From Frontier Conflict to Interactive Historical Site
For more than a century and a half following the Battle of Bushy Run, the site of this 1763 military engagement between the British and the Native Americans yielded natural resources for farmers, lumbermen, coalminers and stone quarrymen. Throughout the years, however, local residents never forgot the historical significance of the site. Though the American Civil War overshadowed the centennial observance of the battle, thousands of people attended the 120th anniversary program in 1883, when an unsuccessful attempt was made to erect a monument on the battlefield.
Local interest in the battle continued into the 20th century. In 1918, the Bushy Run Memorial Association was formed. Penny donations from 70,000 Westmoreland County schoolchildren enabled the purchase of 6.5 acres of the battlefield, while thirteen additional acres were obtained by the Bushy Run Memorial Association. In 1927, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania accepted the property and established the Bushy Run Battlefield Commission to develop the site as a state park under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Department of Forest and Waters (now the Department of Environmental Resources).
Bushy Run Battlefield State Park grew to include 162 acres of the original battlefield. A monument and a flag pole were erected at the site of the flour bag entrenchment on Edge Hill, while the approximate locations of British troops and Native American forces were indicated with plantings, trails and roads. The British grave sites were marked with two flag poles and a wooden sign. A plaque was placed at the supposed site of Byerly’s Spring. Other developments included the construction of an Indian big house near the eastern entrance to the park (destroyed in the 1970s), picnic areas and shelters, and an arboretum on Flagstaff Hill. The latter was created through memorial plantings contributed by local civic organizations.
The Department of Forest and Waters constructed a museum in 1950 to house a collection of local Americana and memorabilia; this structure currently exists as the stone portion of the present visitor’s center. An existing farmhouse was adapted as an employee residence and an accompanying barn was used for storage, as well as office and meeting space. These two structures were destroyed by fire, the farmhouse being replaced with the present PCC house.
Though it was developed around the historical theme of the battle, Bushy Run was primarily used for recreational purposes. This emphasis changed with the battle’s bicentennial in 1963, when the battlefield was designated as a National Historical Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior. That same year, Governor William Scranton signed Act 747, which abolished the Bushy Run Battlefield Commission and transferred jurisdiction of the site from the Department of Forest and Waters to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).
Under the direction of the PHMC, a new emphasis was placed on interpreting the Battle of Bushy Run and its historical significance to the public. This goal has been accomplished over the years by increasing the size of the visitor’s center and installing orientation exhibits relating to Pontiac’s War and the battle. Self-guided and guided tours of the battlefield, living history programs, and other educational activities were developed, while the site was enlarged to 183 acres, approximately 95 percent of the battle site. Construction of a maintenance facility and amphitheater and archeological investigations of the site were additional accomplishments during the first 25 years of administration by the PHMC. In 2000, an additional 34 acres of land was purchased by the Bushy Run Battlefield Heritage Society.
The PHMC currently maintains the park and its grounds for the community.