There are places that speak to us. Whether it is the natural beauty, the availability of sport, learning, or an activity, or some other reason, we are drawn to these places in search of adventure or enlightenment or whatever it is that drives us, that fuels our inner selves and keeps us, as near as possible, to our true selves. I have had the opportunity to travel to several of these places and, my most recent foray, was to Valley Forge, near King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
For those of you that don’t know, Valley Forge was the winter quarters for the Continental Army in the winter of 1777 until June of 1778. ere the army suffered through cold and bad weather, lack of food and supplies, disease and low morale but also received training from military professionals like the Baron Von Steuben. It is from Valley Forge that the Continental Army emerged, not as a rag-tag bunch of militiamen, but a hardened and disciplined military force. It is here, many would say, that the modern American army was born and it was here, many would say, that the last hope for what has become America was saved.
The thing that is most noticeable about Valley Forge is the raw natural beauty that persists there. The rolling hills and open fields, stark trees and snow-crusted lanes speak to the time when the place was a last redoubt for a beaten and weary army. The campsite, for lack of a better word, is much larger than I expected it to be and was a fortified position, with bastions being built to withstand a British attack that never came. The open parade field, where the Baron Von Steuben drilled the army remains today and monuments have been erected to Von Steuben as well as other heroes of the Revolution, especially those that came from Europe.
The camp was divided into colonial areas, where units from those colonies were garrisoned. As defense against the cold and the bitter weather, the troops built rough wooden cabins. Reproductions of some of these cabins have been built in the billeting areas to give visitors and idea of what the conditions were like.
One of the few original buildings is Washington’s headquarters. A small stone house, Washington shared it with 25 staff officers, several of their wives, and his wife. These crowded conditions demanded that a small wooden structure be built to house some of the staff.
Inside Washington’s headquarters, the building has been arranged with period furniture, that is by no means original to the house, but that gives and idea of what life would have been like.
The rest of the furnishings are original and, for those of you who are historically minded, you may place your hand on the original handrail that leads up the original stairs to Washington’s living quarters.
Nearby to Washington’s headquarters are the rough wooden cabins of his Life Guard, a sort of Praetorian Guard of the Revolutionary war.
The whole site is headquartered at a visitor’s center and gift shop. There is a short, but well done film to watch and a story-teller for the kids. The gift shop is even well done. If you choose to visit Valley Forge, I highly recommend that you buy the self guided auto tour. This is a CD that you play in your vehicle’s stereo system that tells you about various places as you circumnavigate the park. Should you wish to get out of your vehicle and explore anywhere on foot, the tour will stop and pick up right where you turned your vehicle off.
All told, the Valley Forge National Historic Site is a well run and pleasant place to visit. It is a place that is rich in both history and natural beauty and is worth a visit on either of those grounds. For more information on Valley Forge and directions, please visit the National Park Service website.