Chapter Four: The Park Commission Triumphs (part 4)

As the monuments sprang up, the Valley Forge park commission worked to do something about the landscape. Ever since the park's formation, employees had been clearing a dense undergrowth of wild grapes and other brambles from park land, their work proceeding as steadily as possible given the weather and the park's chronic lack of funds. In 1906, during Pennypacker's administration, park commissioners were finally able to come up with a plan for what they called the "natural adornment" of the park. [85] They began by moving the picnic area away from Washington's Headquarters and closer to the nearby redoubt they called Fort Huntington. This was a long walk from the train station, but those who couldn't make it could go to the private picnic grounds near the Washington Inn. [86]

A number of dogwood trees discovered at the base of Mount Joy inspired the park commission to create a defined dogwood grove there. As springtime visitors sauntered or drove along Inner Line Drive, they found themselves surrounded by white and pink dogwoods. The Chestnut Tree Blight around 1911 forever changed the composition of the forest by killing all mature American chestnut trees, but the ensuing removal of dead and damaged trees may also have inspired the creation of "vistas," or lines of sight, created by the deliberate removal of trees so that visitors could gaze from one historic attraction to another. By 1917, the park commission minutes referred to their various vistas by name, calling them "Knox's Point Vista," "The Creek Vista," and "The Tower Vistas." [87] After the park acquired land on either side of Valley Creek, this gorge was also landscaped with hemlock and oak. The oaks grew from five bushels of acorns gathered from the grounds of nearby historic Saint David's Church. They were planted in random patterns by an industrious corps of boy volunteers. [88] Then in 1919 the park superintendent reported: "We have purchased a flock of sheep with the idea of running them on the Park for the purpose of keeping the grass down and also for ornamental purposes." [89] The park now required a shepherd, and the commission advertised for a "married, sober, industrious, thoroughly experienced shepherd, . . . Scotchman preferred." [90]

 
Fig. 10. In 1919, the park superintendent wrote,
Fig. 10. In 1919, the park superintendent wrote, "We have purchased a flock of sheep with the idea of running them on the park for the purpose of keeping the grass down and also for ornamental purposes." The commission also advertised for a "married, sober, industrious, thoroughly experienced shepherd . . . Scotchman preferred."

Valley Forge National Historical Park

 

The major redoubts of the park were reconstructed in the early years of the twentieth century. In 1906, the redoubt the park had named Fort Washington got some attention and was furnished with an observation platform so visitors could examine it without standing on it. More work was planned in 1912. A park committee described this effort as "a very simple and inexpensive undertaking, requiring the use of ordinary intelligence without any special demand upon the imagination." [91] The simple undertaking consisted of clearing Fort Washington of trees and obstructions, reinforcing what mounds of earth were visible, and installing some cannon and flagpoles. Colonel George A. Zinn of the Army corps of engineers was consulted regarding installation of the field guns. [92] Once Fort Washington was presentable, it attracted so many visitors that their carriages and automobiles clogged the road at this point, creating traffic problems and prompting the park to consider widening the road. [93]

When the park finally acquired the land where the so-called Star Redoubt had been, they found the reconstruction much more problematic. This structure had been essentially plowed under, and its exact shape could not be determined by the indistinct mound still visible. Park commissioners decided that the redoubt had been built in a star shape by examining the symbol that represented it on the Duportail map. It was reconstructed on its traditional site based on what had been learned from work done at Fort Washington. [94]

In 1917, the forts restoration committee reported that some money was still left for the restoration of Fort Huntington. Work was purposely delayed because Pennsylvania's then governor, Martin Brumbaugh, another Valley Forge enthusiast, wanted to visit and inspect the fort, but the governor found he had no time to spare due to the exigencies of World War I. [95]

 
Fig. 11. Early preservation effort at earthwork once known as Fort Washington, now Redoubt #3. A fence was erected to keep tourists outside.
Fig. 11. Early preservation effort at earthwork once known as Fort Washington, now Redoubt #3. A fence was erected to keep tourists outside.

Valley Forge National Historical Park

 

The shadow of war was already looming over Valley Forge at the dedication of the Von Steuben statue in 1915, a time when anti-German sentiment was already sweeping Europe. This statue, designed by the German sculptor J. Otto Schweizer, who had been born in Zurich, had been raised by the German-American Alliance. The dedication at its original location on Outer Line Drive between the Wayne statue and the Valley Forge DAR monument was attended by German-American residents of Philadelphia and the surrounding area. Although the ceremonies featured German music and songs, the theme was German-American loyalty to the United States. The president of the German-American Alliance declared: "One of the duties of the National German-American Alliance is to mark historical sites with monuments which instill patriotism into the hearts of the American people." Other speakers declared that German-Americans were and always had been loyal to their adopted country. [96] The statue was eventually surrounded by linden trees grown from German seedlings of the same variety as those on the avenue in Berlin known as Unter den Linden.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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