Last night over a dinner of prime rib, there was a lengthy discussion over what to do today. We ultimately decided on a visit to Valley Forge, and especially when we discovered it was only around 20 miles from the house where we are staying.
Mike and Billie met us at our house around 10:30 for our last day of touring together. We spent at least an hour just visiting at the kitchen table before we forced ourselves to load up and get the day started.
One story in particular that I enjoyed was one from Mike when he was living in Stillwater, going to Oklahoma State. Rick Lampe was one of his roommates, who is someone that I have known since he was also a roommate of KK’s while at OSU. There was a party at Mike’s house and the cops showed up to tell them to knock it off with the noise. Mike went upstairs afterwards to find that one of the guests, an OSU football player, had climbed out a bedroom window and was hanging outside off the ledge to avoid being seen by the police.
I also learned that Mike and Billie met while both were students at OSU. Stephanie and I can attest that this can be the start of a long relationship.
Once we arrived at Valley Forge, we signed up for a trolley tour around the park, and it started almost immediately. Good timing on our part!
Valley Forge is a name of a place that I have known, but can’t say that I have had a real strong understanding of what went on there. Today cleared all that up.
Valley Forge was the site of the army’s winter encampment for roughly six months in 1777-1778. The terms “perseverance” and “sacrifice” were appropriate terms to describe this period of inadequate food, clothing and supplies. The site would become the fourth largest city in America during the encampment, with approximately 12,000 soldiers who were there.
The first stop on the trolley tour was to see replicas of the log huts that were built by the soldiers and provided their lodging for six months. George Washington commanded the camp and he prescribed in detail the size and orientation of the huts. The soldiers slept 12 to a hut. Being in such close proximity aided the spread of disease. As such, as soon as a soldier began getting ill, they were immediately removed to a hospital outside of the camp. Even with these precautions, over 2,000 soldiers died at Valley Forge.
It was difficult to recruit soldiers, so the government offered $10 signing bonuses to recruits, and 100 acres of prime farmland for soldiers that fulfilled their duty. (Spoiler alert: not everybody got their 100 acres.) The average age of the soldiers at Valley Forge was 19, which seemed shockingly young to me. The leadership in the Continental Army had their work cut out for them.
The trolley tour continued with stops at several key memorials and statues. The National Memorial Arch was gorgeous and was built in 1917 to honor the soldiers’ perseverance. Our tour guide, who was wonderful, made a point of saying that this memorial was important because it celebrates victory off the battlefield.
The tour guide was a retired teacher so he enjoyed quizzing the group. He asked the Pennsylvanians on the trip who was the unquestioned favorite revolutionary son of the state. After a few wrong answers, the crowd got it right with Anthony Wayne. Wayne was a war hero, and after the war, led efforts to secure land from Indians in the Midwest. There are counties named after him in Michigan and Indiana, as well as the town of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
During the past few days I have seen several references to George Washington as the American Cincinnatus. I had read a few articles this week about that relationship, and I asked the tour guide about it at the first stop. His eyes lit up and he said I would need to check out the statue of Washington at one of our future stops. He doesn’t take the tour to this statue so he encouraged me to leave the tour and check it out on my own, which I did.
Cincinnatus was a retired and distinguished Roman general who was a farmer when the Roman senate conferred the powers of dictator to him so that he could rebuff an invasion of the city. Cincinnatus left his farm, led a victory over the invaders, and gave up his dictatorship after just 16 days, returning to his life as a farmer.
The statue depicts Washington in his military uniform, but holding a walking cane instead of a sword. He stands beside a plow, a symbol of his love of agriculture, and he rests his hand on a bundle of rods, a Roman symbol of civil authority. This bronze statue is a replica of the marble one which stands in the Virginia state capitol.
When I returned to the tour group before we boarded the trolley, the tour guide mentioned the statue and asked me to educate the group about it. No pressure! His comment after I finished was, “That’s mostly accurate”. I’ll take that as a compliment.
During the encampment, George Washington stayed in the house of one of the local farmers. Washington insisted on paying rent and prided himself on never taking advantage of the citizens.
Following the tour, we watched a short movie in the theatre. It was a massive theatre and there were 7 of us watching the movie. We picked the right time to visit.
A final thought about the Valley Forge National Park – this was part historical park and part recreation area. There are 26 miles of trails on the park, and everywhere we went, you would see people walking, running, and riding bikes on the trail. It is a great example of public space.
Following the movie, it was around 4:00 and it was time to start thinking about lunch. That is about how this trip has gone. Meals are optional. We opted to go across the road to the Valley Forge Casino for lunch. It was a simple meal at their food court, but I took the opportunity to have another Philly Cheesesteak.
One important item to note was that the Casino had something that made me think I was living in the future. An automatic hand washing machine. This is a very random place to find the 8th wonder of the world, but there it was. You stuck your arms in the two armholes, and your hands were covered with water, then soap, and then rinsed. Billie and I tried it, because…how could you not?
After eating, the visiting continued for quite a while until we all agreed it was time to get on the road. Our time with Mike and Billie this trip has come to an end. It was wonderful to get to know them and hear all their stories. I hope we can do it again soon.
Because of traffic congestion on the interstate going back to our house, Google Maps directed us back on a different route than we drove up. As KK put it, “I know Google says this is the shortest way, but I can’t believe they are taking us through these neighborhoods.” This is honestly what it felt like. We drove through neighborhood streets for 20 miles and got home in about an hour. We were grateful for the alternative because we did get to see plenty of interesting scenery because of it.
The evening was spent at the house watching the season opener as OSU thumped Tulsa 59-24. I was sorry to not be present at the game with my family, but we cheered the Cowboys on to victory from Philadelphia. We are hoping that the next travel blog location is related to the College Football Playoff!