Pennsylvania Highways
Valley Forge National Historical Park


What some people might not know is that this piece of land, which played a significant part in the struggle for independence, did not see any fighting.  Valley Forge received its name from the iron forge that was constructed along Valley Creek, next to current PA 252, in the 1740s.  A sawmill and grist mill had been built by the time of the encampment, making the area an important supply base for the American fighters.

In the midst of the American Revolution (1775-1783), in 1777, the British devised a plan to capture Philadelphia which had become the de-facto capital of the 13 colonies.  Sir William Howe brought nearly 17,000 British troops into the colonies by having them land at the head of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.  General George Washington marched his 12,000-man Continental Army from New Jersey to meet this invasion.  Although their British counterparts won two key battles, as well as Philadelphia, the Americans gained confidence in their fighting abilities and realized they only needed a little more training to reach their full potential.

As winter approached in 1777, Washington had to find a place for his army to make camp.  In doing so, he had to balance the wishes of the Continental Congress to organize a winter campaign to push the British out of Philadelphia with the needs of his weary and poorly supplied men.  By mid-December, General Washington picked the area in Valley Forge to make camp just 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia.  The army would be close enough to maintain pressure on the British forces, yet far away enough to prevent a surprise attack.  One reason that Washington choose the section of land was because it offered natural defenses against such an attack.  He knew the British would not come from the north or the east, because of the Schuylkill River, and not from the west because of Mount Misery.  The only way they could attack Valley Forge would be from the south which would mean suicide for the British forces as the area of the park sits higher than the land to its south and at that time it was open farm land.

On December 19, 1777, about 10,000 troops entered the camp from all of the colonies except for South Carolina and Georgia over Gulph Road from Gulph Mills.  Men, women, and children of all ages, differing backgrounds, and ethnicities came into the camp.  Most were of English decent, but also African, American Indian, Austrian, Dutch, French, Germanic, Irish, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Prussian, Scottish, Spanish, and Swedish decent were represented.  This would be the last time until the Korean War that people of African decent would fight in the same regiments as their fellow Caucasian soldiers.  The reasons for enlisting ranged from fighting for independence to recent European arrivals who did it for honor and fortune.  In fact, two-thirds of the Pennsylvania regiment was foreign-born.  The women, wives of enlisted men who followed the army year round and some general officer's wives on extended visits, came to the camp to help the cause of independence.  They were compensated for providing valuable services such as sewing, laundering, and nursing.

Rather than wait for assistance, the army began to locate supplies, build 2,000-odd log cabins along planned military avenues to stay in, made clothing and gear, and cooked meals of their own creation.  Provisions were available, but in limited numbers.  Shortages of clothing did cause hardships for some of the troops as General Washington wrote on December 23, 1777, "We have this day no less than 2,873 men in camp unfit for duty because they are barefooted and otherwise naked."  Many soldiers did have a full uniform and the well-equipped units patrolled, foraged, and defended the camp.  The troops also constructed miles of trenches, five earthen forts (redoubts), and a bridge over the Schuylkill River to be used for defenses.

Most think that the cold and snow of the winter or starvation was what killed an estimated 2,500 soldiers, but it the scourge of the camp was actually disease.  Ironically almost two-thirds of them perished during the warmer months of March, April, and May when supplies were more abundant.  Influenza, typhus, typhoid, and dysentery were the most common ailments to spread through the camp.  Dedicated surgeons, capable nurses, smallpox inoculation programs, and sanitation regulations helped to limit the number killed by these virulent attackers.

As time passed, the Continental Army began to mature from a ragtag bunch into a professional fighting force.  They received help in training from charismatic former Prussian army officer Baron von Steuben, who arrived in camp in February 1778.  He drilled the soldiers in a system of field formations, and with this hands-on training program, he managed to mold the army into a streamlined marching machine.

The soldiers received welcomed news on May 6, 1778, when they learned that France aligned itself with and formally recognized the United States as a sovereign nation.  The expected arrival of French forces altered British strategy and triggered their leaving Philadelphia in June 1778.  Washington sent troops forth in the summer months to engage the British troops, and by that time he could claim that the war effort was going in the direction of the colonies.  Valley Forge had become not the darkest time for the Revolutionary War, but rather the turning point in the war for independence.

In 2006, a 107,000 square-foot museum named The American Revolution Center at Valley Forge will open to the public.  It will be carved out of the quarry wall at the western end of the main visitor parking lot.  The center, created by legislation in 1999, will feature the largest known collection of objects, artifacts, and manuscripts from the period of the American Revolution.

Aerial picture of Valley Forge National Historical Park
Aerial picture of Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Welcome Center
Open:  Daily Year-round 9 AM - 5 PM
Closed:  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day
Phone:  610-783-1077
Address:  Valley Forge National Historical Park
P. O. Box 953
Valley Forge, PA  19482-0953
E-mail:  vafo_superintendent#nps.gov - Replace "#" with "@"
Encampment Store - one-of-a-kind gifts, souvenirs, and snacks are available for purchase

Entrance to the park at PA 23 and North Gulph Road just west of US 422/Pottstown
Expressway.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Welcome Center at the park which has been hewn out of the hillside.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania plaque errected in 1976, the year the encampment
site became a National Historical Park.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Inside the welcome center with exhibits off to the right and the Encampment Store
and information desk off to the left.  (Jeff Kitsko)
View of the exhibits side which show how the winter season effected the various
groups who called Valley Forge home.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Relief map of the park with the structures of interested emphasized, as well as the
current highway system in and around the area.  (Jeff Kitsko)

Mini-Bus Tours of Valley Forge
Take a 90-minute guided tour of the park in the air-conditioned comfort of a 20-seat Mini-Bus.  Tours leave the Welcome Center on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at 10 AM, 12 PM, and 2 PM.  The tour stops at key landmarks such as Muhlenberg Brigade, George Washington's Headquarters (including a tour of the building), and Washington Memorial Chapel.

Tour Pricing (including Headquarters admission fee)
Adults - $15.50
Students (ages 12-16) or National Park Pass holders - $10.50
Children under 12 - $7.50
For information about the tours:  610-783-7503

Tour Stops:
Replicated huts similar to the ones constructed by the troops are where General
Peter Muhlenberg's Brigade provided the outer line of defense.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Tight sleeping quarters were prevalent in the huts, so as many soldiers as possible
were able to reside in them.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Each of them had a fireplace to keep them heated, but cooking was done outside of
the huts in dirt mounds.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Dirt mounds insulated the cast iron bake-ovens used by the baking department of
the Continental Army.  Baker General Christopher Ludwig oversaw the baking of
bread for the men, who were entitled one loaf a day as per their ration.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Re-enactors describe the type of weaponry that the troops carried and used in
battle.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Demonstrating the muskets utilizing blank gun powder charges.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Showing the visitors how hot the barrel of the musket got after firing.  (Jeff Kitsko)
The National Memorial Arch, dedicated in 1917, commemorates those who were
encamped here in the winter of 1777-1778.  It reads, "Naked and starving as they
are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of their
soldiery."  (Jeff Kitsko)
View of the countryside facing the southwestern direction from the park.  Behind that
row of trees in the middle of the picture sits the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and in fact,
two trucks can be seen sitting at the Valley Forge Service Plaza.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Statue of General Anthony Wayne who commanded the Pennsylvania troops which
marks the area where they made their encampment.  The statue faces towards
Chester County where he made his home.  (Jeff Kitsko)
The camp headquarters was the Isaac Potts House, whom Pottstown is named
after, and later became known as Washington's Headquarters.  (Jeff Kitsko)
This flag was used to designate when General Washington was at the headquarters.  If it was not outside, it meant he was away.  (Jeff Kitsko)
The room where strategizing and planning for the war took place.  (Jeff Kitsko)
The reception room where officials and dignitaries could sit and eat.  (Jeff Kitsko)
The room that General Washington called home.  (Jeff Kitsko)
The Small Room was where visitors would stay, and when there were none,
Washington's aides would stay in the room.  (Jeff Kitsko)
The kitchen is where many meals were prepared not only for the General, but for local officials and foreign dignitaries who might have been at the headquarters.
(Jeff Kitsko)
Back of the kitchen shows how long the brick oven is that was used to make the
meals.  (Jeff Kitsko)
Images of America:  Valley Forge
by Stacey A. Swigart (2002)

An in-depth look at what was Pennsylvania's first state park.  Numerous images from the National Center for the American Revolution and Valley Forge Historical Society illustrate the history and events that make the park a significant part of the American Revolution.

Lodging AREA LODGING
King of Prussia

Directions:  Printer-friendly PDA Friendly

Links:
Valley Forge National Historical Park - National Parks Service
Historic Valley Forge - Independence Hall Association
Valley Forge Washington's Memorial Chapel - Jim Frizzell


Back to Pennsylvania Highways
Back to Pennsylvania Highways Features
Page updated August 10, 2011.
Content and graphics, unless otherwise noted, copyright Jeffrey J. Kitsko. All rights reserved.
Information courtesy of the National Park Service and the World Book Encyclopedia.