Three Days to Make It Montco, By George!
History buffs from both near and far have a large circle on their calendars for the weekend of February 14-16, when Montgomery County, Pa., becomes the place to spend the Presidents Day holiday. The area's ties to General Washington are strong, owing to his footprints he left embedded throughout our county; however, we also lay claim to numerous other sites and events with Presidential connections.
Best of all, the VFTCB Make It Montco Winter Campaign spans the entire three-day holiday (in fact, it is in play until mid-March), welcoming visitors with giveaways at area hotels, a free box of chocolates and a voucher for the future use of a Zipcar. Click here for more details.
Montco's Official Party
The hub of local Presidents Day activities is Valley Forge National Historical Park, site of the first public celebration of General Washington's birthday. Washington, as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, was referred to as Your Excellency (a common form of address), making him the perfect host for an excellent party.
The roster of free activities covers two days:
Sunday, February 15
The Second Pennsylvania Regiment and the 43rd Regiment of Foot will be on an all-day watch for British troop movements in Philadelphia, using the high ground at the Muhlenberg Brigade to its fullest strategic advantage.
The local reenactment group will also shatter the quiet of the February afternoon with artillery demonstrations at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The roar of a period cannon is sure to jolt the earbuds right off of your tweens' heads.
For a behind-the-scenes look at the "Pa Second" and how it faithfully recreates 18th century war tactics, read our prior profile of their work, here.
Monday, February 16
Presidents Day at Valley Forge has a full itinerary:
Crafts and Games, 10 a.m. to noon
Young patriots can get a handshake or selfie with General Washington (and his Mrs!), on hand to oversee his turning 283 years old. Celebrants can sign a massive birthday card, make their own tricorne hat, play 18th century party games and learn Colonial-style weaving techniques.
- Dress Up; Sign Up, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Children and adults can try on a variety of 18th century clothing, from tricorne hats to woolen shawls. Suitably inspired, kids can then stop at the enlistment table to sign up to "join" the Continental Army, which includes an official troop review at 12:30 p.m. Once the basics have been reviewed, the regiment marches to the Muhlenberg Brigade huts.
- Tune Up to Fete the General, noon
The party reaches its pinnacle at noon, when the guests unite in song to honor Valley Forge's birthday boy. No party is complete without cake, and this party features several to mark Presidents Day. General Washington uses his impressive sword to cut the largest one, supplied by the budding pastry chefs from the Culinary Arts Institute at Montgomery County Community College. The institute has also supplied a modern take on a cake recipe Martha Washington made for her husband. And there are plenty of kid-friendly cupcakes to be enjoyed. The contributions of the Culinary Arts Institute were chronicled in the VFTCB blog for last year's Presidents Day festivities.
- More Musical Serenades
The Colonial Revelers will provide additional musical accompaniment (augmenting "Happy Birthday" sung by the crowd) throughout the day. This acapella group excels at historic harmonies from the 18th century, presented in fine style as they dress in period garb. As the General cuts his cake, their shouts of "Huzzah" are guaranteed to be the loudest and most enthusiastic.
A Contemporary Trek through History
Against the backdrop of the Presidents Day party, the VFTCB announces its newest way to encounter history on a county-wide basis: Patriot Trails.
These fresh, engaging Revolutionary War tours for Montgomery County tell the story of the 18th century, in 21st century style. The starting point to the adventure is Valley Forge National Historical Park, from which history buffs are sent to other locations across the county, each with a tie to the nation's struggle for independence.
The tours are self-guided and self-driven, but the information is completely web-based, meaning that discoverers can go at their own pace and flex their time according to their interests. Itineraries have been created to cover a half-day, full-day and multi-day experience.
Look for more information on February 16 on valleyforge.org.
Service in Significant Settings
Carry through your Presidents Day activities with a meal in a history-making spot. The following Montco restaurants have backstories that fit perfectly with the county's patriotic programming:
- The Black Powder Tavern. A lengthy history meets a great dining spot in this building that has served travelers' needs since 1746. Legend has it George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, and other leaders of the American Revolution plotted and planned here. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the rich décor certainly makes the story a possibility.
- The Blue Bell Inn. Up and down the East Coast, overnight stops are quick to claim that "...George Washington slept here." The Blue Bell Inn, however, rightfully owns the story; the room he used later displayed military memorabilia from the Revolutionary War. Today, diners can enjoy a classic meal along the former access route the Continental Army used in fighting the Battle of Germantown.
- The Old Guard House Inn. This establishment takes diners back in time with a cozy atmosphere embodied by open stone-and-log walls and ample fireplaces. The name was possibly derived from the period of weekly training and recruiting sessions by the volunteer rifle company or perhaps, because in its early existence, a part of it was used as a type of brig to cool off extreme revelers in lieu of the more traditional village stocks. General Washington is rumored to have led colonial troops through the nearby village for refreshments at the old water pump.
- Gulph Mills was a strategic lookout point where Continentals kept watch on British troop movements. An inn has been part of the landscape for hundreds of years since - now it's home to the contemporary and inviting Savona Restaurant. Pay particular attention to the comprehensive wine list. More than 1,200 selections are offered from the largest wine cellar of any restaurant in Pennsylvania.
- The General Warren's reputation for hospitality goes back to 1745, decades before the Revolutionary War. Its name comes from Admiral Peter Warren, a hero in defense of the American colony in Nova Scotia during the French and Indian War. The Admiral Warren Inne was renamed the General Warren for an American hero at Bunker Hill, and his name has carried forth ever since. Whatever the namesake, the location has a well-deserved history of food and libation. Today's classics include beef wellington, snapper soup, wiener schnitzel and bananas foster made tableside.
Washington aside, Montgomery County has many connections to other dignitaries in D.C. As part of the celebration of all Presidents each February, discover some of our other Commander-in-Chief commemorations:
- Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. This patriotic institution on the south edge of Valley Forge National Historical Park has a number of presidential connections. It was founded in 1949 by, among others, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who four years later, became the 34th President. One of the most moving sections of the Freedoms Foundation is the Medal of Honor Grove, a 52-acre walkway commemorating each Congressional Medal of Honor winner, state by state. The passageway to the grove was enhanced in 2014 with a statue of President Abraham Lincoln, arm upheld in making a passionate point during an address.
- The American Treasure Tour. According to Historian Ross Brakman, the huge collection of memorabilia on display - large enough to require a tram to navigate - includes several connections to former Presidents:
- A life-size wax figure of President Bill Clinton that depicts him playing saxophone with Willie Nelson.
- Vintage movie posters featuring President (and former actor) Ronald Reagan.
- A blend of 1960s pop culture and politics: a poster of actress Marilyn Monroe poking out of a cake to wish President John Kennedy a happy birthday.
- Glencairn Museum, part of the Bryn Athyn Historic District. The patriotism of the Pitcairn clan who lived here led them to devote a stained glass window on the first floor to the three branches of the U.S. Government. Visitors on the guided tour can see beautiful representations of the White House, the Capital Dome and the U.S. Supreme Court Building. Nearby sits a marble bust of Abraham Lincoln by George Grey Barnard, who also created several pieces for the Pennsylvania State Capitol.
With school out, parents may want a place for the kids to get outside, hang out with some animal friends, play some games, get involved in a craft and burn off some excess energy. Briar Bush Nature Center, Abington, is offering a School's Out, Get Outside event, February 13-16, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Before and after care is available, and kids should bring a packed lunch (but a snack is provided).
Make It Montco!
Whatever your plans, be sure to share your experiences. Tag your social media updates and shares with #MakeItMontco and show your friends and neighbors exactly what a weekend of historic proportions looks like.