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Day 69 (11.09.07) - No Philli, Do Valley Forge (Photo's Add)

We drove through Philadelphia but couldn't find any parking. We did visit Valley Forge however.

overcast 55 °F


Miles Driven - 120
Weather - Overcast, Cold (mid 50's), Rained after dark


We got up fairly early and tried to get the RV serviced at two different places. However neither one could fit the rig through their service doors (and one was a Toyota dealership!) so I'll have to try again later.

We drove across the Ben Franklin Bridge, which was interesting. This is a toll bridge - so I carefully navigated to one of the "Cash" lanes and waited for the attendant to tell me what the toll was. He just sat there. So I asked, "Is it a dollar?" This is what a sign said the toll was for cars, some states have been charging us the same rates as cars, others more. Finally he said, "I don't know, it could be more, but that's what I'm going to charge you." I guess they don't have a lot of RV's come through here.

I took the first exit right into the heart of downtown Philadelphia. Once again, I could navigate through the streets OK - but they do not have any on street parking. All signs point to parking garages, which of course the RV won't fit into. Obviously big cities don't want RV's driving (or at least parking) in them. I am considering a 'Plan B' (maybe renting a car), but haven't decided yet. In the meantime, I didn't have much choice but to get back on the freeway and head out of town. About 20 miles west of Philadelphia, we saw several signs for Valley Forge. I'd never thought about going there but after seeing so many signs I thought maybe it was a bigger deal then I'd realized and decided to take the exit (maybe we were a little disappointed in not seeing downtown Philadelphia?)

Valley Forge is a National Historic Park (I didn't know that!). I actually managed to see the sign for the Handicapped access to the visitors center for a change, so we parked and went on inside.


The visitors center had a pretty nice gift shop (not cheap, but well provisioned) and also a fairly good interpretive display of the events leading up to the Continental Army's winter encampment there in 1777-1778. There were a few artifacts under glass. These had plastic cards on the sides of the cabinets you could pull out and read more details about the artifacts. The displays were grouped in sections by topic, recreation, drill, housing, etc. There was also an 18 minute video we watched that was a bit heavy on drama, but very informative.

The most important thing we learned was that Valley Forge wasn't just about hunger and difficulties, although there was plenty of that for a time - the main thing is that during the Army's encampment there, the men really learned how to be soldiers and became a much more professional and seasoned army. General Washington and the Continental Congress developed more trust for each other. And overall the table was set so the next spring, the Army could take the fight to the British more effectively.

The British had taken Philadelphia, the capital of the recently declared republic, and the Continental Congress had fled to York. Washington selected Valley Forge for the Army to winter in since it was only 20 miles from Philadelphia - far enough to protect from surprise attacks from the British, but close enough to keep an eye on them. It was also high ground, defensible, with plentiful water and timber to build huts with. On the outer edge of the camp, defensive positions and earthworks were built. Some of the original earthworks survive, but some are replica's (the Valley Forge encampment was over 200 years ago!)


Inside of this line, George Washington ordered the men to build huts. Each 12 man squad built a hut for themselves. Gen. Washington's orders were very detailed about how the huts were to be constructed, but since the men were from different area's and few were experienced woodworkers, the huts did vary. Each unit was sited in it's own area, it was all very organized and laid out, not at all haphazard. There was plenty of forest for timber, but few tools, so building was very difficult. Since the army had about 12,000 men, at 12 to a hut there would have been quite a small town in the area that winter!


The National Park Service has built some replica's, although they are few compared to how the area would have looked in 1777-8. Instead, there are granite markers showing where each brigade was located, who the commander was, and what larger unit they were part of.


Of course, by this point we had left the visitors center and were on the driving tour. One of the major stops is a large memorial gate that was built in 1917 to honor all the men who suffered through the winter here.


There are a few statues around the park, but not many. This one is of Gen. Anthony Wayne. His statue is located so he is facing his home, which wasn't too far in the distance.


Sometimes the park tour is it's own, private road and sometimes it joins busy county roads with lots of local traffic. It was all very confusing, but Mom managed to navigate and keep us on the right road. We turned a corner that was marked on our park map as Pott's house. We weren't sure, but it looked like it might be where Gen. Washington stayed during the winter. However, there was no place to park or stop across from it. We pulled over a little past it and rechecked the map. It looked like there was a side road a little ahead of where we were that might have parking. I pulled into this area and decided to check it out. Sure enough, this was the major site in the park. There were actually two Pott's houses. The first one we had seen from the main road had nothing to do with the Continental Army. The second house was owned by Isaac Potts, a brother, and was rented by George Washington for six months for 100 Pennsylvania Pounds (the NPS doesn't know what that equates to in todays dollars).


While large in relation to the soldiers huts, this was the headquarters of the entire Continental Army, as Gen. Washington was the Commander In Chief of the Army. There were often as many as 20 - 25 people in the house during the day, officers, aides, guests, servents and slaves. The aides probably worked in the front room of the house. They took their furnishings and materials with them of course (they were trying to fight a war, not preserve materials for a museum), but the NPS has set up the house with period appropriate furnishings that are as accurate as they can make it. A letter mentions a longcase clock, so they have one here. Also, burlap (?) tablecloths would have been used to make writing with quill pens easier. Each letter or order that went out had to be copied (manually, using quill pens) three times - once for the recipient, once for the continental congress overseeing the war effort, and once for Gen. Washington's files. One of the young aides who worked in this room was Alexander Hamilton - who later became President of the United States.


It is also probable that Gen. Washington's office would have been on the first floor, in the back room.


Upstairs are three bedrooms. Gen. Washington had one bedroom, his wife Martha joined him at some point since they know she was there by February when she mentions cooking him a birthday cake. Gen. Washington also procured a canopy bed so she would be more comfortable. Another very small bedroom was probably used for special guests. This third bedroom was probably shared by the aides.


One thing I found interesting is that probably 85% of this house is original (not the furnishings, but the house itself) - still quite a feat for a late 1700's building. (I think the house was built about 1770). One of the National Park Rangers working in the house, Kimberly, especially pointed out the original banister to me. (I made sure to touch an under portion that maybe George W touched - but not all 500 Million tourists since?)


Another lady, Beth, was also working in the house to provide information and history to tourists. However, she was in period costume and I failed to ask her if she was a ranger or docent. In any case, she was also very helpful (& the costume really helped set the atmosphere).


The kitched would have mostly been used by the servents and slaves. The officers brought their own servents and/or slaves with them to the encampment. No mention was made as to where they slept, but there were many more temporary huts built around the house during the encampment, so they probably had one of those.


Finally, in front of the house a bit flows Valley Creek. An iron forge had been located along this creek, giving the area it's name. However, the British had destroyed it earlier since the patriots used it to store provisions, so was no longer there at the time of the encampment. (There is a nice informative display and some artifacts in the Carriage House however.) Valley Creek had been the power source to run the forge.


For an unplanned stop, Valley Forge turned out to be well worth the time. We didn't leave it until almost 5 PM when it was starting to get dark. It took almost an hour to go a few hundred yards (and several nasty merges) to the PA Turnpike (I-76). I had made reservations at a Thousand Trails campground in Hershey, PA - so we headed for that. Fortunately, once we got past the toll booth, the traffic flowed normally and we got to the campground just fine.

It did start raining, but not until we were warm and comfy and tucked in for the night - not a bad day's touring afterall!

Posted by jl98584 16:04 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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