VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (Aug. 4) — This wasn’t the site of any great battle of the American Revolution, but it was no doubt the place, just west of Philadelphia, where Americans initially came together to fight for a single common cause: freedom from the British Crown.
“It was a triumph of endurance and dedication over starvation, nakedness, cold, disease, and uncertainty,” writes John BB Trussell Jr for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in his pamphlet entitled Epic on the Schuylkill. “In addition, it marks the transition of a determined but disparate, untrained, and independent-minded band of men into an effective, disciplined fighting force.”
The landmark, where George Washington’s troops arrived on December 19, 1777, was initially preserved by citizens and volunteers in the 1870s, when they built the monuments and vistas you would see today if you visit the national historic park.
“Grateful Americans will come to this shrine of quiet valor, this forge of our Republic’s iron core,” President Gerald R Ford said at Valley Forge on the 200th birthday of the nation.
Still today, thousands of volunteers regularly invest their time to share with others the vision of the national treasure as a place of commemoration and inspiration.
Most of the tourism is south of the Schuylkill River, but during the encampment of Washington’s troops in the 1770s, the part of the park north of the river was not so quiet.
The army used this area to receive and store supplies, let animals graze, and operate a farmer’s market that supplied soldiers with fresh food. After more than half a year of encampment, the south side started to smell a little rotten, and Washington ordered the army to move across the river to what he called “good air and good water.”
A canal and railroad were added in the 1800s, and farmers returned to the area. Coalmines upstream, however, polluted the river so that it was completely black by the 1940s, and a massive cleanup effort included the building of huge stone embankments to filter the flowing river. You can still see these embankments today, as you rent and ride a bike around more than 18 miles of designated historic trails that take you by:
- Washington’s headquarters and the Memorial Chapel
- The Patriots of African Descent Monument
- The Soldiers of New Jersey Monument
- Varnum’s picnic area and quarters (open seasonally)