Cultural Landscapes

The National Park Service defines a cultural landscape as a geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with a historic event, activity, or person, or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values.

The significance of Valley Forge can be viewed through multiple lenses, where not one single perspective can tell the full story of the place and the park, but taken all together can come close to describing it. Below, these different aspects of Valley Forge are conceived as six different landscape "overlays" — the encampment landscape, the commemorative landscape, the industrial landscape, the transportation landscape, and the recreational landscape.

Encampment Landscape

The encampment was a temporary military overlay upon an existing agricultural and industrial landscape that itself was based on a confluence of natural features and systems. Features such as heights, slope, and water were critical to the selection of sites for encampment fortifications, roads, and shelter. As is common with military sites from the revolution, many of the detailed elements no longer survive. The most critical landscape features, those that drew General Washington to this strategic site, remain, however, and have a high degree of integrity.

In December 1777, General George Washington entered his 12,000-man Continental Army into winter quarters in the hills near Valley Forge. The area presented a good strategic location for the army–only 18 miles from Philadelphia, too far for a feasible or surprise attack by the British, and situated between the British and the important supplies farther up the river. It was high ground, easily defensible, and with long views in all directions.

It is probable that French engineer Brigadier General Louis Lebeque dePresle Duportail planned and established the general lines of the camp. His 1778 map (Figure 3-2) is believed to be the most accurate of the few contemporaneous maps of the encampment. Brigades were arrayed in a large “C” shape around a broad valley that became known as the “Grand Parade,” where a great deal of the training took place. Behind defensive earthworks, soldiers erected log huts for themselves and their officers and established areas for food preparation, drilling, and sanitation. Recent excavations at the Pennsylvania Brigade describe a transect through what was likely a typical pattern. At the front line of the brigade encampment, between the defensive works and the first line of huts (for enlisted men) was an area that was the focus of intense activity during the encampment, including food preparation and consumption, trash disposal and latrines, recreation, musket ball manufacture and perhaps repair, and blacksmithing. A stone-surfaced road or pathway laid down during the encampment period probably became necessary after constant use reduced common pathways to mud.

Farther down the slope the officers’ huts were sited adjacent to an outdoor cooking area. In an area over 300 meters from the front of the brigade were found camp kitchens forming the rear line of the brigade (according to the plan published by von Steuben in 1778). This fairly complete archeological record presents the first holistic view of a Continental Army Brigade encampment layout (Valley Forge NHP 2002a).

The Duportail map suggests that about 30% of the area was wooded when the troops arrived. To establish and sustain the camp, every tree within a several-mile radius was cut and used for hut construction and earthworks or burned as fuel. The logging also provided clear defensive views of the river and the surrounding area. Wooden rail farm fences were dismantled and used, and hedgerows were sacrificed for fuel. Resident William Dewees, in petitioning Congress for restitution, wrote that:

Your petitioner begs leave further to represent, that December following, His Excellency General Washington placed his Camp greatly upon your Petitioner’s Land: Whereupon the greatest part of his standing Timber, and all of his Fences, was and were destroy’d, which deprived your Petitioner of Power to erect New Building and rendered the Premises of less value than they previously were.

When the army departed in June 1778, it left behind a scene of devastation. The land had been stripped of nearly everything usable or edible so that it was a “starved country.” Residents gradually reclaimed the area for agricultural use. Huts and earthworks were still present and usable the following December, when the Saratoga Convention Army, en route to Virginia, was quartered at Valley Forge. Just three years later, a traveler noted that while some of the better-constructed officers’ huts were inhabited, most of the huts were decayed or demolished for the use of the timber, and that the woods were beginning to be re-established in some places. General Washington himself visited the scene 10 years after the encampment and noted with pleasure that most of the fortifications were gone and that the land was largely recovered from its devastation and returned to productive agricultural use.

The encampment landscape retains integrity of landform, topography, views, and aspect, including Mounts Joy and Misery and the Grand Parade; natural systems and features, including the Schuylkill River, Valley Creek, and numerous springs; and circulation elements, such as Valley Forge Road (PA Route 23), Gulph Road, Baptist Road trace, Yellow Springs Road trace, and the river. More difficult to see but still present is physical evidence of the pre-encampment settlement patterns, including field boundaries, portions of some farm clusters, and remnants of the once-thriving iron forge industry. Much evidence remains of the military adaptations made to support the encampment and fortify the position, including portions of the inner and outer line defenses, the known sites of earthen forts and road systems, and various buildings and structures that were used for officers’ quarters, storage, or livestock. These are more than sufficient to convey the story of the encampment and its meaning. These landscape elements, combined with the archeological resources, historic structures, and museum objects and archives of the park, provide a complete physical record of this pivotal encampment. Archeological resources already have yielded, and will continue to yield, new and important information about this aspect of the site’s history.

Commemorative Landscape

The park landscape most readily visible today reflects neither the wretched devastation that characterized most of the duration of the encampment nor the prosperous industrial village, farmsteads, and agricultural fields that were present both when the encampment began and also within a few years of its conclusion. Instead, the landscape today most closely reflects the state park commemorative period.

In 1877, local citizens formed the Centennial Association of Valley Forge to purchase Washington’s Headquarters and operate the building and surrounding grounds as a museum. It quickly became a popular tourist attraction. In 1893, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania established Valley Forge State Park, as well as a park commission to develop and oversee it. Between 1901 and 1915, a tour route system was constructed along (and sometimes over and through) the defensive lines, with monuments marking brigade and state regiment encampment locations. Redoubts and redans were reconstructed, and replicas of soldiers’ huts were erected and became a popular symbol of the encampment.

This approach to park development and commemoration was modeled on the example of Gettysburg. Unlike Gettysburg, however, where there was a clear and commonly understood mandate to preserve the battlefield just as it was in 1863, the Valley Forge commemorative landscape is the product of vacillation between the desire to restore elements of the landscape to encampment-period conditions and the desire to beautify the site in honor of its importance. A romanticized view of the past

led the park commission to alter or erase most of the characteristic agricultural and industrial elements, including most of the historic structures, fences, walls, hedgerows, and farm and village lanes. A reforestation program was implemented for Mounts Misery and Joy, and commemorative groves of dogwood and allées of oaks and lindens were planted. In a further deviation from preservation and restoration of the encampment landscape, paths, recreational trails, picnic areas, boating launches, observation points, and other park facilities were added in order to create a pleasurable recreational experience. Perhaps because of the lack of clear vision, none of the plans was ever implemented in full.

The park was transferred to the national park system in 1976. Since then, the NPS has acquired additional lands, including industrial inholdings south of the river, and demolished most of the industrial buildings. Little else has been changed in the ensuing years, however, and the landscape remains essentially as it was during state park times. The result is a cultural landscape at Valley Forge that is denatured: it is not easily comprehended, either as a historic scene or a commemorative design.

Industrial Landscape

Valley Forge NHP contains the remains of two industrial villages: Valley Forge and Port Kennedy. During the mid-18th century, industry represented a locally modest component of a largely agricultural economy. The primary industrial development in the area was the series of iron forges that were established along Valley Creek to take advantage of the abundant waterpower afforded within a mile of its confluence with the Schuylkill River. These forges, which constitute some of the earliest industry in the region, were integrally linked to the landscape conditions of their surroundings. They were sited to take advantage not only of the waterpower of Valley Creek, but also the abundant supply of timber from the adjacent steeply sloped hillsides not suited for agriculture. The nearby Nutt’s Road (present-day PA Route 23) provided connections from the French Creek ore mines to the northwest and to the markets in Philadelphia to the southeast.

Along Nutt’s Road, the Potts family developed a merchant mill near the Isaac Potts House (presently known as Washington’s Headquarters), along with sawmills and gristmills. While few of the features associated with these early forge complexes survive beyond the archeological record, other types of resources exist that help to convey the industrial history of this site. These include the alignments of early roads now referred to as Valley Creek Road and PA Route 23; broad spatial patterns of the wooded hillsides of Mounts Joy and Misery and other topographic features; the Schuylkill River and Valley Creek; and charcoal production sites including hearths, logging roads, and remnants of colliers’ huts on Mount Misery.

The forges also were integrally linked to the Revolutionary War: Mount Joy Forge and the materials stored there as a magazine for the Continental Army were partially destroyed by the British Army in September 1777 when they passed through the area en route to Philadelphia. The Village of Valley Forge area possesses integrity to this early industrial sub-period, particularly for the qualities of location and association. Although the forges and many of the detailed elements of the early industrial period have been lost, the archeological record has the potential to contribute greatly to the knowledge and understanding of the period. Aboveground resources retain sufficient fabric to convey important aspects of the history of the site within this context.

Industry declined in the area in the latter part of the 19th century and ultimately disappeared due to economic adversity and acquisition of much of the area by the state for inclusion within Valley Forge State Park. Although the majority of the village was lost due to state park development, the area possesses integrity as an industrial village, particularly for the qualities of location and association. Numerous aboveground features survive from the late 18th and 19th century industrial period, including dwellings, quarry sites, traces of roads, the rail line, and Valley Creek, which generated the waterpower critical to many of these industrial endeavors. There is also a great potential for archeological resources to yield important information about this aspect of the site’s history.

Port Kennedy was another locally important village that grew in response to industry. Abundant sources of high quality dolostone (limestone) were discovered within the Grand Parade area and to its east during the late 18th century, and development of an attendant industry began during the early 19th century. The stone excavated from the local quarries was shipped to markets throughout the Mid- Atlantic region, particularly Maryland and the Delaware peninsula, for use in construction and agriculture. During the middle decades of the 19th century, the Port Kennedy quarries may have been one of the largest limestone quarry and processing operations in the country. In the 1850s, an anthracite-powered iron furnace was established overlooking the river, taking advantage of the availability of coal brought by the canal. The furnace office and three of the duplex workers’ houses survive today. The thriving industrial complex and village that evolved during the 19th century was an important component of the regional economy. The village was home to some 400 people during its heyday and contained schools, churches, a hotel, various commercial enterprises, a railway station, and numerous homes.

Like the industries in the Village of Valley Forge, the limestone-based industry at Port Kennedy began a decline during the latter part of the 19th century. While other industrial activities such as the Ehret Magnesia Plant replaced the limestone industry, they were not sufficient to support the village. The community was no longer viable by the 20th century. The emerging Valley Forge State Park slowly acquired land within the village. Many of Port Kennedy’s features were razed by the state park commission, which saw the village as incongruous to restoring the historic scene of the encampment. Construction of the four-lane, limited access US 422 destroyed most of the rest of the village.

The most obvious remnants of the industrial heritage of the Port Kennedy area include broad spatial patterns, topographic features, the Schuylkill River, an extensive system of limestone quarries and a few kilns, and various 19th century transportation networks including roads, rail lines, trace roads, and features surviving from the Schuylkill Canal, which was utilized to ship much of the iron and lime produced within the area. Also remaining are a small collection of buildings associated with the village’s 19th century industrial history. The area possesses integrity as a 19th century industrial landscape, particularly for location and association, due to the surviving landscape features and the potential of archeological resources to yield important information about this aspect of the park’s history.

Transportation Landscape

The landscape retains significant features that reflect its association with transportation. The river itself was the first means of transportation, used for rafting in the 17th and 18th centuries. Early roads, including Nutt’s Road (PA Route 23), Baptist Road, Gulph Road, and the road to Yellow Springs survive. Although paved and widened in most cases, their alignments are remarkably intact. Historic road traces and ford, ferry, and bridge sites associated with 18th century European settlement survive.

Nineteenth century transportation developments include the establishment of the Schuylkill Canal as well as rail lines on either side of the river. These systems supplanted the difficult roads and the seasonally limited river rafting. They supported the growth of the region by allowing reliable shipment of agricultural and industrial goods and raw materials. Surviving features include traces of the towpath and the canal prism; archeological remains of locks and dams; two train stations; railroad bridges and tunnels; a railroad right-of-way now used as a trail; and an operating rail line.

Agricultural Landscape

Valley Forge’s farmsteads made contributions to both the local economy and to advancing the science of agriculture. The park’s agricultural significance is associated primarily with portions of the lands north of the Schuylkill River and the area in the southwest corner of the park referred to as Valley Forge Farm.

For three centuries, the Valley Forge area was dominated by agriculture. Well suited to farming due to prime soils, potable water sources, and readily available transportation on the river, the area witnessed early historic settlement by various immigrant groups of European descent and enslaved Africans. During the early settlement period, the land south of the river was characterized by small, subsistence-level farms. Farms on the north side were generally larger. Some of the patterns established during the early 18th century remain in evidence today.

Agriculture within this region helped to support the local population of the surrounding counties and the city of Philadelphia. During the late 18th and 19th centuries, as farmers were able to expand their operations beyond subsistence agriculture, southeastern Pennsylvania – along with neighboring New Jersey and the Delmarva Peninsula – grew into the country’s primary grain-producing region. It remained an important producing region until superceded by the Midwest during the mid-19th century. The Walnut Hill and Valley Forge Farm areas supported the significant activities and advances in agriculture that occurred during the early 19th century.

Walnut Hill is located north of the Schuylkill River on the peninsula formed by the river and the Perkiomen Creek. It was owned during the Revolutionary War period by Henry Pawling II and located directly across the river from the main encampment area. The site was integral to the encampment and is the probable site of the market and commissary that served the army. The use of Fatland Ford and the construction of Sullivan’s Bridge – erected during the encampment as a critical connection between the north and south sides – facilitated troop movements, delivery of stores, posting of sentries, and use of fields to pasture the army’s horses. Buildings there were used as officers’ quarters and for storing and dispensing supplies and food.

The farm came into the hands of the Wetherill family in 1826, who enlarged the Pawling house into a mansion, added numerous agricultural structures, and positioned the farm to take full advantage of the expanding markets and the availability of canal, and later railroad, transportation. As noted by James Kurtz in his study of the Walnut Hill property:

During this period, new methods of farming, animal husbandry, land stewardship, and labor use were initiated. The development of city markets for produce and meat, improved field yields resulting from an awareness of soil fertility, and surplus capital investment brought about a new era in agriculture.

The existing Wetherill-era barn, corral, and associated structures represent an outstanding example of the buildings used in state-of-the-art, large-scale farming and animal husbandry practices of the 19th century.

This transition period from self-sufficient to commercial agriculture is exemplified by the agrarian sites in the region, especially the Wetherill-era structures and archeological deposits at the Walnut Hill Estate, Fatland Farm, and Meadow Grove. The Wetherill family was at the forefront of agricultural innovation. As gentleman farmers, they provided the capital for the establishment of the farms. For labor, they relied on hired hands and possibly tenant farmers (Kurtz 2001).

Walnut Hill retains the majority of its primary agricultural landscape features spanning the shift from initial, subsistence agriculture during the early settlement period to “scientific farming” and commercial agriculture in the second quarter of the 19th century. These features include field patterns, roads and road traces, the family dwelling, a tenant house, large barn, spring house, and other outbuildings, fencing, and woodlots.

The landscape from this period has been affected by 20th century modifications made to the property as a suburban estate and by the loss of landscape features west and south of the Walnut Hill mansion. The relationship between the farmstead and the river floodplain, formerly utilized as a meadow or pasture, was compromised by the establishment of large, earthen impoundment basins along the Schuylkill River in 1948. Archeological evidence of this period likely survives, with the potential to yield important information about this period.

The Valley Forge Farm area exhibits a long history of agricultural land use and is significant at the local level. Between the early 18th century settlement and the mid- 20th century, the area evolved from subsistence-level agriculture undertaken on relatively small parcels of land, to commercial-scale agriculture, and subsequently to gentleman farming that included breeding and training livestock and horses. The Valley Forge Farm landscape includes numerous features and patterns dating from the 18th through the 20th centuries and exemplifies the evolution of southeastern Pennsylvania agricultural history. These features include field patterns, barns and other outbuildings, farmstead dwellings, roads and road traces, a former ford site, hedgerows, fencing, and ornamental and garden features. Archeological evidence of additional features likely survives. This evidence has the potential to yield important information about this significant period.

Valley Forge Farm also includes remnants of industrial features constructed to support agriculture such as a quarry and late 18th and/or early 19th century limekilns. These features were most likely established to provide local farmers with burnt lime for field improvements.

Recreational Landscape

The park landscape possesses significance at the state level for its association with recreation beginning circa 1828 when the first known public event, “Harvest Home,” was held to honor the 50th anniversary of the encampment. For many years, public events such as patriotic celebrations and political rallies drew on the symbolic associations of the site. The attractive setting and the celebratory nature of many of the events led to a growing appreciation of the area as a destination for outings, particularly after the Reading & Philadelphia Railroad made it possible to travel there inexpensively and rapidly.

Soon after a 217-acre portion of the current site became Pennsylvania’s first state park in 1893, formal interventions in the landscape were made to accommodate visitors seeking to enjoy the park. Picnic areas were built at Washington’s Headquarters and later at other locations. As the park gained in popularity, the commonwealth continued to acquire lands and to enhance visitor access and opportunities for enjoyment. Tree-lined drives were built for use by carriages and later paved and widened for automobiles. Bridle and pedestrian paths, boating facilities, and an observation tower were constructed.

Many of these early features, including campgrounds, the observation tower, boating facilities on the formerly impounded Schuylkill River and Valley Creek, and additional picnic areas, shelters, and restrooms were removed over the years. The integrity of the recreational landscape is diminished, particularly integrity of materials, workmanship, and design. The recreational features are closely tied and interwoven with the park’s commemorative features and history. Recreation at the site is a product of a particular approach to commemoration and would not exist without the site’s commemorative history.

The types and composition of recreational facilities have changed greatly since the early park period. In the final years of state park management, facilities such as the two paved trails, Betzwood boating access, model-airplane field, and additional parking lots were added, further blurring both the encampment and commemorative period landscapes.

Last updated: April 15, 2022

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