Valley Forge brings people to area

By Eion ONeill
January 16, 2011

George Washington slept here. This is a sign that is often touted at prominent or self-proclaimed prominent locales throughout the original 13 colonies. Washington is indeed a fascinating figure 235 years after the American Revolution and there is no better place to learn about our founding father than right down the street at the Valley Forge National Historical Park. Many locals and non-locals are familiar with the encampment at Valley Forge in which Washington and his troops suffered through a rough winter in 1777-1778 during the fight for our country’s freedom. What many people might not know, however, was that the winter was grossly exaggerated to drum up support for the American cause. “When most Americans think about George Washington’s [stay], they think about the North Pole. They got a typical weather for here,” George Mattlack, park ranger, said. Mattlack was also quick to point out the misconception about the weather making things tough for the Continental Army, stating that lack of supplies and disease had more to do with the miserable conditions than the actual weather. An exhibit at the welcome center explains the exaggerated story to visitors as well as other facts about the encampment, including why Valley Forge was the chosen spot. Because the British captured Philadelphia, the historical park was used as a strategic point to keep pressure on the British. Other exhibits show the findings of the Port Kennedy Bone Cave, a site where fossils of the Grecile Saber Tooth tiger and Great Horse, animals that roamed the area millions of years ago, were found. Since it was recently rediscovered, the site has been filled with asbestos to preserve the fossils. Muskets, like the ones used by the Continental Army, are on display as well as tools, supplies for living and much more. There is even a touch-screen computer system that allows you to type in your surname and see if any were camped at the park. A simple test search of “Washington” came up with not only the names of Martha and George but others who shared the general’s last name. Typical accommodations for national parks such as a movie presentation and gift shop are also located in the welcome center, as well as friendly information desk workers and park rangers who help visitors get the most out of their visit. In addition, you can now get your own self-guided tour of the park via your cell phone, perfect for anyone who has a select agenda of what they want to see. Down the street from the park’s visitor center are the famous log cabins as well as a giant statue of the Prussian military officer, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who overlooks the fields of Valley Forge. There are various other monuments such as the Washington Memorial Chapel and historical houses that belong to important figures such as James Mitchell Varnum and General Washington’s headquarters. According to Mattlack, the site is important for people of all ages to learn about their history from its source and to teach them things that textbooks cannot. Mattlack also notes that there is an interest in Washingtonfrom little kids all the way up to adults because of his name and leadership. If you’re not a history buff, there are also a lot of walking trails, biking trails and picnic areas. There are also events planned throughout the year. However, the park is at its most powerful when there is snow on the ground and the weather is bitter. From there, visitors can imagine they’re with the Continental Army that brutal winter of 1777 to 1778. While we may all take the park for granted, Mattlack offers an alternative question about whether or not the park as an environmental site would have been saved if Washington’s troops had not stayed over. It’s a question that, thanks to George Washington and the series of events surrounding the American Revolution, we won’t have to ask.

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Eion ONeill

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