Chapter Nine: The Siege of Valley Forge (part three)

The years of contention over park uses and procedures coincided with plans for the largest development to date on a tract just south of the park that had long been the property of the University of Pennsylvania. This piece of land had been donated to the university in 1926 by Henry F. Woolman, a Penn alumnus. At that time it was known as Cressbrook Farm, and part of it was supposed to have been occupied during the 1777—1778 encampment. A building now known as the Duportail House was located on the property, named for its famous guest, Washington's chief engineer. The university had been considering moving at least some of its operations from its West Philadelphia location ever since the early 1920s when a huge new railway terminal and post office threatened increased development in this area, and the Woolman gift seemed to provide a good suburban site. Valley Forge, it was believed, could be a very uplifting place for an Ivy League university. One pamphlet proclaimed that the location "would send forth men of higher ideals of service and patriotism than could be acquired anywhere in the country." [66] Another pamphlet noted: "This American shrine is watched over by the spirits of many distinguished alumni who suffered there," including Anthony Wayne, Class of 1765. [67]

Penn never did build its suburban campus, and the old farmland had long remained undeveloped. In the 1930s, a university study noted that relocation "at the present time would not be welcome to the management of the University." [68] It was speculated that the plans for the move might incur increased financial burdens and detract from the "support" the school then enjoyed. [69] The university's president had indicated opposition to the project, [70] causing the group of alumni who had supported the move during the 1920s to scale back their plans and by the end of the 1930s finally abandon them.

The open, rolling farmland held by the University of Pennsylvania was finally purchased by developer Richard Fox of Jenkintown. A planner worked up a development plan for a community to be named Chesterbrook that would combine commercial buildings, single-family and cluster housing, apartments, recreational facilities, and planned open space. Area residents and the media used the adjective "high-density" to describe it, and there were estimates that it would bring at least 10,000 and perhaps as many as 12,000 to 14,000 new residents to Valley Forge.

Local residents united with the park commissioners in opposition. Five hundred people cheered at one meeting held late in 1971 when Tredyffrin Township delayed the zoning decision that would have enabled development to start. [71] The park commission protested that Chesterbrook would encroach on yet another park border and perhaps bring the same type of undesirable scenery that Valley Forge now had to the east. New residents were expected to burden the park with recreational demands, while Chesterbrook office workers would put more commuter traffic on the roads running through the park. There would also be pressure for new utility easements, like the one already under consideration for a pipeline running through the park itself from a sewage-pumping station south of the park to a disposal plant on the Schuylkill [72]

Many people began asking why the Chesterbrook tract could not simply become part of the park. Pennsylvania's Governor Milton Shapp asked the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to investigate the feasibility of acquiring at least enough of Chesterbrook to prevent potential flooding on Valley Creek. [73] Annamaria Malloy kept the governor apprised of the opposition of area residents, reminding him that the Chesterbrook tract could give the park more recreational area and thereby take the pressure off the park's historic core. [74]

Two local groups were organized to oppose the development of Chesterbrook. The Citizens Organization to Reclaim Chesterbrook (CORC) studied the ecological and environmental aspects and predicted dire consequences for the park itself. [75] In 1973, concerned citizens organized the Chesterbrook Conservancy to obtain pledges toward the actual purchase of Chesterbrook, Their initial goal was to raise commitments for $100,000—not nearly enough for this valuable real estate, but seed money that might attract state, federal, or foundation funds. [76]

In 1975, the specter of Chesterbrook was suddenly overshadowed when a retired brigadier general informed the park commission that the Veterans Administration was considering Valley Forge as the site of a 500-acre cemetery that would stretch from the park's eastern entrance along Outer Line Drive to the National Memorial Arch. [77] Local newspapers were joined by publications as national in scope as the New York Times in suggesting that the veterans consider another site. Annamaria Malloy cooperated in supplying information to journalist Colman McCarthy for a two-part article that was published by the Washington Post's wire service in many other papers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer. "With the nation braced to celebrate the bicentennial," McCarthy wrote, "Valley Forge is enduring a new crucible." He quoted Malloy's statement that there were 4.5 million veterans in the district, 60 percent of whom were age sixty-two or older, making it likely that headstones would soon dominate the Valley Forge landscape. Mrs. Malloy was also quoted as saying, "I know already that we have a beautiful burial ground. We have revolutionary soldiers out there." A Veterans Administration official whom McCarthy asked whether new graves might desecrate the unknown resting places of Revolutionary patriots answered, "We would hope we wouldn't do that, but I suppose when you start digging anything might happen." [78]

By that time, however, the Victorian concept of Valley Forge as the burial place of hundreds, even thousands, of soldiers was no longer so widely supported. Historians were speculating that relatively few men would have died in the camp, because the sick would have been removed to outlying hospitals. The graves that had been found were identified by brass markers provided back in the 1930s by the "Veterans Graves Registration Division of the WPA." [79] These were so few and so isolated that visitors often misunderstood them, One tourist who came across one of these markers wrote the park commission that he had been dismayed to see "that the grave of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier is almost lost in the woods, marked by a very small sign and outlined with a few pieces of rotted logs." The park commissioners sent a letter back explaining that the unknown soldiers were collectively honored by two other monuments. [80] The old Victorian ghost stories had been largely forgotten, as if even the spirits had found their newly developed surroundings less desirable than lonely, rural Valley Forge.

 
Grave marker on Mount Joy. Today, some members of the park staff question the authenticity of these markers.
Grave marker on Mount Joy. Today, some members of the park staff question the authenticity of these markers.

Valley Forge National Historical Park

 

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission consented to exploratory testing to determine the suitability of the park's soil for veterans gravesites. Malloy objected strongly and sought an injunction as a private citizen. [81] After a commonwealth judge overturned the injunction, Valley Forge park staff members, some of them attired in Revolutionary garb, watched helplessly as Veterans Administration engineers dug sample graves on park soil.

Most of those opposed to the cemetery at Valley Forge shared the argument that a modern cemetery would "superimpose" one national shrine on another, The U. S. House Committee on Appropriations made this point as it too entered the fray, noting, "There is no justification for developing national shrines as cemeteries or overly concentrating activities in such locations." The committee then denied funds and thereby thwarted plans for a veterans cemetery in the park. [82] The dead, at least, would not be allowed to move in on Valley Forge.

As the publicity over the cemetery had mentioned, America's Bicentennial was quickly approaching, bringing up the critical issue of whether Valley Forge would have sufficient funds to receive all the Americans who were expected to spend some time there in 1976. An editorial in the Philadelphia Bulletin stated: "The park also has suffered from a lack of funds for preservation of historic sites and construction of adequate visitors' facilities. Some 1.7 million people now visit the park annually. An estimated 5 to 15 million are expected in 1976." [83] On July 4,1975, Valley Forge was officially granted the honor of flying the American flag twenty-four hours a day, but later that year the park commissioners lamented that they did not even have enough money to purchase an adequate flagpole. [84]

State Representative Peter Vroon introduced legislation for emergency bicentennial relief money for Valley Forge. He attended a park commission meeting and explained how two house bills would allocate $600,000 for the fiscal year ending June 1976, and $500,000 for the fiscal year ending June 1977. The park commission immediately passed a resolution urging the PHMC to support a campaign for the passage of this legislation that would provide the funding needed so desperately to handle the expected bicentennial crowds. [85]

All the trouble Valley Forge had endured from the beginning of intensive commercial development in the area again raised the issue of whether the cause of historic preservation at Valley Forge would be better served if the state park became a national park. Following the bad press of the early 1970s, many local residents and groups began writing letters to their congressmen, seeking creation of a National Park at Valley Forge. The executive director of the PHMC, S. K. Stevens, announced his support for this grassroots movement, yet progress remained slow because the Nixon administration had adopted a policy against federalizing state parks, instead advocating a return of excess federal lands to local control. [86] A turning point was finally reached in late 1974 and early 1975 when several key political leaders including Pennsylvania's Governor Milton Shapp, took up the issue. Governor Shapp approached the secretary of the interior and Congressman Dick Schulze, who together with various co-sponsors introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives authorizing the interior secretary to establish Valley Forge National Historical Park. While Pennsylvania Senator Hugh Scott introduced an identical bill in the Senate, Pennsylvania state legislators worked on bills that would allow the transfer of Valley Forge from the commonwealth to the federal government. [87]

The position of the park commissioners had gradually changed from opposition to endorsement. In June 1974, a park commission resolution recorded in the minutes read: "Let [Pennsylvania] meet its obligations by making adequate provisions for [the park's] operation instead of relinquishing to the Federal Government." [88] A vote taken in the fall of 1975 showed that at that time nine commissioners favored the transfer while only four still opposed it. One member of the remaining opposition questioned whether the federal government had done so well at Gettysburg. Valley Forge already had an absentee landlord in the PHMC, he maintained. Would the park now become the "stepchild" of Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia? [89]

A hearing was convened on Monday, September 29, 1975, in Washington, D. C., to consider legislation that would finally create a national park at Valley Forge. The Honorable Roy A. Taylor, who presided at the meeting, opened with the remark that the Valley Forge experience was a story "known by every school child, and the ordeal endured by Washington and his army is seen as one of the key turning points in our struggle for independence." [90] Dick Schulze, in whose district Valley Forge was located, spoke of the hallowed ground being under siege, surrounded by commercial development, its landmarks sorely in need of attention. [91] Vroon also mentioned urban sprawl, lamenting that lack of vision years before had allowed the Pennsylvania Turnpike to come too close to Valley Forge. [92] Malloy commented on the park commission's difficulties in dealing with the PHMC, calling the parent body "an ineffectual commission." [93]

Malloy and several other speakers raised the issue of proposed development on the neighboring Chesterbrook tract, Malloy identified the Chesterbrook property as an "integral part" of Valley Forge and called on the federal government to acquire it and make it part of Valley Forge National Historical Park. [94] Developer Richard Fox, who did not oppose the creation of a national park, did insist that the economic, social, and environmental impacts of the planned community of Chesterbrook would not be as dire as predicted. [95] Nathaniel Reed, the assistant secretary of the interior, questioned whether the acquisition of Chesterbrook would be worth the expenditure of an estimated $22 million for land with limited historical importance that would essentially serve the park as a buffer zone. [96]

Chesterbrook continued to he an issue as the bill made its way toward becoming law. The Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs also considered the bill, and Senator Hugh Scott continued to press for the inclusion of the Chesterbrook tract in the proposed park, suggesting that the National Park Service chip in $12 million, the remaining cost to be borne by township, county, and private contributors. When the committee voted in the spring of 1976, however, it approved an amendment precluding the acquisition of Chesterbrook, stating that this issue should not interfere with the goal of nationalizing the park, and soon afterward the bill making Valley Forge a national park was passed. [97]

President Gerald Ford signed the bill into law at a special ceremony held at Valley Forge on July 4, 1976. He congratulated the legislators who had worked long and hard to get their legislation through. He thanked Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp, pledging, "And so, Governor, we are delighted to take over and make certain that the good work of the State of Pennsylvania is carried out and that this historic site will become another in the complex of national historic sites for the preservation of these things that mean so much to us—those sites that contributed so significantly to our national history and our national progress." [98]

Within another month, the transition was well under way. H. Gilbert Lusk, a New Jersey native who had been with the National Park Service since 1962, was appointed the first National Park Service superintendent at Valley Forge. [99] Meetings were conducted with Valley Forge's other associations, such as the Valley Forge Historical Society. National Park Service officials admitted there would be changes, generally emphasizing historic preservation and discouraging some recreational uses of the park, but these would be gradual and would be made after discussions with interested groups and individuals. [100] Annamaria Malloy made it clear that her interest in the affairs of Valley Forge would not cease with the demise of the park commission. [101] Special ceremonies were held at the National Memorial Arch on March 30, 1977, to formally transfer the administration of Valley Forge to the National Park Service. [102]

The talk of change was all rather vague, making it clear that no one was certain exactly what the new era opening at Valley Forge would bring. In the meantime, another struggle and another transition was taking place among the successors to the Rev. Dr. W. Herbert Burk.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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