Take a private tour of Washington's Headquarters with one of our Park Rangers on YouTube. Check back later this month to view the renovations and maintenance that are currently taking place inside Headquarters.
Visitors enter the site on a hilltop with a dramatic view of the Schuylkill River and walk down into the historic landscape surrounding Headquarters. The completely restored 1913 Reading Railroad Station is the place where rangers will meet visitors for guided tours of Headquarters, which take place on the half hour. An exhibit on the archeology of the Valley Forge itself, which was burned during a British raid in 1777, is on display in the adjacent stable.
At Washington’s Headquarters, necessary repairs were made to woodwork, doors, windows, and shutters. Plaster was repaired on the interior, outdated mechanical equipment was removed, and UV screening was replaced on the windows. The exterior and interior were painted with historic colors. Furnishings, artifacts, and exhibit items were thoroughly cleaned and then reinstalled.
In August 2009, new exhibits on General Washington’s leadership and the resilience of the Continental Army at Valley Forge opened in the train station. The huts that represent General Washington's guard were furnished. New exhibits throughout the area bring the history of the former village of Valley Forge back to life.
The rehabilitation of the site also included removal of an oversized, intrusive parking lot and restoration of the historic terrain in that area. A new, smaller parking lot with handicapped-accessible parking and places for buses is tucked into a less visible place. New handicapped-accessible restrooms were built. A gathering space for large groups is provided. To protect adjacent Valley Creek, storm water runoff is collected and infiltrated in bio-swales and meadows were restored. A number of trees have been planted, with many more to come.
Archeology at the House
General Washington located his headquarters (the “Pentagon” of its time) in a small house in the village of Valley Forge. The General and his military staff worked and lived in the house. Mrs. Washington also joined him there for several months of the winter encampment.
With up to 25 people living and working in the house, it was crowded. What to do? Build an addition. We know from letters and other documentary evidence that a log structure was erected adjacent to the building for eating and meeting. Limited excavations in 1973 and 1986 uncovered possible evidence of this structure and associated encampment-era archeological deposits.
This summer’s project is literally digging deeper into this area and these deposits. The purpose of this intensive archaeological testing is to provide additional documentation of previously identified intact deposits, with the goal of assessing and documenting the use of the structure and the changing uses of the headquarters building and surrounding yard area over time.
The first weeks of excavation have shown how intensively the area has been used over the centuries. The archaeologists have exposed an 18th-century trash pit bisected by an early 20th century sewer drain, a well, a buried plow zone that likely predates any of the structures built on the site, and evidence of foundation walls. At this early point everything remains a puzzle. The archaeologists are taking many notes and photos and are painstakingly creating drawings of all the features they uncover. It is slow but very interesting work.
Intriguing artifacts are coming out of the excavation. The archaeologists have recovered a French gunflint, the type commonly used by the American troops, as well as many fragments of glass, bone, metal and ceramic. Some of the most interesting ceramics include pieces of a porcelain teapot, hand-painted in red and black, and a creamware cherub face that probably once decorated a fancy soup tureen or other serving piece. These objects are things that would have belonged to the elite classes; no enlisted soldier in a hut would be using such beautiful pieces. These objects were almost certainly used by General Washington and his officers.
There is a long tradition of public archeology at Valley Forge NHP, and this new project recaptures the excitement and enthusiasm of past “diggers.” Volunteers are active participants in the project. National Park Service archaeologists in conjunction with Temple University Professor David Orr, are conducting this project. Excavation at this site will continue through July 11th, with lab work ongoing at the site throughout the summer. An exhibit on the archeology of the Valley Forge itself, which was burned by the British, also is open.
For a blog describing what the archeologists are doing, click here.