Ah, Valley Forge National Historical Park, the Central Park of the Main Line.
Walk, ride or hike its 3,500 acres and you can just smell the history.
But the Park’s not resting on its cherry laurels these days.
Far from it.
Thanks to its newly invigorated citizen militia, the nonprofit Valley Forge Park Alliance, it’s marching forward with dazzling plans that will affect ALL of us – anyone who “recreates” in the park (90 percent of visitors), brings guests there, or even drives through. Ten Hut!
Here’s what’s afoot:
1. A TV show. Star fixer-upper Jeff Devlin, host of “Stone House Revival” on HGTV/DIY Network wants to film six episodes in the park and forge an ongoing partnership.
His plan/hope, still in the very early stages: Renovate some of the park’s antiquated digs with cameras rolling and strict historical accuracy. To do it, though, he says he’ll need help from the surrounding community and businesses. The buildings are in sorry shape and the Park doesn’t have the funds to maintain them.
Jeff hangs his hat in West Chester but likes to stretch his cycling legs in Valley Forge. “You ride around here and don’t realize the reality of historic homes buried in the woods,” Jeff tells SAVVY. “We hope we can make a big difference – once we start the process, we’d replicate it again and again, even without the TV show.” He’s fine-tuning his pitch to network execs as we speak. So cool. But it’ll be a while.
2. A new café with character – and a scenic deck for walkers and cyclists. A local real estate guy (not allowed to tell you who yet) is in serious talks with the National Park Service to lease the Maurice Stephens House.
The plan: Turn the 2,500 sq. ft. house and grounds into a “unique social gathering place” overlooking the Grand Parade, aka the giant field where the generals drilled the Continental Army. If the deal goes through, look for a limited-menu café and deck on the ground floor. Top two stories get rented as offices.
For the record: Of the 113 buildings scattered around the park, 74 are historic and 12 of those are colonial era. Bare bones budgets have left many in rough shape, or worse. The Stephens House was built in 1816.
Already a hit: Weddings in the park. Spiffed up and leased by Robert Ryan Catering, the old Philander Chase Knox Estate and adjoining tent hosted 30+ shindigs its first year and will host at least 44 more in 2017.
3. Cool new trail connections and park paths. Cue the salivating cyclists. The Sullivan’s Bridge connected the park to the Schuylkill River Trail last summer. But we have two potential new connectors to get excited about:
Trail One: A $7 million, 14-mile “Freedom Trail” linking the park to Phoenixville and the Schuylkill River Trail is moving slowly through the approval process – with some hiccups. (Namely, the Freedoms Foundation not wanting the trail on its property and the park wanting only a gravel path on its.)
Trail Two: A Gulph Road Connector, linking the new King of Prussia Town Center to the park, first proposed by Montco in 2013. The Park Alliance has applied for small grants to get the ball rolling again. Seems nuts that the 2,500 folks leasing those new KOP apartments have to get in their cars to reach the park in their backyard.
Paths through the Grand Parade: Mowed walkways with gorgeous open vistas (and eventually, signage) are coming this summer, thanks to a new meadow management plan. Valley Forge hosts 1,300 species of flora and fauna, among them flying squirrels, minks, and terrestrial salamanders. It’s high time we got up close and personal.
Almost MIA: The park’s army of white-tailed deer, after six years of culling by the feds.
Making a comeback: The park’s forests. Seedlings of maple, dogwood, red bud, maple-leaf and viburnum, among others, have taken root. Welcome back.
4. Historical sites you’ll REALLY want to show off to out-of-towners.
Money’s already in place for:
- A total revamp of the Visitor’s Center to begin in the fall. Built in 1976 and showing its years, the Center will get all-new, interactive exhibits and energy efficient windows and such.
- A new movie to replace “Valley Forge: A Winter Encampment.” You know, the reel that’s been playing at the Visitor’s Center for eons. Filmed in the early 70s by Zooey Deschanel’s dad and first narrated by Henry Fonda, NFL Films has remodeled the movie twice. Time to bench it for good.
- Log cabins that are more than empty shells. Already at bat: fun, interactive features. On deck: a tricked out officer’s hut, authentically recreated and furnished.
5. New stuff for students – and not just the ones headed to college. In partnership with TV renovator Jeff Devlin, the Uncommon Individual Foundation, based in Devon, wants to mentor folks learning the building trades. Workshops in woodworking, stonemasonry and such would take place in a rehabbed historic building. Fingers crossed.
6. More upscale and exclusive park fundraisers – details TBA but likely involving area businesses. Last Sunday’s Revolutionary Run, a rousing 5 miler through the park, smashed records for runners (1,500) and corporate sponsors (up 30 percent). The 50K raised is swell, but the park needs lots more for its crumbling buildings and ambitious offerings.
7. New and stronger alliances. When the feds cut your funding and freeze hiring, you find new friends. Already in good stead with the outdoorsy folks at REI and Montco’s Valley Forge Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, the Park Alliance is now batting its lashes at the Brandywine Valley Visitor’s Bureau. ‘Cause the park’s prettiest parts (arguably) are in Chester County and it’s high time someone noticed, right?
Like the generals at Valley Forge, the National Park Service and the VF Park Alliance have big plans and a noble calling: Enhance and preserve these glorious acres for our children’s children and their descendants.
The rest of us, well, we have our marching orders. Next time we use the park, let’s not take it for granted.
Fired up for Valley Forge? Some ideas:
- Join the Valley Forge Park Alliance and enjoy the perks. Or bring your local company on board. $30 for singles, $45 for families, discounts for Young Friends and kids. Besides being a voice for the park and raising $$ for new programs, the Alliance pays to transport kids from underserved schools to the park. Nice.
- Show up for low or no-cost park events like guided bird walks, summer Lunch & Learns, the Speaker Series (First Couple George and Martha will talk about their marriage May 9) or Heritage Night, a sunset picnic with special guest, TV star Jeff Devlin of “Stone House Revival” on June 16.
- Volunteer at the July 4 Picnic in the Park: greet guests, provide info, lead kids’ games.
Or simply click here to pass along what you’d like to see at your friendly, neighborhood National Historical Park. ‘Cause they won’t know unless you tell them.
Ready, Aim, Visit! 8 reasons you’re gonna LOVE the new Museum of the American Revolution
Boston may be whupping Philly sports teams of late, but, hey, we’re killing it in war museums – thanks to our new Museum of the American Revolution.
The hottest (timed) ticket in town.
Aka, the museum that was going to be built in Valley Forge. Until the project got all bloated with hotels and parking, and the locals said enough already.
We scoped out the new museum on press day and here’s why we think you need to get there, stat. (Tell your out-of-town guests the Liberty Bell – never all that it’s been cracked up to be – can wait.)
- ONE: It’s gorgeous. Grand but approachable, modern with colonial flourishes, the brick building at 3rd and Chestnut is an American beauty, inside and out. Even the potties are elegant. Fits in nicely with its Old City neighbors, too. Credit Robert A.M. Stern Architects, designers of the Comcast Center, the Navy Yard and Villanova U’s Performing Arts Center (coming soon).
- TWO: It’s fun. Even for grownups. Cool screens and exhibits to monkey around with, a privateer ship replica to climb aboard…
a two-story Liberty Tree to ooh and ah over…
life-like figures re-enacting dramatic scenes and films galore.
- THREE: It’s inclusive. Sure, there are relics from our Founding Fathers, but much of America’s rebellion was rooted in ordinary people – farmers, field hands, craftsmen, tradesmen, slaves and Oneida Indians (our first allies). The AmRev Museum tells everyone’s story.
- FOUR: It’s awesome – and we mean that in its true sense: it inspires awe. The way the museum presents its crown jewel, George Washington’s War Tent, is mind-blowing. We won’t show you and spoil it, but it sure made us misty-eyed. They tested the nifty tent reveal on fourth-graders, who apparently went nuts with spontaneous cheers and applause. No surprise.
- FIVE: It’s for everyone. History, antiques and archeology geeks will gawk at its 3,000 artifacts. Patriots will revel in the dramatic story. Techies will delight in all the whiz-bang gizmos (“digital interactives”) and fabulous feats of engineering.
- SIX: It’s good for Valley Forge. And park tourist dollars spill over to Main Line-area merchants. If you fall in love with the story of our nation’s painful/exhilarating birth in Old City, chances are you’ll head west to see the war’s pivotal park, right?
- SEVEN: The food’s good. The Cross Keys Café, operated by Brulee Catering, offers “revolutionary inspired” seasonal salads, sandwiches, dishes, and sweets.
Lots of brining, pickling and smoking. Martha would be pleased. Locally sourced produce and made in PA snacks. Beer and wine, too. There’s outdoor seating in nice weather and you don’t need a museum ticket to dine here.
- EIGHT: The inevitable gift shop’s swell, too. Lovely tin ceiling, serene and airy, painted in the cheeriest of blues, with lots of museum replicas and interesting logo gifts. Good stuff. (Although not especially cheap).
The Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S. Third St. (corner of Third and Chestnut), is open daily. $19 for adults, $12 for kids 6 and up. Tickets good for two consecutive days.
Pun’s Toy Shop played out
Bryn Mawr’s small-but-special toy store is calling it quits. Pun’s is running an everything-must-go, 30-percent-off sale. Gift cards and credit slips will be honored until June 5.
After a 40-year run on Lancaster Ave., Pun’s owner Joe Berardoni is retiring. Leaving Paoli Hardware and Pucci Manuli as our only Toys R Us alternatives.
Sorry to see you go, Joe.
Lower Merion wants to raise taxes again
Yup, the township that just lost its appeal of a ruling that cut last year’s rates in half (from 4.4 to 2.5 percent) is seeing dollar signs again.
This week, Lower Merion Schools’ Supe had the fun job of explaining to 200 taxpayers why the district needs to raise their taxes 2.99 percent – once again, above the 2.5 percent state cap.
His argument: Lower Merion schools are busting at the seams and educating all those kiddos properly costs buckos and the state’s not kicking in enough.
Lots of folks rose to support the district. But aviation attorney Arthur Wolk, the guy who led the winning suit against the district’s yearly tax hikes, says he’ll take it to court again.
Sue you once, shame on you. Sue you twice…
U.S. News’ new school rankings
U.S. News & World Report just released its public high school rankings and the usual local suspects fared well – at least when compared to other PA schools.
But stack them against the rest of the country and the results are, well, a tad disappointing. (Maybe it’s just us.)
On the Main Line:
- Conestoga was #3 in PA but #306 in the U.S.
- Radnor was #6 in PA, #432 in the U.S.
- Great Valley was #10 in PA and #563.
- Lower Merion was 13th in PA and #680.
- Harriton was #24 in PA and #904 in the U.S.
THAT many schools are better than ours? Humph.
Merion Cricket Club swings for new members
So Merion Cricket Club, that bastion of athletic and social pursuits of a most genteel order, is looking for new faces.
Seems that’s why it scooped up adjoining properties in its tony Haverford ’hood a decade ago, part of a master plan to update facilities and expand membership.
At first, the club wanted to knock down all the homes on the properties, history be damned.
Not so any more.
After talks with neighbors and folks from the township and Lower Merion Conservancy – so civilized! – the club has arrived at a compromise.
It’s now seeking the township’s OK to demolish seven houses and to re-purpose four. Designed by famed architect Walter Durham, the fab four sit in the center of Elbow Lane.
So, as it steps forward, Merion Cricket is keeping a foot in history. Which is only fitting for a National Historic Landmark.
A round of Cricket Trivia: The club dates back to 1865 in Wynnewood and then Ardmore. In 1892, it paid $150,000 – for its Haverford site for 999 years. The clubhouse, its sixth, has great bones: it was designed by Frank Furness and fireproofed by railroad magnate Alexander Cassatt.
Appreciating Dodo Hamilton
What can we say about Dodo the do-gooder that hasn’t already been said?
As most of you know, the Main Line has lost its pre-eminent Grande Dame, Dorrance Hill Hamilton, aka the Campbell Soup Heiress, who kept her childhood nickname even though she was anything but dodo-brained.
All of Dodo’s children and grandchildren had a chance to visit her in her Boca Grande before she passed after a long illness on April 18. Anne Hamilton, who’s taken her mother-in-law’s charity baton and raced with it, put on a brave face at the Philly Antiques & Art Show she co-chaired just days after Dodo’s death.
Among her many earthly blessings, Dodo leaves behind a lovely home, gardens and greenhouses in Wayne, nestled near two of her passion projects, Valley Forge Flowers and the Little House Shop.
Ever gracious, Dodo regularly opened her ten Strafford acres to charities and gardening groups, even as she spent her last years at her Boca and Newport estates. There’s been talk that the Pa. Horticultural Society will take over her property and use it for gardening education. Two green thumbs up for that idea.
Speaking personally, my most enduring Dodo memory dates back about a decade, to the time she and I judged the Ladies Day Hat Contest at the Devon Horse Show. Carson Kressley was also judging. Too polite to ask, I’m pretty sure Dodo had no any idea who The Queer Eye star was. She confessed to me that she had no clue how the contest worked or what she should be looking for each category, even though hats were, of course, her sartorial signature. I crossed paths with Mrs. Hamilton (that’s what I called her) several times over the years, but that morning we were just two gals, giggling over straw, ribbons, feathers and flowers.
She wouldn’t remember me but I won’t forget her.
Her memorial service will be held Thursday, May 11 at 11 a.m. at 218 Strafford Ave., Wayne.
Expect a crowd.
A second salute to Gerry Sills, 97, another hat-happy Main Line philanthropist
Gerry Sills, too, leaves lasting footprints. But, ever the fashionista, no doubt hers are high-heeled.
The petite powerhouse behind the long-running Classic Shop, Gerry died last weekend at her home in Philly.
She enjoyed 97 style-setting years, many of them in Bala Cynwyd.
Like Dodo, Gerry was a do-gooder of the first order – her charity-minded pals even call their group The Do-Gooders.
So liked was Gerry that Mayor Nutter came out for her 90th birthday tea at the Water Works, declaring Jan. 28, 2010 “Gerry Sills Day.” Naturally, the tea’s $25,000 profits went to charity.
Over the years, Gerry raised thousands for the Narberth-based NOHR Foundation, Moore College of Art and Design, Drexel’s Nesbitt College of Design Arts, the Breast Health Institute, the Philadelphia Orchestra and underserved children.
She will be missed.
What is it about women and hats and good deeds anyway?
We just learned that hat-mad Main Line realtor Michelle Leonard is famous for her “five-minute favors,” wherein she connects ten people to ten people weekly.
Hats off to her, to borrow her trademark phrase.
KOP Town Center goes all out
Miss La La Land at the multiplex?
You can watch the film outdoors at the King of Prussia Town Center on May 3 at 7:30 p.m. First 100 to check in get a blanket and popcorn. Ticket price? Zero.
La La’s the first showing for the center’s free monthly movie nights. Also coming: free live acts and weekly beginner yoga nights, led by Stillpoint Yoga Studios. BYO mat and towel, Tuesdays at 6.
A free screening that might save your teen’s life
Sudden cardiac arrest is the number one cause of death among student athletes.
But who’s at risk?
Local youth (ages 12 to 19) who’ve never had an EKG or been seen by a cardiologist can get screened for free next Saturday, May 6 at Harriton High School.
Volunteer docs from Main Line Health, Temple, Jefferson, Abington and Drexel will take vitals, histories and EKGs and evaluate risk. Based on findings, some will get echo-cardiograms.
The free screening’s being hosted by the Lafayette Hill non-profit, Simon’s Fund.
And finally, a brief SAVVY commercial
Exciting news for all you business owners and execs out there looking to get your name in front of the Main Line’s SAVVYest readers. We’re now ready to make some noise for you via ads and sponsorships. Give us a shout. E-mail [email protected] and be sure to cc yours truly, [email protected] Could be the beginning of a beautiful partnership.