Whitehall-Coplay Press

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fort Deshler dig

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 by AL RECKER Special to The Press in Local News

Project turns up some artifacts

The Fort Deshler dig — a project of the MacArthur Road 75th anniversary committee — brought mixed results in August.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) agreed to lead the geographical survey and archaeological dig because the fort was mainly on its right of way. Cooperation was also given by the adjoining land owner, Mike Hobel.

The stone fort, in the area of MacArthur Road and Chestnut Street, had a role in the French and Indian War.

The dig, which began Aug. 7, utilized probes and other exploratory devices. Upon completion, two small artifacts were discovered, as well as a building’s foundation and a tree that is more than 100 years old. The artifacts are presently being studied for identification.

A foundation of an old building was located with a GPR probe, but it was underneath at least five feet of fill and was not excavated at the time.

There will be a comprehensive dig report generated by PennDOT. An archaeological presentation, with the help of Kevin Mock, PennDOT’s archaeologist, will be made to the MacArthur Road 75th anniversary committee. The event will be held either at the Whitehall Township Public Library or Whitehall Historical Preservation Society’s grist mill.

The committee is planning to place permanent signage along the nearby Ironton Rail Trail to show where the fort once stood and to educate a new generation on the remarkable history that lies underfoot.

On Aug. 5, prior to the dig, a meeting at the site was held with Mock; Joseph Baker, also an archaeologist, with PennDOT’s Bureau of Project Delivery; Hobel; Lee Rackus, Whitehall bureau chief of planning, zoning and development; Jeff Warren, MacArthur Road 75th anniversary committee member; and John Rackus, Whitehall Township Public Works director.

It was discouraging, it was mentioned, that the site was very disturbed. Large amounts of fill had accumulated in the area of the planned dig.

Fort Deshler’s history goes far beyond the township borders, as it was a French and Indian War-era fort that was garrisoned with troops by Benjamin Franklin for security of settlers in the region during periods of unrest with Native Americans. It was built by Adam Deshler.

According to historian Matthew Schropf Henry, in the “History of the Lehigh Valley,” the fort was a two-story building with very thick walls. During the ensuing war, it was a place of refuge for nearby neighborhoods; then it was called “the fort.” The place, during Indian troubles, was a military post of sorts. It was the only fort in Lehigh County to be used as a place of refuge during the 1763 Indian uprising.

An account of the uprising was in Benjamin Franklin’s publication, “The Pennsylvania Gazette,” five days after it happened on Oct. 13, 1763.

The fort was said to be a mansion in its time, built higher than homes around it.

From 1756 to 1758, Adam Deshler furnished provisions for the provincial troops in the French and Indian War.

Over the years, ownership of the fort changed hands several times. There were structures on the property until the late 1960s when MacArthur Road was improved by PennDOT.