The predominate geological feature of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands region is the chain of mountains known as the Alleghenies. As a part of the great Appalachian Mountain Range, the Alleghenies are oriented in a northeast to southwest direction and run for roughly 400 miles from north central Pennsylvania to south western Virginia. The eastern edge of this range rises sharply and in colonial days posed a formidable barrier to trade and travel with the region west of the mountains known as the Ohio Country. This economically important territory was claimed by both Great Britain and France and precipitated the French and Indian War, the colonist’s name for the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War.
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The preeminent strategic location controlling access to the Ohio Country was The Forks of The Ohio, a triangle of land where the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers form the Ohio River. To control the rivers, in 1754 the French built Fort Duquense on this point of land (now Point State Park in Pittsburgh). To take this fort from the French, two expeditions were launched by the British, the result of which are two major east to west routes through the Allegheny Mountains.
The first of these two roads was begun in the spring of 1755 in reaction to the construction of Fort Duquense. The British army, commanded by General James Edward Braddock, along with Virginia militia, led by George Washington, constructed a road roughly along the route of Nemacolin’s Path, an old Indian trading trail. Starting at Fort Cumberland (present day Cumberland, Maryland), it wound through the mountains in a north westerly direction for 110 miles towards Fort Duquenese. On July 9, 1755 Braddock’s force of 1300 men crossed the Monongahela and ran into a force of French and Indians estimated to number between 300 and 900 men. The outnumbered French with their Indian allies, fighting from the cover of the woods, steadily picked off the British who insisted on trying to form battle lines as if they were fighting on the plains of Europe. After several hours of battle, Braddock was shot off of his horse and the resistance collapsed. The British then retreated back along the road where Braddock died four days later. He was buried in the middle of the road, to keep the Indians from desecrating his body, not far from Fort Necessity where George Washington had been defeated the previous summer.
For the next several years, the main theater of war was in the north, but by 1758 the British were ready for another attempt at taking Fort Duquense. Under the command of Brigadier John Forbes, a new route was begun starting this time in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Forbes took the route of an earlier road (Burd’s Road) to the town of Bedford, where he veered to the north, following another old trading route known as the Raystown Path. Unlike Braddock, Forbes built several forts along the road to act as supply depots and garrisons. After one failed attempt to take Fort Duquense in September of 1758, Forbes finally took possession in November of that year when the French abandoned the fort. Forbes named the site Pittsburgh after Secretary of State William Pitt.
For the next 180 years, these two roads remained the major routes through the Laurel Highlands region. The Forbes Road became US RT 30, the famous Lincoln Highway and the Braddock Road the National Road or US RT 40. And although the construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike lessened the importance of theses roads, they continue to offer a wealth of history, sights and food missed by those who take the super highway route.