The Battle at Valley Forge

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

There is a story of two young boys being raised by a single mother in a small town. The boys were full of mischief always getting into some kind of trouble. It was so persistent that soon everybody in the small town began to blame the lads for everything that went wrong. The mother grew frustrated and called on a neighbor for help. The neighbor advised her to send the boys for counseling with a gruff neighborhood pastor who would surely straighten them out.

So the mother sent the older boy first. The pastor sat him down and bellowed: "Where is God?" The boy stared back, terrified. The pastor repeated his roar: "Where is God?" The boy promptly leapt out of his chair, ran home like the devil was chasing him and hid under his bed. His brother crawled under with him and asked: "How bad is it?" "Really bad," the older brother replied: "God is missing and they are blaming us."

Ask most Pennsylvanians where Valley Forge is and they’ll tell you that it is right around the corner from Pennsylvania’s largest tourist attraction, the King Of Prussia Mall. Ask most Pennsylvanians what went on there and you’ll get one of two responses. Either Washington fought a battle there or the Continental Army suffered a long and torturous winter.

Well, neither story is true. There was no battle at Valley Forge and according to many historians the early stories of winter suffering were largely exaggerated to serve as a symbol of the perseverance of the American people. According to those accounts most of the 2,000 who died there passed in the spring when warmer weather brought the scourges of typhus and dysentery.

Yet these images will persist in the annals of America unless some extraordinary action takes place that accurately depicts those times and the Revolution for what it was: the noblest war in history.

That plan is the American Revolution Center at Valley Forge. It calls for an elegant museum to be built that would house the richest collection of Colonial Era artifacts ever assembled.

Originally planned to be built near Valley Forge National Park’s 1970’s era reception center, disputes erupted a few years ago when management of the museum decided to buy private land in adjacent Lower Providence Township and build it overlooking the park. That’s when the battle at Valley Forge began. A controversial hotel and other potential commercial development stalled the project again until a law suit against it was recently dismissed. In turn the museum’s new management has offered the compromise of no other commercial development on the site for at least 15 years.

Seems everybody has weighed in, on all sides, in this battle. The Chamber of Commerce, the Governor, Lower Providence’s Board of Supervisors, the Montgomery County Commissioners, The National Park Service, The National Park Conservation Association, The Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau with many other local agencies and residents. It doesn’t look like there is an end in sight to the national park versus Lower Providence as the home of the American Revolution Center.

Ask most Pennsylvanians where Lower Providence Township is and you won’t get an answer. Ask most Pennsylvanian’s what went on in Yorktown, Virginia in the Revolutionary War regrettably you probably won’t get an answer to that question either. For those scratching your heads, that’s where the British surrendered in 1781.

To all sides fighting the battle at Valley Forge the dispute over the site of this museum is presented to a world watching as local provincial pettiness. If this feud ends soon and the museum is built in Lower Providence someday thousands of people from all over the world will come to Pennsylvania to learn where the concept of American freedom was forged. To them it will all be Valley Forge.

If this war of words continues and frustrated backers move the project to Yorktown, those responsible for this squabble might be like that little boy under the bed. Historians will record how the Keystone State missed this opportunity. But unlike that forlorn little boy, they will be correct in blaming us.

Albert Paschall serves as Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research; a Harrisburg based non-profit educational foundation. He was the co-recipient of the 2004 National Legacy Award for Historic Preservation. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations through out Pennsylvania.