The Miracle at Lower Providence

Columnist : Albert Paschall

by Albert Paschall,
Senior Commentator, Lincoln Institute

“One generation got old,
one generation got soul,
this generation got no destination to hold,
pick up the cry!
Now its time! Got a revolution, got to revolution.”¬†Volunteers/Jefferson Airplane, 1970

At a recent township meeting I was wondering if George Washington’s Continental Army had a theme song. I’ll bet the General would have liked the beat of the Jefferson Airplane playing as his rejuvenated army marched out of Valley Forge in June of 1778.

America’s first president liked music. He enjoyed all the popular dances of his day often chiding others to learn them. We know he savored fine beers and wine. He and Benjamin Franklin exchanged letters about the contrasting qualities of American and European vintages. He liked sports. In the spring of 1778 at Valley Forge he and his officers organized ball games for the troops. He laughed a lot, often referring to officers in his command using the impolite term for a pain in the derriere. He is history’s pre-eminent revolutionary, but like all good generals he despised war. He was a man of tremendous faith often invoking the Almighty in his letters and speeches.

You didn’t know any of that? Not a surprise. While the winter encampment at Valley Forge was arguably the turning point of America’s revolution, contemporary history often relegates it to a footnote. Too many people view Washington through the stark prism of an ancient portrait that is on every dollar bill, not as the intense intellectual and humorous man that is his genuine historical persona.

Yet 224 years after the noblest war in the history of western civilization ended there is no national archival museum devoted to the American Revolution.

Calling it the National American Revolution Center Museum, for the last decade various groups have tried to build that monument in Valley Forge National Park just west of Philadelphia. To most it would seem a natural location, but there is a big dose of government in the way. From the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service to the Federal Highway Administration, there are more bundles of red tape to cut through trying to build in the park than there were spies for the British Red Coats watching Washington’s troop movements two centuries ago.

Just across the Schuylkill River from Valley Forge in Montgomery County sits bustling Lower Providence Township. Its mix of infrastructure and highway patterns makes it a developer’s envy. Like successful townships all over this state, it’s Board of Supervisors meetings are often rocked by zoning battles. Residents versus developers with the routine agenda: bitterness, booing, jeering and nasty allegations by those opposed to development.

A year ago the conventional wisdom said it would take a miracle to get the American Revolution center built. Six months later, 75 rare acres became available in Lower Providence. It’s a perfect site for the museum. A long rolling hill overlooking Valley Forge’s encampment grounds. The land is owned by Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese. It was purchased years ago and the church no longer has any use for it. Supporters of the museum are prepared to buy the tract and build it there.

After the usual gossip, rumors, and innuendo about the museum spread rampant throughout Lower Providence, the Township Board of Supervisors called a meeting for a public preview. About 300 people showed up, most looking ready to vent. But near the end of the long night, probably for the first time in recent Pennsylvania history, a suburban development’s consultants received a standing ovation from a township Board of Supervisors and most of the residents present.

Somedays the Lord works in mysterious ways. A few short months ago the American Revolution Center Museum was as dead as the Presidents whose pictures decorate our money. Then coincidentally a church decides to sell some land and then out of nowhere local residents give a standing ovation to the concept of this important national shrine being built in that location. For the salvation of the American Revolution Center Museum this could be the miracle at Lower Providence.

Albert Paschall
Senior Fellow
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.