Each year thousands of Americans who visit the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area stop to see Valley Forge in the nearby rolling hills. At a crude encampment there during the bitter winter of 1777-78, 2,000 colonial soldiers died of hunger, disease, and exposure. But their commander, the future U.S. president George Washington, made a fighting force of his beaten and bedraggled army. Come Spring, they began a campaign that won the colonies' independence from Britain.
Valley Forge is an important U.S. historical park, managed by the National Park Service. And just 30 kilometers away is an equally important site that has suffered quite a different fate. It's Brandywine Battlefield, the site of the Revolutionary War's largest and bloodiest engagement — which the colonists lost decisively. That led to their harrowing ordeal at Valley Forge.
The Brandywine Battlefield had been a showcase Pennsylvania historical park. But this year's troubled economy led to a budget crunch that brought with it terrible news for its small staff and legion of dedicated volunteers. Brandywine Battlefield Park was to be closed and locked tight. The move would have shuttered two historic buildings where General Washington; another future president, James Madison; and two legendary foreign fighters, the French Marquis de Lafayette and the Polish count Casimir Pulaski, had made their headquarters.
But a group called Friends of Brandywine Park have come to the rescue, at least for the short term. They agreed to operate the park, and some of the paid staff even volunteered to work for free to keep it open. Longer-term, park supporters are trusting that the nearby township of Chadd's Ford, and four other townships over whose grounds the battle spread, will come up with enough money to keep the park going. And they're hoping that the National Park Service will one day take on Brandywine Battlefield Park and combine the visitor experience with that of nearby Valley Forge.
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.