Celebrate America's Birthday Where its Army Was Born
July Fourth history, fun and fireworks at Valley Forge

KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. - As the nation celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Valley Forge area and Montgomery County, just outside Philadelphia, offers a weekend of historic holiday hoopla.

If Philadelphia is recognized as where the idea of American independence was conceived and Yorktown where it was won, then Valley Forge was surely pivotal in its winning. For it was there, over the winter of 1777-78, that its Army was born.

In the fall of 1777, Washington led his ragtag Continentals through demoralizing defeats at Brandywine and Germantown, allowing the British to occupy Philadelphia for the winter. Seeking refuge he marched them to Valley Forge. Prussian Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben joined the encampment and vigorously trained the men until they left Valley Forge in June 1778 as a unified and formidable American Army.

At Valley Forge National Historical Park, the site of that historic encampment, children can answer A Call to Arms: 1778! at noon on Saturday, July 2, and Sunday, July 3. They'll learn to march and drill just like the brave soldiers who founded the United States Army on the Park's hallowed grounds and they'll benefit from anecdotal tales of the encampment shared by Once Upon a Nation storytellers. Guided 90-minute trolley tours will also highlight Washington's Headquarters, the Muhlenberg Brigade area and the Grand Parade, the central, flat expanse where the Continentals trained.

On Monday, July 4, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the park will host a "National Picnic" complete with patriotic music, a Thomas Jefferson interpreter, children's games and activities and, of course, hot dogs and beverages at the Visitors Center's Valley Forge Canteen. Costumed Park rangers will also demonstrate soldier life and fire cannons and muskets near the Muhlenberg Brigade area.

Beyond Valley Forge, patriotism reigns throughout Montgomery County's Main Streets. Historic Skippack Village, also an encampment site for Washington's troops during the Revolution, hosts its July 4 parade at 11 a.m., with a performance by the Reilly's Raiders Drum and Bugle Corps at 3 p.m. and fireworks in Palmer Park at dusk.

In Norristown, the county seat, the annual parade begins at 10 a.m. Marching bands and more move from Main and DeKalb Streets to Elmwood Park on Harding Avenue, where live music will continue all day and the fireworks will light the sky beginning at dusk.

Next door, Elmwood Park Zoo boasts the country's largest open air bald eagle exhibit, but a moon bounce, live animal shows, face painting and pony rides also await the kids all day.

About 20 minutes from, and south, of Valley Forge National Historical Park, along Philadelphia's fabled Main Line, charming "downtown" Narberth hosts its annual fireworks display, one of the region's most popular, at dusk.

For affordable accommodations and more information about all there is to do in Valley Forge and Montgomery County this July 4 weekend and all summer, visit www.valleyforge.org.