Historical Markers
Fishbasket Old Town Historical Marker
Mouse over for marker text

Fishbasket Old Town

Allegheny National Forest Region


Marker Location:
PA 28 at Alcola, 1 mile NE of New Bethlehem

Dedication Date:
July 12, 1997

Behind the Marker

"Fishbasket" is a place name that immediately conjures images of the activities that occurred on the banks of the Redbank Creek.
Background of diorama showing Native American spear fishing.
Background of diorama showing Native American spear fishing.
For hundreds of years, Indian peoples came to this site to take advantage of the bounty of suckers, walleye, and other fish. They harvested fish in a variety of ways: with stone weirs built into the water that channeled fish into underwater corrals, with hooks fashioned from animal bones, and with nets woven from natural vegetable fibers and weighted with stones or gourds to hold them in place.

Everyone young and old, male and female took part in the cooperative work of processing the catch, cleaning the fish and preserving them by smoking them over a fire or drying them in the sun. Living and working in fishing camps was a part of the Indians" seasonal cycle of production for thousands of years before their contact with Europeans.
Excavation at Fishbasket site.
Excavation at Fishbasket site.

The first Europeans to settle in what became Clarion and Armstrong counties called the site described on this marker "Old Town" because of the Shawnee village they encountered there along the banks of the Redbank Creek. However, the name Indians gave to this site - Fishbasket - provides a much better sense of why they found this area so attractive. At this site, Indian women also tended to fields of corn, beans, and squash while the men hunted. Here, too,marker Indian women tapped maple trees for their sap in late winter and early spring; when boiled down, the sap yielded a crystallized sugar that was easily preserved and provided a natural sweetener for the Indians' diet.

Archaeological excavations conducted at Old Town Fishbasket from 1977 to 1992 revealed two related sites, one on each side of the Redbank Creek. Each site provided evidence of late Woodland Era occupations, around 1000 A.D. Like other late Woodland sites, their inhabitants fortified these villages with palisades-logs placed vertically into the ground-around their perimeter. Within the palisades, Indians lived in dome-shaped wigwams with fire pits for heating and cooking and storage pits for food and seed corn. One of the villages also contained a longhouse, a bread-loaf shaped multi-family dwelling that was forty-two feet long.
Smoking pipes from Fishbasket Site.
Smoking pipes from Fishbasket Site.

Artifacts recovered from these sites include pottery shards, ceramic and stone pipes, stone projectile points, and tools made of stone and animal bone. These objects testify to the cultural exchange and adaptation that took place between Indian peoples at this geographic crossroads. Decorative patterns on pottery matched those associated with Monongahela peoples to the south, while the longhouse reflected the influence of Iroquoian peoples to the north.

Although the archaeological evidence dates this site to the prehistoric era, Indians continued to live in the vicinity of Fishbasket until the late 1700s, when expanding white settlement forced them to move west into Ohio, Ontario, and Michigan. This era in Fishbasket's history is evident in the foundation of a single cabin found by archaeologists, within which they uncovered items associated with the colonial era fur trade, including glass beads, gun flints, and musket balls. Fishbasket Old Town is an excellent example of how native peoples occupied, reshaped, and adapted to the Pennsylvania landscape long before and after their contact with Europeans.
Back to Top