Valley Forge National Historical Park is the site of the third winter encampment of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, taking place from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778. The National Historical Park preserves the site and interprets the history of the Valley Forge encampment. Originally Valley Forge State Park, it became a national historical park in 1976. The Park contains historical buildings, recreated encampment structures, memorials, museums, and recreation facilities.
Valley Forge was the site of the 1777-78 winter encampment of the Continental Army under General George Washington. The park commemorates the sacrifices and perseverance of the Revolutionary War generation and honors the ability of citizens to pull together and overcome adversity during extraordinary times. The museum collections at Valley Forge consists of a diverse set of artifacts and documents from the 1777-78 winter encampment. The collection is organized into the categories of the George C. Neumann Collection, the John F. Reed Collection, preserved historic documents, archeology, and the photographic and postcard collection.
The park encompasses 3,500 acres (1,400 ha) and is visited by over 1.2 million people each year. Visitors can see restored historic structures, reconstructed structures such as the iconic log huts, and monuments erected by the states from which the Continental soldiers came. Visitor facilities include a visitor center and museum featuring original artifacts, providing a concise introduction to the American Revolution and the Valley Forge encampment. Ranger programs, tours (walking and trolley), and activities are available seasonally. The park also provides 26 miles (42 km) of hiking and biking trails, which are connected to a robust regional trails system. Wildlife watching, fishing, and boating on the nearby Schuylkill River also are popular.
From December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778, the main body of the Continental Army (approximately 12,000 troops) was encamped at Valley Forge. The site was chosen because it was between the seat of the Second Continental Congress in York, supply depots in Reading, and British forces in Philadelphia 18 miles (29 km) away, which fell after the Battle of Brandywine. This was a time of great suffering for the army, but it was also a time of retraining and rejuvenation. The shared hardship of the officers and soldiers of the army, combined with Baron Friedrich von Steuben’s professional military training program are considered key to the subsequent success of the Continental Army and marks a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
Valley Forge was established as the first state park of Pennsylvania in 1893 by the Valley Forge Park Commission (VFPC) “to preserve, improve, and maintain as a public park the site on which General George Washington’s army encamped at Valley Forge.”. The area around Washington’s Headquarters was chosen as the park site. In 1923, the VFPC was brought under the Department of Forests and Waters and later incorporated into the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1971.
The park served as the location of the National Scout Jamboree in 1950, 1957, and 1964.
Valley Forge was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1961 and was listed in the initial National Register of Historic Places in 1966. The area covered by these listings goes outside what was the Valley Forge State Park boundaries to include four historic houses where the Marquis de Lafayette and other officers were quartered.
In 1976, Pennsylvania gave the park as a gift to the nation for the Bicentennial. The U.S. Congress passed a law, signed by President Gerald Ford on July 4, 1976, authorizing the addition of Valley Forge National Historical Park as the 283rd Unit of the National Park System.
The park features a visitor center, which acts as orientation for visitors to the site. The features of the center include a museum with artifacts found during excavations of the park, an interactive muster roll of Continental soldiers encamped at Valley Forge, ranger-led gallery programs and walks, a storytelling program, a photo gallery, a visitor information desk staffed by Park Rangers, Representatives from the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, & Park Volunteers, and the Encampment Store for books and souvenirs. 90-minute Trolley tours of the park and bike rentals are available seasonally from this location. A short 18-minute film, “Valley Forge: A Winter Encampment” is shown in the park’s theater next door.
A key attraction of the park is the restored colonial home used by General George Washington as his headquarters during the encampment. Rehabilitation of the headquarters area was completed in summer 2009, and included the restoration of the old Valley Forge train station into an information center, new guided tours, new exhibits throughout the landscape, and the elimination of several acres of modern paving and restoration of the historic landscape. Quarters of other Continental Army generals are also in the park, including those of Huntington, Varnum, Lord Stirling, Lafayette, and Knox. Varnum’s quarters is open on weekends during the summer.
Reconstructed works and buildings:
Throughout the park there are reconstructed log cabins of the type thought to be used during the encampment. Earthworks, for the never needed defense of the encampment, are visible, including four redoubts, the ditch for the Inner Line Defenses, and a reconstructed abatis. The original redoubts and several redans on Route 23, Outer Line Drive, and Inner Line Drive were covered with sod to preserve them, but they are currently in need of further restoration. The original forges, located on Valley Creek, were burned by the British three months prior to Washington’s occupation of the park area. However, neither the Upper Forge site nor the Lower Forge site have been reconstructed. There are also several historical buildings that have not been made open to the public because of reasons such as their current state of disrepair. These include: Lord Stirling’s Quarters, Knox’s Quarters, and the Von Steuben Memorial. Other historical buildings include the P.C. Knox Estate, Kennedy-Supplee Mansion and Potts’ Barn.
Washington Memorial Chapel:
The Washington Memorial Chapel and National Patriots Bell Tower carillon sit atop a hill at the center of the present park. The chapel is the legacy of Rev. Dr. W. Herbert Burk. Inspired by Burk’s 1903 sermon on Washington’s birthday, the chapel is a functioning Episcopal Church, built as a tribute to Washington. Burk was also instrumental in the development of the park itself, including obtaining Washington’s campaign tent and banner, which used to be on display in the Visitor Center, but now in the collection to be showcased in the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, starting in 2017. The chapel and attached bell tower are not technically part of the park, but serve the spiritual needs of the park and the community that surround it. The bell tower houses the DAR Patriot Rolls, listing those that served in the Revolutionary War, and the chapel grounds hosted the World of Scouting Museum.
Sitting atop a hill at the intersection of the Outer Line of Defense with the Gulph Road, the National Memorial Arch dominates the southern portion of the park. It is dedicated “to the officers and private soldiers of the Continental Army December 19, 1777 – June 19, 1778.” The arch was commissioned by an act of the 61st Congress in 1910 and completed in 1917. It is inscribed with George Washington’s tribute to the perseverance and endurance of his army:
Naked and Starving as they are. We cannot enough admire the Incomparable Patience and Fidelity of the Soldiery.” –George Washington
Visitors leaving the Visitor Center proceed along Outer Line Drive toward the arch. The drive is lined with large (~2 m high) memorial stones for each of the brigades, or “lines”, that encamped there. Crossing Gulph Road at the arch, the drive proceeds through the Pennsylvania Columns and past the hilltop statue of Anthony Wayne on horse. More brigade stones line Port Kennedy Road.
Mount Joy Observation Tower:
Atop Mount Joy, the highest elevation in the main park area, stood a steel observation tower. After a long climb up the steps, visitors were rewarded with a panoramic view of the Schuylkill and Great Valleys. The tower was closed in the 1980s due to deterioration, liability concerns, and the surrounding trees outgrowing the platform. The tower has since been removed, and it was shipped to a private area near Wellsboro, PA, where people can still climb it. The area where it stood is now only accessible by foot trail, the roads have been removed and the area is being given back to the woods.
There are 26 miles (42 km) of hiking and biking trails within the park, such as the Valley Creek Trail and the River Trail. The main trail is the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail, which encircles 8.7 miles of the park. Portions of regional trails, including the Horse Shoe Trail and the Schuylkill River Trail, also run through the park. Detailed trail maps can be found at kiosks at trailheads, on the Park’s website (www.nps.gov/vafo) and at the Welcome Center.
The many trails in Valley Forge allow for different activities such as jogging, walking and biking. Other activities include horseback riding and canoeing/kayaking (though visitors must provide horses and boats). There are three picnic areas located on the site. In addition, Park Rangers dressed in Period Uniforms are stationed as the Muhlenburg Brigade Huts and Washington’s Headquarters, ready to inform visitors about the historic events that happened on the site. The Valley Forge 5-Mile Revolutionary Run is also held in the park every April.
Valley Forge station:
Near Washington’s Headquarters is the Valley Forge Train Station, now owned by the park. The station was completed in 1911 by the Reading Railroad and was the point of entry to the park for travelers who came by rail through the 1950s from Philadelphia, 23.7 miles (38.1 km) distant. The station was restored in 2009 and is now being used as a museum and information center that offers visitors a better understanding of Washington’s Headquarters and the village of Valley Forge. Constructed of the same type stone as Washington’s Headquarters, the building was erected on a large man-made embankment overlooking the headquarters site.
Near the Visitor Center is another station at Port Kennedy, on the same line. Also owned by the park, the station, both platforms and the former parking area are in a state of disrepair. Should the long-planned Schuylkill Valley Metro project come to fruition, this station could again connect the park to center city Philadelphia, Pottstown, and Reading with public transportation.
Valley Forge National Historical Park is the caretaker of a diverse collection of artifacts and documents related to the 1777-1778 encampment at Valley Forge and to the soldiers and officers who fought for our nation’s independence.
The George C. Neumann Collection
Comprised of approximately 1600 historic items, the Neumann collection consists of four separate, yet related, parts: firearms, edged weapons, pole arms, and accouterments. It is through the study of these weapons and their use that we gain an understanding of how the common soldier achieved victory.
The John F. Reed Collection
This archival collection contains rare 18th century manuscripts, broadsides, pamphlets, and books collected by the late John Ford Reed. The best known of these documents is the letter written at Valley Forge by General Washington. Dated 23 December 1777, the letter expresses the plight of the American army.
Artifacts and documents from the Neumann and Reed collections can be viewed on The Digital Vault, a website designed to promote the George C. Neumann Collection and John F. Reed Collection. The site provides open online access of the museum collections at Valley Forge National Historical Park to visitors and researchers.
The National Park Service hosts a searchable online database of Museum Collections across the agency. To view pieces of the Neumann collection, go to “Parks” in the navigation bar and find “Valley Forge National Historical Park” in the list of parks. Collections from other parks and museums across the country are available for viewing as well.
The Archaeological Collection
Extensive archeological work has been conducted within the park documenting various aspects of the encampment, including domestic life, military training, and demographic patterns. Archeological research has complemented and supplemented gaps in the historical record, and provided valuable information regarding the life and work of soldiers.
Photographic and Postcard Collection
Over the years the park has collected images of the historic houses and of the park grounds. These images document changes that have occurred overtime and help the park make positive decisions about the care of these national treasures. They also provide insight into how our history has been interpreted from the beginnings of the preservation movement to the present time.
Road to Victory
On May 6, 1778, the army celebrated the new alliance with France on the Grand Parade of Valley Forge. As part of that celebration they demonstrated their new found professionalism by marching on to the field with precision and firing a perfect feu de joie. It was this professional army along with their French Allies that would lead to victory at Yorktown, Virginia.
They Chose Valley Forge
In the late 1940s, the Cold War commenced-an unsettling period of repeated crises and tensions between United States and the Soviet Union. For reassurance, citizens looked back to the founding ideals of democracy and a renewed interest in the American Revolution developed. When the Boy Scouts of America decided to hold a jamboree at an icon of the American Revolution, they chose Valley Forge.
Determined to Persevere
Of all the places associated with the American War for Independence, perhaps none has come to symbolize perseverance and sacrifice more than Valley Forge. The hardships of the encampment claimed the lives of approximately 1 in 10, nearly all from disease. Despite the privations suffered by the soldiers at Valley Forge, Washington and his generals built a unified professional military organization that ultimately enabled the Continental Army to triumph over the British.
Valley Forge: Traditional Land, Contemporary Vision
A collection of photographic-based images of the Valley Forge landscape and reenactments of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of photographer M.J. Ticcino. These unique pieces bring yet another dimension to our historic site and the brave men and women that encamped here.
General von Steuben, The Making of an American Army
What made Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben the right man at the right time? Early in his career Steuben learned the basic rules for the routine administration of an army. He systematically applied these rules immediately upon his arrival at Valley Forge. Drilling the troops daily, Steuben imparted to the Continental Army the essential tactical proficiency that served it well from Monmouth to final victory at Yorktown.
Washington’s Headquarters (Train Station Exhibit)
The decision to winter at Valley Forge was made by General Washington in consultation with his officers and aides. It was a compromise to appease the Continental Congress, the Pennsylvania government, and Washington himself, who wanted a safe and strategic place to rest and protect the troops during the winter. Come inside the inner circle at Valley Forge for a glimpse of General Washington as he ponders the fate of his men and his country.
Forging a Nation
Valley Forge is a name so embedded in the story of the American Revolution that its roots in the iron industry are almost forgotten.