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Marker sought for Oakmont Civil War encampment

By Rossilynne Skena
Friday, July 25, 2008 

There’s not even a hint that a Civil War encampment once occupied some land between the Allegheny River and the railroad tracks on the northern end of town.Members of the Oakmont Historical Society hope that will change.

The sound of rushing vehicles that pass the area is a far cry from the noise that must have erupted in 1861 when thousands of soldiers passed through what was a Union Army training camp.

The encampment was located on the flats just upriver from the Hulton Bridge. Allegheny Avenue and West Woodland Avenue now run through the area, north of Hulton Road.

There are no artifacts or markers to suggest the tract’s historic past.But several features made it a good spot for training: the relatively large flat tract — not very common in hilly Western Pennsylvania; the railroad tracks, which allowed trains to transport soldiers and supplies; and the Allegheny River, another source of transportation and where soldiers washed their clothes.

The historical society, which was formed in January, has been working to get a Pennsylvania Historical Marker placed in the area. The markers, often placed along roadsides, are blue metal signs with yellow writing that promote that state’s history.

Historical Society President Gary Rogers said the group will apply for a marker by the January deadline. After that, it could take a year to 18 months to learn if it’s approved, said Rogers, an Oakmont native who lives in Plum.

A marker would cost about $1,800, according to Matt Provenza, the society’s vice president. If approved, the state would pay for no more than half of the cost, and the organization would need to provide the remaining funds.

The training encampment opened May 29, 1861, and closed nine months later, Rogers said. It was never the site of battle.

About 4,500 soldiers passed through the encampment, according to Rogers.

Oakmont, in general, was chosen for the training site because of the area’s accessibility via river, train and the Pennsylvania Canal, which, in this area, followed the Allegheny River.

Rogers said people had been trying to locate the camp, but they had differing opinions on where it was.

He searched through newspaper microfilm at the Carnegie Library in Oakland and found that the Pittsburgh Dispatch reported frequently about the camp.

While searching in the microfilm about 10 years ago, he discovered references to the encampment’s location.

During its brief heyday, it had parade grounds and a hospital barracks.

“It was quite extensive for the time it was there,” Rogers said.

The encampment sometimes served as a tourist attraction. People came on trains to watch the soldiers march on the parade grounds, Rogers said.

The area maintained its beauty during the encampent.

“There were a lot of comments and things written about the beauty of the camp,” Rogers said, “being next to the river, and the greenery.”

Rogers said he has not found photos, paintings or sketches of the encampment, but he has heard interesting tales.

There’s a story that the soldiers captured a Confederate spy at the encampment, Rogers said. The spy had bottles of arsenic that he intended to put into the camp’s wells but he couldn’t find any.

The encampment was fed with spring water, not well water. The soldiers caught him and sent him away.

Rogers said that during the encampment’s nine months of use, no one died from illness.

After its closing, the encampment went up for auction.


Rossilynne Skena can be reached or 724-226-4681.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633