to have been the only fort in Blair county built and manned by soldiers of the Continental Army.


Bibliographical References
Africa, J. Simpson, History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties,
   Pennsylvania, "Blair County," (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883).
The Columbian Magazine, September and December, 1788, (Philadelphia: W. Spotswood).
Craine, Eugene R., The Story of Fort Roberdeau, 1777 to 1783,
    (Altoona: The Tourist & Publicity Bureau of the Chamber of Commerce, The City of Altoona,  1941).
Davis, Tarring S., ed., A History of Blair County, Pennsylvania, Vol. 1,
    (Harrisburg: National Historical Association, Inc., 1931).
Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania, Vol. 1, (Clarence M. Busch, State Printer, 1896).

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