History of Forty Fort

Forty Fort, so named for the original forty settlers, was begun in the summer of 1770. It was located on the river bank near a "copious spring of water, known as the Great Springs."

Opinions differ, but authorities lead us to believe that it enclosed an acre or more of land. The walls were of logs, and these were set upright in a trench five feet deep. The logs extended twelve feet above the surface of the ground and were sharpened at the top. The joints and crevices of the upright logs were protected by another tier of logs planted and secured in like manner, thus forming a double wall. Within the fort, barracks or huts were built along the walls for shelter for the occupants. The roofs of these buildings served as a platform from which the garrison could defend the fort. The space in the center was used as a parade ground.

The enclosure was rectangular with gateways at both the north and the south ends. At the four corners small sentry towers rose a few feet above the top of the walls. The strong-flowing spring at the edge of the river, below the structure, supplied the fort with water. Safe access to the spring was made possible by a sunken passageway leading from within the fort.

At the river end of fort street a stone brought from Kingston mountain marks the approximate site of this historic place. The marker, with a bronze plaque, was placed there by the Wyoming Valley Chapter or the Daughters of the American Revolution October 19, 1900.

Forty Fort Streets

The streets of the borough of Forty Fort are a constant reminder of the early history of the community, since many of them are named for early military men, ministers who were strong leaders in the valley, or early settlers.

Such men as men as Colonel Nathan Denison, Major John Durkee, Captain James Bidlack, Captain Samuel Ransom, and Colonel Zebulon Butler played important roles in the battles with the Indians. Influential ministers of that time included the Reverends H. H. Wells, E. Hazard Snowden, Anning Owen, and Nathan Murray.

Other streets such as Pettebone, Dilley, Slocum, Yeager, Tripp, and Shoemaker were named for early families.

Oak Street, named for the huge tree which stood opposite its entrance; Fort Street, near where the old fort was located; and the tribal names of Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, and Mohawk, reminding us of the part Indians played in the early years of settlement - all have great historical significance.

Wyoming Avenue was originally called "The Great Road," and River Street was named for the river it followed.

When Built

The religious faith of the early settlers was always a primary factor in their daily lives. Religious services were frequently and regularly held, and for a time, a building within the enclosure of old Forty Fort may have been used as a place of worship, no matter how humble.

The people of Kingston Township were nearly all of the state church of Connecticut, Congregational; and the proprietors in 1799 had allotted two of the public lots for the minister and the ministry. By 1806 there were enough people and sufficient financial backing in the area to consider the erection of a building in which to hold religious services, it is not probable that any work was begun prior to April 3, 1807. From what few records exist, it was probably enclosed during the summer of 1807, and that the interior was finished and the pews and pulpit placed during the winter of 1807-08. It was completed and first occupied about June 1, 1808, and it was agreed that it should be a union church.

Construction and Design

Forty Fort meeting house is the most interesting building in northeastern PA and remains practically unchanged during the 172 years that it has stood. It measures a little more than 50 feet in length and 41 feet in width. One end faces River Street and the other cemetery. Originally there was a door at each end, but both were boarded up many years ago, probably when two stoves were installed. The main door day faces south and is directly opposite the pulpit. The original handmade entrance doors are still in use. Facing the doorway and leading to the pulpit is the center aisle on either side of which are six enclosed pews. Similar enclosures are built against the end walls. At each end of the southern wall is a narrow winding staircase leading to eh gallery which once contained benches. The gallery is supported by four round columns about ten inches in diameter. On each of the four exposed corner timbers are crude brackets upon which candles could be set. The floor boards are nearly twelve inches wide.

The architect and builder was Joseph Hitchcock, a New Haven, Connecticut man, father of Platt Hitchcock, once Treasurer of Luzerne County. He laid out and framed the building by what was known among builders as the square rule, which was thought in those days a wonderful feat of skill. The pulpit and pews were made by Gideon Underwood, a skilled cabinet maker.

Changes Over the Years

The old meeting house is mainly unchanged inside. None of the interior woodwork has ever been painted, although it is now dark with age. Some of the original siding near the ground which had decayed has been replaced, but from about halfway up, the old wide clapboards remain. More modern shutters have been placed on the second story windows. The building has been re-roofed several times.

After being neglected for a long time, a generous and public spirited man, William Swetland, had it painted.

June 3, 1922, the Colonial Dames Society decided to restore the church interior. Work was done under the supervision of Col. Thomas H. Atherton, architect.

Later, Mrs. Frank G. Darte had the exterior painted. In recent years the building has been kept in repair and painted by the cemetery association.


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