Montgomery County is among the wealthiest in the country and is almost as old as the constitution. That puts a lot of American history under its belt. Here are some of the unique historic sites that welcome visitors for a stimulating day trip or weekend getaway. -Jay Lloyd
VALLEY FORGE NATIONAL PARK
1400 North Outer Line Drive
King of Prussia, PA 19406
No, George Washington and his troops did not fight a battle at Valley Forge. They froze here during a 1777-1778 winter encampment, and the British couldn’t get past the mouth of the Schuylkill River. Today, the log cabins that dot the 3,000 acre National Park offer a stark testament to the life of a Revolutionary War soldier. Washington’s Headquarters and an artifact-filled visitor center provide a glimpse into the conflict that forged the nation. But the vast network of paths that encircle and cross the park are made for leisurely strolling and biking among dogwoods and willows, across streams and monument marked historical sites.
When park meandering is over, the nearby King of Prussia Mall and surrounding area is rich in shopping opportunities and restaurants that include the popular Creeds Steak and Seafood http://www.creedskop.com/.
JOHN JAMES AUDUBON CENTER AT MILL GROVE
1201 Pawlings Road
Audubon, PA 19403
The Audubon Society and its colorful collection of ornithological paintings by John James Audubon are known to generations of school kids, but few have seen the home where the renowned artist created some of his best-known works. Located in sight of Valley Forge Park, Mill Grove was Audubon’s first home in America. The surrounding area along the picturesque Perkiomen Creek gave the artist a taste for a lifetime of observing and capturing on canvas, American birds and wildlife. Virtually all of Audubon’s works are on display at the home, including his massive Birds of America. Five miles of walking trails through a pristine wildlife sanctuary are now part of the John James Audubon Center.
PETER WENTZ FARMSTEAD
Shearer Rd. near the intersection of route 73 & 363
The Peter Wentz Farmstead is a meticulously restored and maintained example of a Pennsylvania German Farm dating back decades before the Revolutionary War. Like most historic sites in the region, it, too, can claim that, “George Washington slept here.” But he did more than that. This was the General’s headquarters before moving on to Valley Forge. It was here that he planned the battle of Germantown and learned that the British had surrendered Saratoga. Today, the 90 acres and house and barn appear as they did during that Revolutionary War period. Even the farm animals are typical of the livestock then. Visitors are welcome, and the staff provides a lively insight into life on an 18th century farm.
BETH SHOLOM SYNAGOGUE
8231 Old York Rd.
Cheltenham, PA 19027
Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park has the distinction of being the only synagogue designed by lauded architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Considered one of his most important projects, Beth Sholom was added to the registry of National Historic Landmarks in 2007. The synagogue was dedicated in 1959, just a few months after Wright’s death. The uniquely designed building and its furnishings are carefully preserved and cared for by a non-sectarian organization. Visitors are welcome, but check the synagogue website for days and hours. Reservations are required for groups of 10 or more.
Church Rd. & Greenwood Ave.
Wyncote, PA 19095
Cyrus Curtis gave us more than the Saturday Evening Post and those iconic Norman Rockwell portraits of life in America. Heirs of the publishing giant provided the public with a magnificent mansion and arboretum in the heart of nearby Cheltenham Township. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places. The arboretum draws the most interest from garden enthusiasts for its unique landscaping and over 50 species of trees on nearly 45 acres. Local residents enjoy the open space for strolling or lolling, along with the occasional concert. Visitors are welcome to meander on the grounds for a relaxing passage through nature or a study of the wide variety of plantings.
One Hartranft Ave.
West Norriton, PA 19401
Civil War buffs will find the graves of key figures in the conflict between the states at Montgomery Cemetery. This last resting place of soldiers and generals who fought from Antietam to Gettysburg has been brought back to life from years of neglect and vandalism by the Montgomery County Historical Society and a dedicated band of volunteers. Strolling among the headstones, the history buff will spot some very familiar names. There’s Winfield Scott Hancock, who is remembered for his exploits at the pivotal battle of Gettysburg, and not so much for losing the 1880 race for the White House. And there’s John Frederick Hartranft, a medal of honor winner at the battle of Bull Run and a 19th century Pennsylvania Governor. Well, you get the idea. It’s a stroll through history, largely the Civil War, and an inspiration to learn more about the men and women who thrust Pennsylvania into a leading role in America’s most wrenching conflict.