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The American Guide Project: Part 2 – King of Prussia & Valley Forge

By David Schmidt
Main Line Life
August 28, 2002

Based on the WPA Guide to Philadelphia’s tour of the suburbs, last week we took the tour’s route, still interesting and for much of it, intact, from City Line Avenue to King of Prussia.

The guidebook was one of a series written by out-of-work journalists and writers, mapmakers and artists, paid by the federal government through the Federal Writer’s Program. Originally released in 1937, the guides featured each of the then 48 states and many cities, including Philadelphia.

Now we tour Valley Forge and discover the “truth” as known or felt in 1937.

On our itinerary this week? King of Prussia and Valley Forge.

At King of Prussia, 20.4 miles (187 alt.; 129 pop.) stands a great oak tree (right), which dates from the period when only Indians inhabited the land. A short distance beyond (left) is the King of Prussia Inn (61) erected in 1709. The builder, a native of Prussia, named it for the Brandenburg ruler who, a few years earlier, after transforming Prussia from a dukedom into a kingdom, had become King Frederick I.

A weather-beaten sign showing the king on horseback, supposedly the work of Gilbert Stuart, still hangs outside. The old kitchen is roofed with great oak beams and contains a fireplace large enough to permit the roasting of an ox. On the second floor, reached by a steep, narrow flight of stairs worn with use, is the room in which Lafayette joined the Masonic order (in what is now the Norristown Lodge) and where the Mount Joy Society for Recovery of Stolen Horses and Detection of Thieves convened semiannually.

The original stables and springhouse remain, as do some of the original furnishings, mantels, doors and the old stair rail of the inn. At the door, which led from the kitchen to the back yard but now opens on a spacious enclosed porch (the only addition to the inn), is a stone sill hollowed to a depth of several inches by the footsteps of two centuries.

Many famous men, including George Washington, patronized the inn, but nothing is said about Washington having slept there, although there are few houses of Colonial or Revolutionary origin in these environs that do not claim that distinction.

At 22.9 miles at an intersection, the route turns right on state 23.

Beyond, Mount Joy, surmounted by the observation tower (left), which is within Valley Forge Park, looms in the distance. State 23 bears left and enters the park at Port Kennedy.

Valley Forge (7), a state park of 1,500 acres, is flanked by natural military advantages € the river and high ground. Washington’s army, during its encampment on this site, consisted of 11,000 soldiers, one-third of whom were rendered unfit for duty by illness or lack of necessities.

The ragged army arrived at Valley Forge on Dec. 19, 1777. Of its desperate plight during that winter, Cyrus T. Brady has written “No spot on earth, not the plains of Marathon, nor the passes of Sempach, nor the Place of the Bastille, nor the dykes of Holland, nor the moors of England, is so sacred in the history of the struggle for human liberty as Valley Forge.”

(Note: A detailed map of the park may be obtained free from the uniformed attendants in the park.)

Within the park on state 23, swing left.

The Washington Memorial Chapel (8) (right), theWashington Memorial National Carillon (9) and the adjoining Valley Forge Museum of American History (10) (open 10 to 5 except Sunday; admission, adults 15 cents, children 10 cents) are within the park limits but are privately owned.

The chapel’s architecture is simplified English Gothic, in granite with limestone trim. On the facade is a large stained-glass window; many of the structure’s details and furnishings are symbolic. The Porch of the Allies, Patriot’s Hall, the five bays named for Lafayette, Rochambeau, DeKalb, von Steuben and Pulaski; the pews, pulpit, lectern, prayer and litany tables; and the doors, screens and choir stalls commemorate Revolutionary leaders or events.

The ceiling, composed of 48 panels, each bearing the arms of a state, pictures early patriotic achievements. The windows, in allegory, tell of the nation’s founding.

The museum contains many interesting relics, including a tent supposed to have been used by Washington.

Behind the chapel is the carillon erected on July 4, 1926, by the 13 original states in memory of their troops.

Directly opposite the chapel stretches a broad unwooded area, the Grand Parade (11), on which field Baron von Steuben, the Army drillmaster, trained the undisciplined Revolutionary troops. On the slight slope leading to the parade ground from state 23 is the Lt. John Waterman Monument, which marks the only identified resting place of all the 3,000 who died in the encampment during that terrible winter. Farther along (left) stands the stone residence that was Gen. Varnum’s Headquarters (12) (open daily 9 to 5; admission free).

Beyond the parade grounds is the plant of the Ehret Magnesia Co. It is one of several plots within the park boundaries that (1937) has not been acquired by the park commission.

Left on Baptist Road. At the intersection with state 223 (Gulph Road) stands the Old Camp Schoolhouse (13) (right) (open daily 9 to 5; admission free), erected in 1705 by William Penn’s second daughter, Letitia. Used as a hospital during the encampment, it was restored by the park commission in 1907.

Left on state 223 and left at the county line marker on a road to the Ehret Magnesia plant and quarries. On either side of the road beyond the plant, the quarries are filled with water turned turquoise blue by chemical action of the magnesia. Except for occasional scrap heaps and broken frequently by growing trees rooted in their beds and brightened by their contrasting backdrops of white rock, these blue lakes provide a pleasing picture. Retrace to state 223.

Left on 223, up the hill (right) is the National Memorial Arch (14). It marks the site where Washington’s Army broke ranks, forming upon the left the Pennsylvania line, marked by the Pennsylvania Columns (15), and on the right a line of troops from other Colonies.

Right, circling the arch, on Outer Line Drive between the Pennsylvania Columns.

Immediately beyond the columns is a reproduction of one of the soldiers’ huts. Its “hard pan” floor, uncovered during excavations, is the same that was trodden by soldiers during the Revolution. Down the hill a short distance is a reproduction of a field hospital containing an operating table of rough logs. As a result of primitive conditions and almost primitive methods, four-fifths of the patients died. In the nearby woods are two reconstructed bake ovens.

A short distance beyond is the equestrian Statue of Gen . Anthony Wayne (16), facing in the direction of Waynesborough, the town where Wayne was born. He was chosen to lead Washington to the Valley Forge winter quarters because of his knowledge of the country.

The road passes the Site of Scott’s Brigade (17) (right) and the Statue of Baron von Steuben (18) (right), erected in 1915 by the National German- American Alliance, and winds past the Fort Washington Redoubt (19) (left), one of the inner lines of earthworks stretching from the foot toward the crest of Mount Joy, to which the road ascends.

Mount Joy Observatory (20), on the summit, affords a splendid view of pastoral Chester County.

Leaving Mount Joy, the road makes a sharp turn left. The curving descent skirts the Campsite of Maxwell’s Brigade (21) (left) and affords a glimpse of the Schuylkill River glinting through the trees.

Left on Gulph Road.

The Dogwood Grove (22) on either side in spring is a thick mass of pink and white blossoms. The way descends to Valley Road.

At the intersection (right) is the Washington Inn (23), in the cellar of which the army’s bread was baked. One hundred yards to the right on Valley Road, opposite willow-fringed Valley Creek, is Washington’s Headquarters (24) (open 8 to 5; admission free), a small two-story farm structure of rough stone with tints of pink, yellow and gray, built in 1758.

In 1777 this structure was owned by Isaac Potts, a young Quaker preacher, and occupied by a tenant, Deborah Hewes. Though he could have commandeered it, Washington paid 100 pounds for its use for six months. Staff conferences with Lafayette, Knox, Morgan, Wayne, Nathaniel Greene, Alexander Hamilton, Von Steuben, DeKalb and Muhlenberg were held in it during the encampment. The furnishings duplicate those used by Washington. Adjoining Washington Headquarters stands the original building that first stabled Washington’s horses and was later used as a hospital. It now houses a museum containing some interesting Valley Forge relics. (Open daily 10 to 5; admission free).

Retrace to Valley Road, turn right.

In Valley Creek, which winds along Valley Road, were two small dams that in Washington’s day formed a partial moat for the camp. Farther south on the creek is the site of the Lower Forge. The original Upper Forge, destroyed by the British in 1777, has been uncovered and is to be restored. The road swings left past the Headquarters of General Knox (25) (left), which is outside the confines of the park, and passes through a wooded countryside.

From Valley Forge Right on State 63, left on US 30.

Now the stalwart tourist would begin the long trip back to the city. It is hoped they wouldn’t have had a flat tire, although veterans of driving during those days will tell you that drivers changed a flat about every 100 miles or so.