Chapter Seven: The "Complete Restoration" of Valley Forge (part 2)

In 1941 and 1942, the park completed a few scattered restoration projects with its meager funds. Several replica fortifications were built, including the structures then known as Fort Mordecai Moore and its two flanking redans; the Stirling Redoubt; two redans flanking Fort Washington; and a rifle pit on the inner line entrenchments. These projects were done without significant preliminary archaeological research and are now considered questionable, but at the time the park commission saw that public interest was high, which encouraged the commissioners in their determination to do more at Valley Forge. [25]
 
Map of Valley Forge in 1941.
Map of Valley Forge in 1941.

Valley Forge National Historical Park

 

In 1942, the park commission drew up a new resolution to restore Valley Forge as a military camp as soon as "the general conditions permit." This resolution included plans to complete all entrenchments and forts and to plant ten log huts on each of four sites where four different divisions had camped. In the area where the Continental Army had massed their artillery, visitors would find a colonial blacksmith shop and stable. General Von Steuben's Quarters would be restored. Guardhouses and picket posts would be added to the scenery. Field ovens would be built. The "lost redoubt" known as Fort John Moore would be located and restored, Known redans, lunettes, and abatis would rise at their original locations. Two projects that had interested former park commissions would finally be completed: a working forge would be built, and the Washington Inn would be restored to its colonial appearance with the hospital quarters and bake ovens it had supposedly housed during the encampment. For the practical convenience of twentieth-century visitors, there would be new parking places, latrines, and recreational areas, as well as improvements to the roads. The park would have a new administration building and a new observation tower built of stone. The total cost was estimated at a whopping $500,000. [26]

The resolution was presented to Pennsylvania's Governor Edward Martin late in 1942. No immediate action was taken, and the commission renewed its recommendation in 1943. At that time, the state was planning the re-employment of its men and women once the war was over. The park commissioners hoped to do their part by finally making available the jobs that they had so long wanted to create at the park. While Governor Martin promised that the matter would receive attention, again nothing was done, causing the park commission to wonder whether Valley Forge had become the commonwealth's stepchild. [27] It was May 1944 before the state's postwar planning commission finally considered the park commission's extensive plan. In July 1944, General Shannon of the park commission met with the chairman of the postwar planning commission and returned to report: "It is likely this important work will be accomplished under the present administration if the war emergency shall be terminated." [28]

The war ended in 1945, and Valley Forge finally got some money. In May 1946, Governor Martin visited Valley Forge to confer with the park commissioners, and in July word was received that Governor Martin had approved $135,000. [29] This was good news, but $135,000 was only a fraction of what it would cost to complete all the projects in the 1942 resolution, which by then carried a price tag of $650,000. After James H. Duff was elected governor of Pennsylvania in November 1946, he was quickly invited to Valley Forge to reaffirm the state's commitment. [30] Early in 1947 Duff appropriated $140,000. The governor made available an additional $271,500 from postwar appropriations under Act 83-A. [31]

The restoration at Valley Forge could at last proceed, but it would not be quite as "complete" as originally intended. Plans were scaled down to include a new observation tower built of stone, the rediscovery and restoration of Fort John Moore, a blacksmith shop in the artillery park, plus seventy-four log huts. Plans for the tower were subsequently scrapped to release funds for other projects. The number of huts was later reduced to thirty, and the project of acquiring the Washington Inn and restoring it to its colonial appearance was again added to the list.

In October 1946, Norris D. Wright, chairman of the Park Commission, received a letter from George Edwin Brumbaugh acknowledging his appointment as architect for the "improvements to Valley Forge Park." Brumbaugh wrote: "During the coming week I shall telephone in order to make an appointment at your convenience for our first conversation. It will be a real pleasure to work with you to secure the best results of which we are capable, for this most important historic spot." [32] Brumbaugh was one of the nation's best-known preservation architects. He had restored or reconstructed many historic sites throughout the Delaware Valley. Coincidentally, his father, Martin Brumbaugh, had been one of Valley Forge's first park commissioners, and later the Pennsylvania governor who had delivered the acceptance speech at the dedication of the National Memorial Arch. During George Edwin Brumbaugh's childhood, his family had rented a summer house on Gulph Road, not far from Washington's Headquarters. Together with the young son of the caretaker at the Headquarters, Brumbaugh had amused visitors with informal tours, which he conducted for a nickel tip. He and his father had often roamed over the remaining entrenchments and wandered along Valley Creek to the site of the old forge. [33] If any architect had a personal interest and a commitment to Valley Forge, it was Brumbaugh.

At the time Brumbaugh began his work at Valley Forge, there was little evidence indicating exactly what the soldiers' huts had looked like. Washington's hut specifications were a key source and had been used when the 1935 hut was built. On December 18, 1777, Washington had written:

Soldier's huts are to be of the following dimension, viz: fourteen by sixteen each, sides, ends and roofs made with logs, and the roof made tight with split slabs, or in some other way; the sides made tight with clay, fire-place made of wood and secured with clay on the inside eighteen inches thick, this fireplace to be in the rear of the hut; the door to be in the end next to the street; the doors to be made of split oak-slabs, unless boards can be procured. Side walls to be six and a half feet high. [34]

Brumbaugh studied both Washington's orders and a poem that had appeared in an 1863 issue of The Historical Magazine. The poem, supposedly written by the camp surgeon, Albigence Waldo, was titled "Valley Forge" and dated April 26, 1778, a time when surviving muster rolls show that such a person was indeed at Valley Forge. The original copy has never been located, however. Among the poem's sentimental and florid words, there was a forty-four-line description of a hospital hut at Valley Forge, but one that had many comfortable features never specified in Washington's orders, including an oak floor, three windows, and a separate kitchen. [35]

As for actual physical evidence, there was none. By the late 1940s, even the structure in ruins on the old road to the river ford Dr. Burk had named the "last hut" and pictured in his guidebooks published early in the century was gone. All that remained of the huts at Valley Forge was, perhaps, a single log. In 1935, the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution acquired a seven-foot log that was purportedly part of one of the huts at Valley Forge. It too had inspired poetry. Frank E. Schermerhorn had written an ode to the log and the things it had "seen," concluding, "You listened, high in eery-raftered poise / To starving-tales with deeds of courage done / That turned the storm-wind's ghostly, rumbling noise / To chants of God who gave us Washington." [36]

Besides tradition and documentary evidence, Brumbaugh studied the several log hut replicas that Valley Forge already had, in addition to the 1935 model. The National Society, Daughters of the Revolution of 1776 had led the way back in 1905 by building a replica near the Washington Memorial on the site of an actual hut originally built by soldiers of the Fourth Connecticut Regiment. In July 1905, newspapers reported that the structure had been "dedicated in the presence of a few persons, no public notice having been given of the event." [37] This organization restored their hut in 1945—1946 and again in 1968. Few records regarding the replica of a hospital hut built by the park commission around 1910 near the Wayne statue exist. Even this date is suspect, because the Philadelphia Record carried a story about it in September 1909, describing its popularity with visitors when park guard James McGroury played surgeon there. [38] In 1922, the Washington Memorial acquired a second log structure built by the World War I survivors of the 314th Infantry of the 79th Division. This was not really a hut, but rather the regiment's old recreation hall, originally constructed at Camp Meade and moved to Valley Forge to house the mementos of these men, most of whom had come from Pennsylvania. Dr. Burk had welcomed this mini-museum, hoping eventually to incorporate it into Victory Hall. He patriotically charged the veterans a ground rent of only one red rose a year. Until death claimed most of the men, the log structure served as their weekend gathering place. [39] The park also had its guard huts, small log cabins built as field bases for park guards on patrol. Ten or eleven of these had been constructed between 1906 and 1911; others were added in 1939 and 1946. [40]

The 1905 hut, the circa 1910 hospital hut, the 1935 hut, and a copy of the 1935 hut built in 1946 as a guard hut were all supposed to be replicas of what American soldiers had spent their famous winter in. These huts all looked very different, however, and the authenticity of each interpretation had or would come under attack. The 1909 newspaper story about the hospital hut quoted one woman's remark that this hut was a better replica than the daughters' 1905 model, "as the latter smacks of a darkey's cabin." [41] The hospital hut would later be criticized for having too many windows and too tall a door. Brumbaugh would criticize the 1935 hut for its low walls, windows, and iron hardware. Washington's orders, which seemed so precise, left a good deal of room for interpretation.

 
Replica hut built in 1935 by the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution, who hoped to inspire other groups to erect similar huts.
Replica hut built in 1935 by the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution, who hoped to inspire other groups to erect similar huts.

Valley Forge National Historical Park

 
Replica hut designed by George Edwin Brumbaugh for the "complete restoration" of Valley Forge. It is located near the 1935 hut and shot from a similar angle, but is significantly different from that hut.
Replica hut designed by George Edwin Brumbaugh for the "complete restoration" of Valley Forge. It is located near the 1935 hut and shot from a similar angle, but is significantly different from that hut.

Valley Forge National Historical Park

 

In response to the park commission's exhortation that the "huts should be authentic in every particular," [42] Brumbaugh drew largely on Washington's orders and his own considerable knowledge of early American log construction and local precedents. He employed John J. Rogers as a general foreman and set up a log hut workshop in the former dining room of the old Washington Inn, which had finally been acquired by the park in the late 1930s. There Brumbaugh designed a sample hut to teach his twentieth-century workers some long-forgotten skills. His original plan was to build each hut in the dining room, then knock it down and rebuild it on site. His first huts were to be erected near Washington's Headquarters, where the commander-in-chief's guards had been housed. All workers were ordered to inspect these initial huts frequently. [43] Brumbaugh's specifications, including requirements for wooden hardware, handwrought nails, and fireplaces made of irregular local stone, showed his mania for detail. Logs were to be cut from trees in the park and to be "handled and shipped carefully to ensure minimum damage to the bark." [44]

The huts were to be located throughout the park at the places where soldiers had originally built them. A few huts each would mark the positions of General Maxwell's New Jersey Brigade, General Varnum's Rhode Island Brigade, General Woodford's Virginia Brigade, General Poor's New York and New Hampshire Brigade, General Muhlenberg's Virginia and Pennsylvania Brigade, General Learned's Massachusetts Brigade, and General Wayne's Pennsylvania Brigades. Muhlenberg's Brigade would have the largest number of huts, and it was hoped that eventually some officers' huts, a hospital hut, and a shop could be added at this location. The huts were to be positioned according to the Duportail map, which implied that eighteenth-century soldiers had neatly aligned their huts in orderly company streets.

As the first huts began to appear, they generated much public excitement—evidence of America's continuing interest in the history of the common experience. Previous generations of visitors to Valley Forge had been greatly moved by Washington's Headquarters; modern-day visitors found the huts where ordinary soldiers had been quartered equally inspiring. Valley Forge even made the New York Herald Tribune when a reporter mused, "The visitor wonders what the ragged troops, as they erected their huts in the snow of 1777, would have thought if they were told that some day men would build a monument to them—not of stone, or bronze, but of the same rough local tree trunks, shaped to form reproductions of those crude shelters they were building." [45]

Hut-building went slowly, causing Brumbaugh to feel some pressure from the park commission. Brumbaugh reported delays in getting good labor, and in May 1947 the park superintendent, Milton Baker, expressed his concern that if the huts were not erected quickly enough the state government might take the park's appropriation away. "I am certain that Mr. Brumbaugh is a well qualified architect and will do a fine piece of historical research but I am fearful that he does not recognize the importance of the time element in this project, Baker wrote. [46] Brumbaugh's difficulties continued, and by July only one complete hut was visible on the site of Washington's guards' quarters. [47] In October, Brumbaugh reiterated his labor problems and also mentioned problems getting materials and equipment. Other, more interesting delays were encountered. Bones were found at the excavation for one hut foundation, which stalled the job until they could be examined by an anthropologist to determine whether they were human remains. They were not, and building continued.

In November 1947, Milo F. Draemel, then secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Forests and Waters (the park commission's parent organization), stated Harrisburg's desire to see "some real accomplishment on the Restoration Program." As a result, the park commission awarded Edwin H. Hollenbach a contract to build twenty of the log huts. [48] Brumbaugh's painstaking technique of building and rebuilding each hut was abandoned. By December, huts were finally appearing, and by July 1948 they were completed. The park had its monuments to the common man.

The techniques Brumbaugh instituted resulted in uniform huts, regularly placed. While Brumbaugh built the huts, Americans were rushing out to purchase new tract houses of uniform design in planned suburban subdivisions. It almost seems that Brumbaugh was unconsciously creating a "Log Levittown" for the ghosts of Valley Forge. Naturally, this was nothing remarkable to Brumbaugh's contemporaries. Only after look-alike tract homes went out of style and were attacked as symbols of the stifling conformity of suburban life would Brumbaugh's huts be criticized. [49]

 
Brumbaugh's huts were later criticized because they were too uniform and too regularly spaced. In this photo, they resemble cookie-cutter tract houses built in suburban communities of the same era.
Brumbaugh's huts were later criticized because they were too uniform and too regularly spaced. In this photo, they resemble cookie-cutter tract houses built in suburban communities of the same era.

Valley Forge National Historical Park

 

In fact, the park commission wanted to go Brumbaugh one better in copying suburbia by landscaping the huts. In July 1948, at the suggestion of Norris Wright, Park Commissioner Norman Randolph and George Edwin Brumbaugh met with a landscaper to obtain an estimate. Although Randolph strongly felt that military exigencies would have made the eighteenth-century encampment a very barren place, he described what General Washington might have wanted "had it been possible." This included stone walks to the entrance of each hut, shade trees between the huts, and low shrubs around each hut "to keep down the dust in dry weather." [50] Fortunately, these highly inaccurate finishing touches never materialized.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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