The First Park


After the American Civil War, the industrial pace of the United States quickened. Expanding railroads needed 80 million crossties a year.

By 1870, there were 30,000 sawmills in the United States. Pennsylvania's timber crop was producing $29 million annually. Logging companies moved into forests and clearcut the trees, then pulled up and moved off to new forests.

In this black-and-white photo men cut logs at a sawmill.
 

The young industry of iron production was rapidly improving and growing. Steel was beginning to be produced. Anthracite coal was discovered in many locations in Northeast Pennsylvania and mines followed. In Western and Central Pennsylvania bituminous coal was mined in many locations. The first oil boom in the world happened in Northwest Pennsylvania.

People thought that natural resources were limitless. The industries rapidly consumed the natural resources, but people were finally starting to notice. In 1886 the Pennsylvania Forestry Association was formed. Below is an excerpt from the July issue of its publication Forest Leaves.

In this black-and-white photo men work at an iron mill.
 

The Forests of our state are being destroyed at such a rate as will, before many years, lead to a dearth of timber. With the removal of timber from our mountain ranges and ridges, also will come such an irregular distribution of water as will produce freshets on the one hand, and drought on the other. . .the preservation of extensive woodland areas is one of the most important duties the citizen owes to the future. Forest fires destroy each year. . .from two to three million dollars worth of timber. Lumbermen of experience declare that in thirty years, with the present alarming destruction of trees, Pennsylvania will not have any saleable timber within her borders.

 

The people were beginning to realize that their state, named for its abundant trees, was becoming the "Pennsylvania Desert."

On a national level, Yosemite became the first state park in the United States in 1865. In 1872 Congress designated Yellowstone as the first national park. The idea of saving land for the public was slowly seeping into the American psyche.

 

Pennsylvanians had been trying for years to preserve Valley Forge, where George Washington encamped the army during the American Revolution. Private citizens formed the Centennial and Memorial Association of Valley Forge in 1878. Within a year the organization took possession of Washington's Headquarters and eventually acquired full ownership. The state legislature appropriated 5,000 dollars to maintain the headquarters.

Failing to get federal money, on May 30, 1893, Governor Robert E. Pattison signed Act 130 "for the acquisition of ground at Valley Forge for a public park." This act also created a ten-person commission that worked to acquire more land and get facilities constructed.

In this black-and-white photo several huts are in a field at Valley Forge.
 

Governor Samuel Pennypacker was a strong supporter of Valley Forge. In his farewell administrative message, Governor Pennypacker said,

That camp ground upon hills and the Valley Creek twenty-three miles from Philadelphia. . .better than any other field in the country typifies and represents the fortitude and resolution which made the Revolutionary War successful. The State ought to maintain it forever as one of the most cherished possessions. . .Every American and especially every Pennsylvanian ought to go to Valley Forge as the saints of Mohammed went to Mecca.

 

A $100,000 grant from congress allowed Governor Martin G. Brumbaugh to build the Great Arch of Victory. The top of the arch reads; "Naked and starving as they are we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery. -- Washington at Valley Forge 1776."

In this black-and-white photo is an impressive monument, the Victory Arch at Valley Forge.
 

As a Pennsylvania state park, Valley Forge was a popular destination. This picture is of Washington's Headquarters in 1968.

In this black-and-white photo are the park office and sign of Valley Forge State Park.
 

A highlight of the park's history is the 1950 Boy Scout National Jamboree which was visited by President Harry S Truman. The president is the third from the left in the white suit.

In this black-and-white photo Pres. Truman is in the back of a train.
 

As part of the national bicentennial celebration, President Gerald R. Ford visited Valley Forge on July 4, 1976 to sign legislation authorizing the federal government to take control of the park, creating Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Reenactors dressed at Continental soldiers stand by a hut at Valley Forge National Battlefield.
 

In the Early Years, other parks were added and the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks was created.

 

Bibliography

Cupper, Dan. Our Priceless Heritage, Pennsylvania State Parks, 1893-1993 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Department of Environmental Resources, Bureau of State Parks, 1993.