6 Reasons why you should visit valley forge in 2023
I don’t know why it took me so long to visit Valley Forge. It is one of the best preserved sites from the American Revolution and is only a few hours away from where I live in Gettysburg.
Much like the Gettysburg battlefield, the Valley Forge National Historic Park comprises 3,500 acres of picturesque, rolling hills.
When I visited during the summer months, the landscape was so green and peaceful, it was hard to imagine that General George Washington forged his Continental Army into a fighting force during the winter encampment there in December of 1777 to June 1778.
Here are six reasons why you should visit Valley Forge in 2023.
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What Happened At Valley Forge PA?
No battles were fought on the grounds of Valley Forge, yet some 2,000 soldiers died there.
To put that into perspective, that is more Americans than were killed at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown combined. The enemies the soldiers faced were hunger, disease, and an unusually brutal winter.
Today at the Valley Forge National Park, George Washington’s original stone headquarters is restored and furnished, and log soldier huts have been reconstructed to give you a realistic glimpse into the past.
Top Five Reasons Why You Should Visit Valley Forge
1. George Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge
The one thing I think you will most remember if you visit Valley Forge is the stone house pictured at the top of this post.
This is where George Washington located his headquarters in the village of Valley Forge in 1777, in the midst of the Revolutionary War.
The General and his military staff worked and lived in the house throughout the winter, making it the Pentagon of its time.
Mrs. Washington also joined him there for several months of the winter encampment. (Their marriage is quite a love story). According to reports, up to 25 people resided or worked there at one time.
Related Post on George and Martha Washington and the Mount Vernon Mansion.
The house looks bigger on the inside than it does on the outside, but would still be crowded with that many people!
The small, attached building to the left is the kitchen, built somewhat away from the main building in case of fire.
The first floor has basically two rooms besides the kitchen. One was set up as an office, and the other was not open, but would probably be a parlor or dining room.
Upstairs there were three bedrooms, with another floor above that for additional sleeping space. The rooms were laid out as historians assume they might have been.
Unfortunately, there are no records from the original home to tell exactly what was located where.
Crowded as it was, I would imagine it was still more comfortable than the huts that the men slept in.
History Of George Washington’s Headquarters and Valley Forge
The house itself is believed to have been constructed in 1773 for Isaac Potts, operator of the family grist mill. (Some sources place the construction date as early as 1759).
In 1777-78 the property was owned by Isaac but rented to his aunt, the widow Deborah Hewes, who sublet it to Washington.
Valley Forge was actually named for an iron forge on Valley Creek that was burned by the British in September of 1777 during the Revolutionary War.
The area was chosen because it was close enough to the British to keep their raiding and foraging parties out of the interior of Pennsylvania, yet far enough away to halt the threat of British surprise attacks.
2. The Reconstructed Huts At Valley Forge
It’s hard to picture the snow and freezing temperatures the soldiers endured during that winter when George Washington placed his camp in Valley Forge.
And it’s even harder to imagine that only about one in three of the soldiers had shoes (which is why many of their feet left bloody footprints from marching).
As you can see from the picture, the huts provided some shelter, but certainly didn’t offer much in the way of comfort.
When you visit Valley Forge, you’ll see what a large role the densely forested plateaus played in providing timber to construct thousands of log huts.
The site was also chosen for its logistical advantages with Mount Misery and the Schuylkill River helping make the encampment easily defensible during the Revolutionary War.
3. Learn About The Valley Forge Encampment
On December 19th, 1777, 12,000 soldiers and 400 women and children marched into Valley Forge, Pa.
They began to build, what would become, the fourth largest city in the colonies at the time! This included 1,500 log huts, along with two miles of fortifications.
The encampment lasted about six months, from December until June.
It was most definitely as diverse as any city, including everyone from free and enslaved African American soldiers to civilians and Indigenous people.
There were also wealthy officers, impoverished enlisted men, wives of soldiers and European immigrants.
When you walk or drive the ground at Valley Forge National Park, you can’t help but think about the lives that are connected to the grounds of Valley Forge.
4. The Statues at Valley Forge
My absolute favorite statue at Valley Forge is that of General Anthony Wayne. General Wayne was also known as “Mad Anthony.” Some say it was for his quick temper, and other say it was from his tactical boldness and his personal courage
The statue is somewhat sad, because he is seated on horseback, staring toward his home in Paoli. Even though his house was not far away, he could not visit because of his duties at Valley Forge.
Wayne believed that the successful outcome of any military operation depended: “not on the numbers, but the vigor of the men engaged.”
You will see other statues when you visit Valley Forge, including a bronze statue of Baron von Steuben (whose full name was Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben).
The statue shows von Steuben standing in front of the Grand Parade area, seeming to inspect the soldiers as they drill.
It is a simple but imposing statue. It’s amazing to stand and gaze upon that field where von Steuben helped to forge a true fighting force out of a rag-tag collection of men.
5. The Valley Forge Memorial Arch
When you come around a corner and see the the United States National Memorial Arch, you will be stunned.
The Memorial Arch is situated at the top of a hill at the intersection of Gulph Road and Outer Line Drive in Valley Forge National Historical Park.
This Memorial Arch monument was built to celebrate the arrival of General George Washington and the Continental Army at Valley Forge. It was dedicated on June 19, 1917.
The writing on the top of the memorials says: “to the officers and private soldiers of the Continental Army December 19, 1777 June 19, 1778.”
It is also inscribed with a quote from George Washington in a letter written to Governor George Clinton while at Valley Forge:
Naked and starving as they are
We cannot enough admire
The incomparable Patience and Fidelity
of the Soldiery
Starvation, disease, malnutrition, and exposure killed more than 2,500 American soldiers by the end of February 1778.
6. Visit Valley Forge For The Nature
You don’t have to a history buff to visit Valley Forge. I was amazed at how peaceful it is for walking, riding bikes, or just driving through the scenic landscape.
Best of all, Valley Forge National Historical Park has more than 35 miles of designated trails!
You can soak up history and learn about those who built this nation through their unyielding courage and sacrifice when you visit Valley Forge.
The paved Joseph Plumb Martin loop makes a circuit around the central Grand Parade and connects many of the key historic and interpretive sites in the park. This trail at Valley Forge is especially popular for walkers, joggers, and cyclists.
There are also unpaved (dirt and gravel) trails through the forests on Mount Joy and Mount Misery, next to Valley Creek and the Schuykill River, and through the beautiful meadows of the Grand Parade.
The National Park Service has Valley Forge trail maps here.
There is also a bike rental operation in the lower Valley Forge Visitor Center parking lot during the summer months.
This is how I’m going to explore Valley Forge on my next visit!
Bonus Reason To Visit Valley Forge
If you love old trees, I think you will love visiting Valley Forge!
I think of “witness trees” as being living links to the past. I don’t know if any of the trees I saw were witness trees from the Revolutionary War, but they certainly witnessed hundreds of years of history.
There are a number of witness trees in Gettysburg.
When You Visit Valley Forge
Don’t forget to stop at the National Park Service museum. It’s a great place to pick up a map and snacks, as well as get an overview of what happened at Valley Forge.
There are also artifacts pertaining to George Washington and the encampment at Valley Forge. And of course there is a giftshop that offers lots of books on various subjects of the Revolutionary War.
Since Valley Forge isn’t far from Philadelphia (18 miles northwest), it makes a great day trip. In addition to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, you can visit the Museum of the American Revolution and see George Washington’s War Tent. (It’s amazing).
You can even book a private tour of Valley Forge with transportation from Philadelphia.
Take A Tour When You Visit Valley Forge
You can purchase a Valley Forge self-guided tour, or leave the driving to someone else and book a half-day American Revolution tour of Valley Forge.
The losses at Valley Forge are staggering in light of the total numbers. So much was sacrificed for our freedoms from men who had a dearth of wealth but a wealth of honor and courage. Thank you again for reminding us of the places and people of our heritage.