As excuses for road trips go, “my roommate needs dental work” is probably an unusual one. But poor A had been suffering after breaking a tooth, and then having questionable treatment from a local dentist; he’d seemed fine, but her tooth was still hurting pretty bad and she was fearing he’d not done as good a job as she’d hoped. But one of my high school friends is now a dentist and offered to have a look – if, that is, we could get A to his practice in Pennsylvania.
I was also able to borrow my friends’ car – Colin and Niki actually use me as their “car babysitter” when they’re out of town, which just means that I make sure that their minivan, affectionally nicknamed “The TARDIS”, is parked properly at all times. They’ve encouraged me to use it each time as well, instead of just moving it on streetsweeping days and letting it sit otherwise. So they were more than willing to let us borrow it for a day trip.
We got to the office mid-morning and A got in pretty quickly – but she was facing some serious work, so rather than sit in the waiting room, I drove about ten minutes up the road to where I’d seen Valley Forge National Park was close by. A road trip’s got to have some sightseeing, right?
Now, I’d known the basics about Valley Forge from history class – it was a winter encampment during the Revolutionary War, and it was a rough winter and a lot of soldiers suffered in the cold. And the visitors center backed that all up, with a number of displays on “camp life” and “soldiers’ belongings” and lots of displays about Washington himself. But I’d thought the park was much smaller, and limited to the couple acres or so around the visitor’s center I was at. I asked the ranger at the visitors’ center what I should see; “I only have about an hour or so to spend, what would you suggest?”
“Oh, Washington’s Headquarters, definitely,” he said. “It’s here on the map – you have a map, yes?”
“And you’re parked here in the visitor’s center lot? So then you drive back out by the – ”
“Wait, drive?” I stopped him. “It’s just here on the map, I was just going to walk.”
“…Well, you could walk there, sure, but…it’d take you about three hours.” He pointed out the distance marker on the map.
Oh. It was about five miles distant.
So I drove over to Washington’s Headquarters.
The headquarters themselves were about an acre of land, with Washington’s house tucked into one corner along with an iron forge and a series of guard bunkers close by.
The park volunteer – who jumped up and launched into a memorized lecture about the place any time anyone came in – pointed out that just about every part of the house was original, and clarified that it wasn’t just Washington who lived in it, but also his aides-de-camp, sometimes Martha, and “some servants and slaves” – about twenty people on the whole, packed into a little three-bedroom house with an attic.
The downstairs rooms were also given over to offices – Washington’s own office in the rear, and his aides-de-camp’s office in the front.
Something the visitors’ center and the volunteer both pointed out: the soldiers in Valley Forge didn’t just sit around being cold. Washington had used the winter to sort of give the entire Continental Army a makeover. Before the winter, each states’ regiment had been using their own techniques and their own battle planning, and was responsible for their own training. Which left things a fairly disorganized mess. So Washington used the winter to come up with a unified plan for training, arming, and supplying the entire army as a single cohesive force. “Which required a lot of paperwork,” the volunteer pointed out at Washington’s House, “so that’s what his aides-de-camp were doing the whole time, was recopying Washington’s orders over and over.” I had to chuckle a bit when the volunteer name-dropped Alexander Hamilton a couple times during his lecture – “Yep, he knows what sells.”
And the whole thing had a comparatively tiny kitchen.
A short walk away were the cabins where Washington’s security guard were bunked. These were much more spartan single-room shacks; one of them had two triple-bunk beds in it, meaning that six men lived in a space the size of my living room.
But there were some bunkers that were two-man cabins, and that seemed a bit more cozy rather than cramped.
It was already mid-afternoon when I’d finished exploring the cabins, so I gave up on the rest of Valley Forge and returned to be ready to collect A when she was done