Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: April 1996 Volume 34 Number 2, Pages 66–70

Valley Forge Sixty Years Ago

Franklin L. Burns

Page 66

When I administered to my father's estate I found in his desk a scrap of pale blue notepaper signed by CM. Rogers, nephew of Col. Rogers of Valley Forge. It was dated Apr. 3rd, 1850, and contained the following communication: "I certainly expected to see your men yesterday. My carpenters are now waiting on the stonework and until it is finished, we can do nothing. You will commence on my house. It is dug out and ready for your work, except the foundations which the men are ready to dig out as soon as you lay it out."

It was then I recalled anew a red letter day, on which my father redeemed his promise to show his small schoolboy son over the Valley Forge encampment. Ever since the Centennial Celebration I had been hearing from my elder brother much of the great oration of Henry Armitt Brown, and I was eager to go over the hallowed ground.

As we walked along the Old Welsh Line Road my father pointed out the site of the Stone Chimney Picket just north of New Centreville. The Roberts' girls had urged that a paved and flower-bordered walk should be made from the Swedesford Road to the site, but the men folks had objected that it would interfere with the cultivation of the field.

As we passed along the Valley Creek road built by Holstein when he was the road supervisor of Upper Merion township, father recalled the traditional site of the dambreast and just below it the forge burned by the British. All assertions to the contrary, there were persons then living who could point out the exact position of the forge.

Page 67

I understood that a former private road led down from the charcoal pits on Mount Misery through a fold in the hill, and that the pig iron came over the Nutt road and a long abandoned cart road in the rear of Mount Joy, coming out at or near Washington spring and crossing over the dambreast to the Forge.

The wooded North Valley Hills has long had a network of mysterious and abandoned roads known only to the few who might wish to travel unseen for miles along its crest. The late Lane Schofield, whose family resided on the southern slope, insisted that just before the Battle of Gettysburg a member of his family had observed a mounted man in Confederate gray riding eastward over this route. The supposition was advanced that a scout from Early's command bore a message to certain members of the Knights of the Golden Chain residing in the eastern section of the Chester Valley. Of course this is hearsay and may be classed as local folk lore, although it is not impossible that some scouting was done in this direction.

As we neared the village of Valley Forge the abandoned woolen mill and the crumbling tenements and company store on either hand seemed to have a deserted and forlorn appearance. Isaac Smith, the late operator, had requested more favorable terms before renewing his lease, and failing to obtain the concession, he removed to a site more convenient to river and railroad.

The one-story frame papermill near the Reading Railroad culvert had also suspended operations, perhaps temporarily, for I observed paper on the rolls, dye in the bins, and the waters clouded with waste potash; but Valley Forge, so far as manufacturing was concerned, was at its lowest ebb.

My father spoke of the Continental bakeovens near the Headquarters. I had the impression that during the time of either Col. John or of Charles Rogers, he had something to do with the removal of a part of the foundations of the building, but that he was not present when his workmen discovered an ancient cornerstone under which had been walled an earthen jug, though he arrived in time to observe the potency of its contents, for all hands appeared in a state of inebriation from drinking the thickened fluid.

We walked up the hill to the position of Gen. Macintosh's Brigade. The fighting boys from the Sunny South must have suffered frightfully from the wintry blasts. Their position on the northern slope of the rear hill was much exposed. Tradition states that some fifty years later a washout exposed numerous human bones in their shallow graves.

Along the edge of the woods in this vicinity, my father showed me a circular stone foundation which he built for a structural steel observation tower. The metal work had long since disappeared. Haupt & Franklin has not indicated the site in their original survey for the State.

Page 68

In regard to this tower, Henry Woodman has the following interesting account, published in 1850: "Charles Rogers now resides there and being a man of great wealth, and disposed to improve the property, it is now in a fair way of improvement in appearance and prosperity. Many new and substantial buildings have been erected by him; among them, on a very elevated point on the Rear Line Hill, is an observatory, furnished with a large telescope, from which an extended view of the surrounding country in every direction may be enjoyed, affording to the observer a very beautiful and diversified prospect of the most lovely and interesting scenery in its native grandeur, highly cultivated farms, splendid mansions and commodious farm houses, neat cottages and handsome villages, the navigable river, the railroad thronged with cars, beautiful streams, hills and dales, 'fountains and fresh shades' in abundance, till observation is satisfied in passing:

'From house to house and hill to hill.
And contemplation has her fill.'"

I was also shown two small depressions on the western slope of Mount Joy above the Valley Creek gorge, which were thought to have been rifle pits. We then followed the inner breastworks. The timber had not at that time been logged over, and the lofty trees and tangled mountain laurel both oppressed and depressed me. Here, about 1840, I was informed, a pair of bald eagles had nested.

Great forest trees were growing inside and on the slopes of the Washington redoubt, and in the rear of this little mud fort there was a mound of earth which I was informed in all probability was the fallen earthen roof of a powder magazine. Looking across the cultivated area, my father remarked that when he was a boy he had stepped from one grave mound to another for what seemed to him a distance of a quarter of a mile, I have since regretted that I had not inquired the exact location of the graves as he remembered them. He was by no means a loquacious person, and he so seldom repeated that I learned early to pay strict attention to his remarks and to store what I learned in my mind for future reference.

In the rear of the position of Wayne's Division we came upon an old acquaintance repairing the fence, Peter Tomkins, who related how, on the Evans farm, they had plowed up broken camp kettles, tools, and other relics of the camp. We did not have time to visit the site of Sullivan's bridge, but I learned that some of the abutments were visible for many a year after the superstructure had been carried away by a spring freshet. He related an anecdote current in former days when the Reading Railroad was new.

As the story goes, a matron and her daughter were on board of a passenger coach of a train creeping slowly along the bank of the Schuylkill where they observed several waterworn oaken piles which the summer's drought had rendered visible above the surface of the water.

Page 69

The daughter had read something in her history book about Valley Forge, and became quite eager to learn if the line of heavy posts across the river had any connection with the camp. She applied to the conductor of the train for information, and when he shook his head she would have carried her enquiry to the nearest passengers, had not her mother interposed with "Hush Hannah! Don't show your ignorance. That is where Washington crossed the Delaware!"

The Rev. James Menninger Gutherie came as pastor of the Great Valley Baptist Church on Aug. 12, 1883, with almost boundless enthusiasm for his work. Not content with the management of the church farm, his printing press, and church duties, he established missions at the Carr schoolhouse, Mount Pleasant, and Valley Forge. He went down upon his knees in the midst of the ruined walls of the old Valley Forge Baptist Church on the ground donated many years before by John Workiser, and made his vow before the Great Jehovah to restore the Baptist tabernacle there.

Capitalizing upon the historic site, there followed a series of lectures on Valley Forge, a fair of a week duration in the vacant woolen mill, and other projects to secure funds from the public schools, homes, and by the wayside, for the projected Baptist Memorial Church. Bricks sold for ten cents each, face stones with the donor's name and a suitable motto engraved thereon cost only $3, $5, or $10. A stained glass window from $100 to $250.

I was then a pupil in a local public school and qualified for a free pass to the lecture in the Berwyn hall by selling five tickets. When I learned that a schol selling twenty tickets was awarded a blueprint of the encampment, I secured the blueprint. I found his lecture was made up of G. A. R. campfire tales and what he could glean from some old residents of the old camp grounds.

In 1885 the old walls of the Valley Forge Baptist Church were removed, with prayer and song, and the new begun. Two stonecutters spent a winter in a heated shed preparing some face stone and the work progressed slowly. On July 15th, 1886, the ceremonies connected with the laying of the cornerstone of the new edifice included music by the 2nd Regiment Drum Corps; singing verses composed by the pastor; short addresses by the Hon. Horatio Gates Jones, Col. R.P. Dechert, Hon. L.B. Kaler, Rev. R. M. Luther; and a salute of thirteen guns by the Keystone Battery, P.N.G. as the reverend gentleman plied the trowel. He had seen some service when a boy on a gunboat in Uncle Sam's freshwater navy on the Mississippi, and appreciated the military display made possible by the summer encampment of the above at Valley Forge.

Thereafter the project faltered, with a Berwyn mason's bill for leveling the cellar walls unpaid -- and still in default. The basement walls and some blocks of stone apparently accounted for the collection of approximately somewhere between $5000 and $10,000.

Page 70

Mr. Gutherie's paper, the Baptist Treasury, published on the Valley Baptist farm, in its final issue acknowledged about $5000 in contributions, confessedly incomplete, and the article was to have been continued in its next issue - which never appeared. Bad management, excessive traveling expenses, and too many irons in the fire, had left the poor man without the funds to continue the work at the time when his legitimate charge felt quite neglected. He resigned Jan. 1st, 1887, and we saw him no more.

Though the dream of the Rev. Gutherie for a Baptist Memorial Church met with frustration, the Baptists finally saw a meetinghouse erected on the foundations of the old. Among my most valued relics of the Gutherie regime I have a broad red ribband on which there is an engraved portrait of David Jones (Chaplain of the Revolution) and a facsimile of his signature, together with an inscription announcing the dates May 22-29, 1886, and several of the attractions for the memorial fair.


from "The Picket Post" (No. 7, October 1944) of the Valley Forge Historical Society reprinted with permission


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