A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
Washington Memorial Chapel. State Historic Preservation Office

Washington Memorial Chapel. State Historic Preservation Office

In December 1777, in the midst of the American Revolution, Gen. George Washington directed the Continental Army to set up a winter encampment in an area known as Valley Forge, less than 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, the U.S. capital that had been captured by British troops in the Philadelphia Campaign. Approximately 12,000 troops endured the winter at Valley Forge, training and drilling there into the spring and finally marching out as a more effective military force on June 19, 1778. The time the Army spent at Valley Forge is considered a turning point in the war. After the troops moved on, Valley Forge’s landowners worked quickly and steadily to return the land back to pre-encampment condition — largely farmers’ fields and small industries. Eventually, efforts began to formally memorialize and commemorate the pivotal encampment. By 1893 Pennsylvania had established a state park there — the first in the commonwealth. In 1976 it was transferred to the National Park Service and became a National Historical Park.

Overlooking the Grand Parade, where the troops drilled, and surrounded by parkland, the Washington Memorial Chapel is often mistaken to be part of the park itself. The chapel complex in Upper Merion Township, Montgomery County, was created as a memorial to Washington and his troops. Although it shares some inspiration and history with the park, it has never been under the state or federal park systems. The chapel functions as an active Episcopal parish, but it has also become integral to the Valley Forge experience, playing an important educational role for visitors. The intricate details in the stained glass, wood and metalwork depict scenes from the nation’s history, with a focus on Washington and the Valley Forge encampment. Prominent on the landscape, with its dramatic architecture and wealth of interior detail, the chapel is part of the larger Valley Forge landscape as well as an independent treasure.

The inspiration for the Washington Memorial Chapel came from Rev. Dr. W. Herbert Burk (1867‒1933), an Episcopalian minister serving in Norristown, Montgomery County. Burk and Philadelphia architect Milton B. Medary Jr. (1874‒1929) envisioned a complex of buildings that would serve as an active parish and commemorate those who served during the Revolution and the conflicts that followed. The corner-stone of the chapel’s sanctuary was laid in 1903.

Construction proceeded slowly, as funds were difficult to raise. Following Medary’s death in 1929, his partners in the architectural firm Zantinger & Borie continued to adapt the original plans. Noted landscape architect Thomas Sears (1880–1966) designed the property’s cemetery and grounds. The studios of three important Philadelphia-based artisans were responsible for the exquisite finishes and details of the chapel complex’s interior, including stained glass by Nicola D’Ascenzo (1871–1954), metalwork by Samuel Yellin (1885–1940), and woodwork and furniture by Edward Maene (1852–1931). The complex was completed with the installation of the final stained glass window in the Bell Tower in 1954.

The Washington Memorial Chapel is a highlight of any visit to the Valley Forge National Historical Park, featuring amazing craftsmanship and conveying the vision behind the founding of the commemorative site. The property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on May 1, 2017.


Recent listings in the National Register of Historic Places include A. Mecky Co. Building, Philadelphia; Harry C. Kahn & Son Warehouse, Philadelphia; Highland Park Campmeeting, West Rockhill Township, Bucks County; Llanerch Public School, Haverford Township, Delaware County; Marcus Hook Plank House, Marcus Hook, Delaware County; and Scranton Button Co. and Lackawanna Mills, Scranton, Lackawanna County.


April E. Frantz is a historic preservation specialist who coordinates the National Register Program for the eastern part of the state at PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office.