Since the late 1700s, well before Valley Forge became a national park, a stately home has been tucked into its southwest corner. And although there is no record that George Washington ever slept there, it is known that another president, Theodore Roosevelt, did.
The New York Times covered the occasion, the October 1904 wedding ceremony of the daughter of Senator Philander Chase Knox. Knox and Roosevelt were political friends and colleagues, making his invitation to the nuptials a natural. The press chronicled the entire day, including the President's late arrival, and described the bride's dress as "...white chiffon cloth over taffeta, with duchess lace trimming the upper part of the bodice...."
Over the ensuring decades, however, the Knox Estate lost its utility as a residence. It was ceded to the National Park Service in the 1970s and, with the exception of housing a library of historic documents, went mostly unused.
For the past decade, it sat quietly on the propery.
But thanks to the partnership of the Robert Ryan Catering & Design group and Total Rental/The Party Center, brides in beautiful dresses of chiffon and lace and a host of other fabrics are returning to the P.C. Knox Estate.
Bob Ryan described the transformation: "Four years ago, the National Park Service started looking into how they could generate income in using this property. They sent out a Request for Proposal to attract lessees. It went out to everyone. And to be quite honest, Chris Caba, president of The Party Center, and I, were the only ones who responded."
Ryan believes the lukewarm interest may have been related to the complexity of restoring a property that was not only significant but also under the auspices of the federal government. Armed with a vision of a stellar venue for weddings and corporate events, however, Ryan and his associates continued shaping their plan.
"We ironed out all the issues," he says. "When we first started to talk through this opportunity, we recognized early on that the number one wow factor with this property is that it's in Valley Forge National Historical Park. Hands down, that was number one. So we started to put everything together and knew that it had to be done right."
Floors needed rehabbing. The electrical infrastructure was shot. The back terrace represented a minefield of tripping hazards. But over time, a plan came together. Fortunately for Ryan, the house's structural framework had weathered the years well, meaning that most of the necessary renovations would be more or less cosmetic. "The bones of the house are just unbelievable," he observes.
The lease was signed May 1 and work began the next day.
Historical preservation was a priority. A historical engineer was assigned to the project, and his continual inspection made sure that no out-of-character alterations would be made. "Our marching orders were: You don't disrupt the integrity of the house at all," Ryan remembers. "So for example, there was no screwing or bolting anything into the walls." Despite this detailed oversight, however, Ryan did not find the feedback intrusive. "The park was incredibly supportive throughout," he remembers.
As work continued, it caught the attention of more than just official personnel. Ryan heard from a number of cyclists, runners and walkers - accustomed to passing by the all-but-forgotten site - that they were very pleased to see its resurrection. "We had a number of people stop by and peek in as work continued," he laughs.
One design challenge was the desire for space to accommodate a large number of wedding guests at a sit-down meal. The solution came via a large-scale tent that has been incorporated into the existing architecture at the rear of the home. It will remain in place from April to early November, when it will be annually removed and restored the following spring. Interior spaces can accommodate smaller functions, and once the last vestiges of the library are relocated, Ryan hopes to be able to operate year-round.
But business is already lining up, and at a brisk pace. "We have about 15 weddings booked for next year, and we're booking, on average, one new wedding every week," Ryan reports. "We actually thought we would probably come in our first year with 25 events, but it looks like it's going to be more like 50. And that's just social; that's weddings. We didn't even discuss corporate," states Ryan.
The estate has fully emerged from its neglected diamond-in-the-rough status, a point that is not lost on Ryan, Caba, and their designers and associates.
"What I am most proud of - and it's a little crazy to say this, but more than one of us has said it - is how the house has brightened," Ryan says.
"When we started our work, there were pieces of Plexiglas installed over the windows, all around the entire house. That glass was never cleaned. So we did the floors and the wallpaper and the paint, and we did all this work. And right before we finished, we had the house scrubbed from top to bottom. The coverings were removed from the windows, and the glass was polished. It took four people all day to do it.
"But when the light came in, and the place was so beautiful and it shone in the chandeliers... that was overwhelming. I just couldn't get over the difference," Ryan concludes.
The VFTCB not only assists tourists in connecting with the county for recreational purposes; it also offers full-time resources for assisting with events such as weddings, reunions, and family celebrations. The P.C. Knox estate is just one of a number of unique sites in which couples can enjoy the happiest day of their lives, surrounded by family and friends. For more information on the free services and expertise we offer, see our website.