Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

It is June 17, 1893. Ten men are meeting at the venerable Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Gov. Robert E. Pattison has recently signed a law entitled “An Act Provid­ing for the acquisition by the State of certain ground at Valley Forge for a public park, and making an appropriation therefor.” He has carefully selected these individuals and commissioned them with the administration of Valley Forge State Park, which presently exists only on paper.

The commissioners deliber­ate little before electing Francis M. Brooke as their first president, a position that later evolves into chairman of the Valley Forge Park Commis­sion. Brooke is the state legislator who has led the movement for the creation of the park. He is also a descen­dant of Gen. Anthony Wayne who served with George Washington at Valley Forge.

The legislation establishing the park empowers the commissioners to spend twenty-five thousand dollars and directs them to determine the site where General Washington positioned his men and built defensive earthworks during the winter of 1777-1778 that the Continen­tal Army spent at Valley Forge. That hallowed ground is to be purchased with the state appropriation and become Pennsylvania’s first state park.

Few of the original park commissioners live anywhere near Valley Forge, so the entire body decides to visit the area. Their meeting minutes record their reasoning. “After considerable discussion and consideration of the work to be accomplished, it was decided that no definite action could be taken until the commission had visited the ground and it was decided that as many as could do so should visit Valley Forge on Monday.” The park commissioners later commis­sion a detailed topographical study and various surveys. They also discover that very little documentary research has ever been devoted to the famous winter encampment at Valley Forge, prompting them to begin contacting libraries and historical societies for information.

Within two years the commissioners purchase the necessary ground but find they lack the funds to make further improvements. Around the turn of the century, Valley Forge is still generally de- scribed as “wild.” It takes much determination for stalwart visitors to locate the mounds and depressions in the earth that result from the eighteenth century encampment. And it takes even greater imagination for them to envision what had happened there.

It is summer 1990. Joan Marshall-Dutcher, the National Park Service historian at Valley Forge, is writing an article for a general audience journal about the six months the Continental Army bivouacked at Valley Forge. She must succinctly incorporate the latest scholarly research in describing who was there and what happened to them. She employs quotations to evoke graphic images of men and women huddled in makeshift shelters, struggling through chronic shortages of food, clothing, and equipment. She describes the crowded and disease-ridden living conditions, as well as the lighter moments of the winter when entertainments were staged to help pass the time. Marshall-Dutcher makes it clear that no decisive battles were fought at Valley Forge but acknowledges the site’s traditional – and well-earned – place in history as a turning point in the fledgling nation’s quest for independence.

George Washington marched his men out of Valley Forge on June 19, 1778, a date known as Evacuation Day. What has happened at Valley Forge since the encampment is an intriguing reflection of the ways in which Americans perceive their own history. How has the Valley Forge experience been commemorated? What has been preserved at Valley Forge – and what has been added to the landscape? What do Americans seek when they visit this historic site? What has drawn visitors from throughout the world during most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?

It is 1850. Henry Woodman is busy penning one of thirty­-two letters he will write for his local newspaper, The Doylestown Intelligencer. Woodman is the son of a soldier who spent the winter at Valley Forge and later married a young woman who lived in the area. His letters tell of the Valley Forge he remembers from his youth and record the stories that his father told him. Woodman’s descendants later collect these letters and publish them as a book.

Henry Woodman’s letters suggest why the Valley Forge story is becoming so dear to nineteenth century Americans, who are beginning to view the Valley Forge experience as a moral victory illustrating that triumph can follow sacrifice. The imaginations of the Victorian era are moved by tales of bloody footprints punctuating the frozen fields. The everyday experiences suffered by the soldiers at Valley Forge are taking on heroic proportions. “It was there,” Woodman writes, “that Washington with his destitute and suffering army, toward the close of the year 1777, and in one of the most gloomy seasons of the Revolution, took up his winter quarters and suffered for a period of near seven months, the most severe privations and hardships.”

Woodman continues. “Sustained by principles of the purest patriotism, they patiently endured their sufferings with true magna­nimity, constancy and patient resignation, supported in the hope of ultimately obtaining the independence of their country and enjoying the inalienable rights of men.”

It is June 18, 1878. Individuals are meeting at Valley Forge to make final arrangements for the following day. A huge tent has been erected in the meadows and marching troops are steadily arriving. Organizers are primarily local residents who have been planning to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Evacuation Day for the past six months. Since beginning, they have expanded their goals to include the purchase of a modest house at Valley Forge that enjoys the distinction of having served as Washington’s Headquarters. Patriotic women, organized by Anna Morris Holstein, have been enlisted to help with the celebration and to raise money for a more lasting memorial to the Valley Forge experience.

Dawn arrives and the celebration begins, the first gathering ever held at Valley Forge solely to commemorate the legendary winter encamp­ment. Thousands arrive by road and rail to observe seemingly endless processions of civic and military societies. They come, too, to hear the famous orator Henry Armitt Brown. As if they can hear him, Brown assures the spirits of the soldiers who served at Valley Forge that their great sacrifice is not forgotten. “Their trials have secured the happiness of a continent,” he declares. “Their memory is cherished in their children’s hearts, and shall endure forever.”

In the following years, the women of the celebration’s sponsoring organization, the Centennial and Memorial Association of Valley Forge, continue raising money to complete the purchase of Washington’s Headquarters. They ask for – and receive – ­ help from the Patriotic Order, Sons of America. Washing­ton’s Headquarters is opened to the public and its first restoration is accomplished.

But once the state park is well established, it assumes responsibility for Washington’s Headquarters, leading to the demise of the Centennial and Memorial Association of Valley Forge. State park administrators oversee the structure’s two subsequent restorations, and Washington’s Headquarters becomes one of several historic houses preserved at Valley Forge State Park. Yet the role of the Centennial and Memo­rial Association of Valley Forge is not forgotten.

It is Inauguration Day, 1903. At the state capitol in Harris­burg, Pennsylvania’s new governor, Samuel W. Pennypacker, is making his inaugural address. “No people are ever truly great who are neglectful of their shrines,” he booms, reminding his audi­ence of the need for further preservation efforts at Fort Necessity, Bushy Run, and Valley Forge.

Governor Pennypacker secures for Valley Forge the first truly significant appro­priations since the park’s creation and makes it possible for administrators to enlarge the property and provide necessary amenities for visitors. By 1904, one road winds up a hill known as Mount Joy along the entrench­ments that formed the camp’s inner line of defense. Within two years a boulevard traces the old outer line defenses as it connects the eastern entrance of the park with the inner line.

The initial restoration of the entrenchments is also begun during Pennypacker’s admin­istration and the redoubt known as Fort Washington (now Redoubt #3) is furnished with an observation platform to protect it from the overly curious. In the following decade, the earthworks known as Fort Huntington (Redoubt #4) and the Star Redoubt (Redoubt #1) are recon­structed. Sometime during the course of this turn-of-the­-century development, park staffers discover dogwood trees growing on Mount Joy and later cultivate the groves which become famous as yet another landmark and symbol of Valley Forge.

It is October 19, 1901. Quite a crowd has gathered on the farm of I. Heston Todd adjacent to Valley Forge State Park. Members of various patriotic organizations are present, in addition to the governor and a company of the Pennsylvania National Guard in full uniform. Todd ceremoniously presents a deed to Adaline Sterling, president­-regent of the National Society of Daughters of the Revolution of 1776. “It is my glad privi­lege,” Todd proclaims, “to present to you the grave of John Waterman … who died April 23, 1778, and the title to this sacred and historic spot.”

On this tiny plot visitors can now see not just the only marked gravesite at Valley Forge but a new fifty-foot granite obelisk, financed by Sterling’s organization. Although it becomes popularly known as the Waterman Monument, the shaft honors “The Memory of the Soldiers of Washington’s Army who sleep in Valley Forge.” It is the first major monument at Valley Forge and for years it remains the area’s most impressive memorial structure.

It is 1905. The Rev. Dr. W. Herbert Burk of Pennsylvania has published a play entitled Washington at Valley Forge, the first scene of which is set along the road between the villages of Valley Forge and Port Kennedy. In this scene, the brave General Washington happens upon the still, sleeping form of a soldier posted to guard duty, who is nearly frozen with the cold. “Thank God,” reads Washington’s lines, “you are not dead. Yonder field seems never satisfied, but every day opens its mouth to swallow more of my poor men. Or is it only sown with the seeds of patriotism?”

Burk sets the scene at the very spot where he is by then conducting worship services in his partially-constructed Washington Memorial Chapel. In a sermon given on February 22, 1903, Washington1 s birthday, he had mused about erecting a wayside chapel at Valley Forge to honor the general and soon afterward had raised enough money to erect a temporary barnboard chapel. The modest chapel had held his tiny congregation but garnered national attention in 1904 when Theodore Roosevelt delivered an address there, making him the first president to speak publicly at Valley Forge while in office.

By Washington’s birthday in 1905, Burk’s permanent chapel is built up to the level of its present window sills and capped by a temporary roof. It is nearly opposite the road from the so-called Waterman Monument and “yonder field,” as Burk describes it in Washington at Valley Forge, where he and others believe hundreds of soldiers lie buried.

But W. Herbert Burk is planning more than a chapel for the site. He envisions a complex of buildings and structures to be officially christened the Washington Memorial. He formally opens a museum in 1909 and the chapel is gradually completed between 1915 and 1917. With the aid of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Burk’s successor dedicates a bell tower at the Washington Memorial after the second World War. The Washington Memorial remains one of the park’s most eyecatching structures and a noble tribute to George Washington.

It is June 20, 1908. Thousands are descending upon Valley Forge by carriage and automobile to crowd around a stand where a new park monument to be dedicated. This new addition to the park is an equestrian statue of Gen. Anthony Wayne, its proportions described as “heroic” by Philadelphia newspaper correspondents. Former governor Samuel W. Pennypacker delivers one of the key speeches, telling how persistence and endurance have created a nation. The statue’s sculptor, Henry K. Bush-Brown, also addresses the audience and his daughter Lydia is given the honor of pulling the cord that unveils the statue.

The bronze twenty-four foot high statue of Wayne is one of a number of monuments springing up at Valley Forge during an “Age of Monuments,” lasting from the turn of the century to World War I. Its erection follows that of the Maine Marker (1907) and precedes the placement of the Pennsylvania Columns (1909-1910), the Valley Forge DAR Memorial to the Unknown Soldiers Buried at Valley Forge (1911), the Massachusetts Military Monument (1911), the New Jersey Monument (1913), and the Delaware Marker (1914), among others.

The park’s likeness of Baron Friedrich von Steuben, remembered for having developed and coordinated the drill instruction of the Continental Army at Valley Forge, is erected by the German-American Alliance and dedicated in 1915. By then, anti-German sentiment is already sweeping Europe and the theme of this ceremony is one of German-American loyalty to the United States.

It is June 19, 1917. It is dedication day for Valley Forge’s most famous monument, the National Memorial Arch. Legislation passed in 1910 makes possible this gift from the entire nation to Valley Forge. The memorial suggests the triumphal arches of Rome, its design, indeed, based on the Arch of Titus. A special train of Pullman cars brings an impressive number of statesmen and diplomats from the nation’s capital. Senators and soldiers, representatives and veterans, and politicians and the public mill about a grandstand which has been gaily draped with bunting and American flags. Gov. Martin Brumbaugh delivers one of the speeches. The United States has just entered World War I and Brumbaugh calls upon fellow Americans to once again find in themselves the courageous spirit of Valley Forge, something to help them endure the sacrifices that war will inevitably demand. “Where stand Valley Forge and Pennsylvania, there stand the hopes, the aspirations, the glories of the human kind,” the governor says. Architect Paul Philippe Cret, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has designed the arch but he is unable to attend the ceremony. He is on his way to the trenches of France.

It is Memorial Day, 1931. Once again a speaker’s platform has been erected in the park at Valley Forge. No monument will be unveiled this day but, nevertheless, an important guest is expected. The United States has survived World War I and Americans are now suffering through the lean, mean years of the Great Depression. From Valley Forge, Pres. Herbert Hoover will address the nation.

President Hoover arrives by train at the Betzwood station and proceeds by motorcade along Outer Line Drive, past the National Memorial Arch, to the platform near the historic house now known as Huntington’s Quarters (just across the road from the Washington Memorial). A throng of about forty thousand spectators trample the fields around the house; thousands more hear the president’s radio broadcast.

“The American people are going through another Valley Forge at this time,” Hoover declares. He acknowledges the national distress, the pail1 of lost jobs, and the trial of plundered savings. At Valley Forge, he maintains, Washington’s men were sorely tested and might have surrendered to defeat and despair but showed, instead, their inner strength and fortitude. “Valley Forge is our American synonym for the trial of the human character through privation and suffering …. God grant that we may prove worthy of George Washington and his men at Valley Forge,” he concludes.

It is June 18, 1944. The time is 4:30 P.M. A radio broadcast, opening with the fanfare of trumpets, is being made from Valley Forge. An announcer is standing beneath an elm tree near Washington’s Headquarters with Gov. Edward Martin, and several dignitaries, including the chairman of the Valley Forge Park Commission, the rector of the Washington Memorial Chapel, and a Marine sergeant who has recently distinguished himself at Guadalcanal.

Following a rendition of God Bless America, an inter­viewer asks the Marine, Al Schmid, to comment on his experiences in World War II “How do you think the boys are progressing?” the inter­viewer asks. Does the support of the homefront mean anything? Does it help the fighting man to know that Americans are buying war bonds and conserving materi­als vital to the war effort? The theme of this program is the familiar message of sacrifice. Even while gasoline rationing is sharply thwarting the number of Americans who can afford to visit the park, the lesson of Valley Forge can still reach and inspire Americans in times of trouble.

It is 1947. Well known restoration architect George Edwin Brumbaugh is writing specifications for the replica log huts that are soon to rise at Valley Forge to mark the locations where brigades from the various colonies had camped. Brumbaugh is noted for having painstakingly restored many historic sites and buildings in the Delaware Valley and he puts his usual meticulous care into the specifications for the eigh­teenth century huts.

The huts are supposed to make the park seem more like a military camp. Sites such as Colonial Williamsburg­ – where visitors feel they are drawn into the world of the past – have become popular. Brumbaugh has studied the orders that Washington drew up in 1777 for the construction of log huts on which he bases his designs. “Only minor variations from the dimensions given will be permitted,” Brumbaugh notes in his specifications.

Visitors proclaim the construction of the huts a fitting tribute to the experience of the common soldier. Within a few years, however, the log structures require restoration and later are nearly completely rebuilt. Later still, they are criticized as being too uniform to be historically correct. A project completed just prior to the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976 endows the park with more log huts; however, these designs are diverse, purposely reflecting the techniques of log construction throughout the eastern seaboard. No matter their origin, the humble log huts become a kind of symbol of Valley Forge in the twenti­eth century.

It is July 3, 1950. Daylight fades and beneath the indigo skies at Valley Forge some forty-seven thousand Boy Scouts are camping. They will stay a week. They are attend­ing the first National Boy Scout Jamboree held since World War II. The event attracts more scouts to Valley Forge than there were soldiers in Washington’s army. Unlike Washington’s encampment, there is no shortage of food and little (if any) hardship. The boys attend educational sessions, participate in athletic events, and cook their meals over charcoal burners. Their presence causes a sensation. They are a tourist attraction in themselves. Thousands of sightseers create bumper-to­-bumper traffic in the park as they stop to take photographs.

It is also the era of the Cold War. Americans are apprehen­sive about the growing strength of the Soviet Union and Communist China, many suspecting that an w1seen conspiracy threatens their freedom. That very week North Korean forces cross the 38th Parallel and General Eisenhower condemns the invasion in the speech he makes to the scouts camped at Valley Forge. The Cold War gives the Jamboree a deeper meaning. Reporters praise what is described as a sponta­neous gathering of youth in a free society. On Monday, July 3, as the meadows grow dusky with sunset, each scout is given a candle. The boys gather together and at the command, “Scouts, light your candles,” thousands of flickering lights appear, celebrating America’s freedom of worship and symbolizing enlightenment in a frightening world. Leaders hope the scouts will be inspired by the aura of Valley Forge and gain a new appreciation for their freedom as Americans.

It is late December 1971. A band of veterans camp at Valley Forge in a program called “Operation Winter Soldier,” which is being mounted to protest the war in Vietnam. Newspaper reporters estimate their number between one hundred and five hun­dred, but a fluctuating group of sympathizers and onlookers makes it hard to tell. The weather has been mild but the protesters build campfires around which they gather, eating food donated by local citizens in sympathy with their cause. Many of the protesters are bearded and wear their hair long. Much like Washington’s soldiers, some are dressed in worn, ragged, and mismatched pieces of military uniforms.

They and their supporters are eager to catch the attention of the press. “People in this war are dying over nothing,” one shouts to a reporter. Others explain that they have chosen to give up Christmas celebra­tions to make the point that there is no peace on earth and that their comrades are celebrating no holiday in embattled Southeast Asia. They have selected Valley Forge because of its fame as a historic site. They hope that voices raised in protest from Valley Forge will be heard throughout the country.

It is July 4, 1976. Pres. Gerald R. Ford is attending special ceremonies at Valley Forge to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. At Valley Forge he will sign what he calls a “very important bill.”

The bill he signs transforms Valley Forge State Park into Valley Forge National Histori­cal Park. Since the early 1970s, many local citizens have been writing letters to their legisla­tors supporting such a move. Several key politicians have taken up the cause which the park commissioners have also supported. Valley Forge belongs to all Americans they claim, and the National Park Service can ensure that Valley Forge continues to receive the care and recognition it deserves.

Many lawmakers who furthered the cause are attending the ceremonies. The president addresses Gov. Milton J. Shapp: “And so, Governor, we are delighted to take over and make certain that the good work of the State of Pennsylvania is carried out and that this historic site will become another in the complex of national historic sites for the preservation of those things that mean so much to us – those sites that contribute so significantly to our national history and our national progress.”

The story of Valley Forge did not end on June 19, 1778, when Washington’s men marched bravely away. Valley Forge’s message of hope – of triumph through endurance­ – has inspired generations of Americans. Its saga has been chronicled by hundreds of scholars and students of American history. And for many it will remain a turning point in the War for Indepen­dence.

It is spring 1993. It has been one hundred years since a park was first established at Valley Forge, and the nation pays tribute not only to Wash­ington’s troops, but to the men and women who ensured that the meadows and fields will take – and keep – their place in state and national history. As the nation celebrates this milestone, it is only natural that one may ask what role will Valley Forge play in the American culture of the future.

 

For Further Reading

Bean, Theodore W. History of Montgomery County, Pennsyl­vania. Philadelphia: Everts and Peck, 1884.

Burk, W. Herbert. Historical and Topographical Guide to Valley Forge. North Wales, Pa.: Norman P. Nuss, 1920.

Hart, John Robbins. Valley Forge During World War II. New York: American Historical Company, Inc., 1944.

Jackson, John W. Valley Forge: Pinnacle of Courage. Gettysburg, Pa.: Thomas Publications, 1992.

Pinkowski, Edward. Washington’s Officers Slept Here. Philadelphia: Sunshine Press, 1953.

Unrau, Harlan D. Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania: Administrative History. Denver: U. S. Depart­ment of the Interior, 1985.

Woodman, Henry. The History of Valley Forge. Oaks, Pa.: John Francis, Sr., 1922.

 

Lorett Treese is a freelance writer specializing in Pennsylvania history. As a member of the Centennial Celebration Steering Committee at Valley Forge National Historical Park, she recently edited a commemorative picture book. She is presently working on a comprehensive history of Valley Forge. The author holds a bachelor of arts degree from Bryn Mawr College and received her master’s degree in American history from Villanova University. Her first book, The Storm Gathering; The Penn Family and the American Revolution (see “Bookshelf” in the winter 1993 edition), was published by the Penn State Press in 1992. She has contributed to Early American Life, Susquehanna, Pennsylvania Folklife, Antiques, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. This is her second contribution to Pennsylvania Heritage.