Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Ephrata Fair

Lancaster County / The Ephrata Fair

The Main Street Midway

The weather is about to cool from the heat of summer and fall is just around the corner.  It's Country Fair Season and Katelyn and I are on our way to the Ephrata Fair in nearby Ephrata, Pennsylvania.  The traditional fair is a throwback to the nostalgic olden days long past. The Ephrata Fair first began after a group of World War I veterans and local businessmen formed a group to sponsor the first fair in Ephrata in 1922.  In the early days the festival was three days long and called the Ephrata's Farmer's Day Fair. Over time, the fair expanded to include rides, entertainment, a beauty pageant, and the traditional Wednesday evening parade.  Today the Ephrata Fair claims to be the largest street fair in Pennsylvania.

The Italian Sausage Stand

The Ephrata Fair always brings back fond memories for many of us from our childhoods.  Every year my Aunt Lois would pick my brother and I up to go see the Ephrata parade.  We would go early and hang out at my aunt's best friend's house to have a home base before heading off to the night's festivities.  My brother and I would play in Betty Haines' front yard, which had a short steep hill that was fun to roll down.  The native residents of Ephrata have fair week tactics down to a science.  They know all the short-cuts and secret places to park, and even unseen places to go to the bathroom. We always had the same spot where lawn chairs reserved the sacred spot well in advance.  

Famous Sweigart's Steak Sandwiches

Reserving your spot for the parade is serious business and various items warn the foreign newbie to beware and keep your distance.  Anyone attempting to ignore the lawn chairs, blankets, and construction cones are putting their lives at risk!  We always had the corner with a great view of the bands, horses, tractors, veterans, politicians, beauty queens, floats, scouting groups, and flashing fire trucks.  The parade seemed to go on and on with high school marching bands evenly spaced with bass drums that echoed in your stomach as they passed by.  We always watched for our home school to pass by and my aunt would jump out of her chair to clap and cheer as the Warwick Warriors strutted past.  A lone police car with flashing lights would bring up the rear to signal the end of the parade.  Traffic seemed to bustle out in the police car's wake, jockeying for position to escape the congested main drag. 

Waffles and Ice Cream Stand

Following the parade,  people would suddenly gather up their children and lawn chairs to make their hurried exit from the their formerly defended parade spots to head home or back to the fair.  We would head down a dark alley to our getaway car and quietly sneak away with the lights off through the secret twists and turns back to the Haines' residence.  We would hang out there for about an hour until the traffic jam broke apart and gaps were exposed, opening up the routes out of town.  It was an annual pilgrimage through my high school years until college took me away from the area.  My daughter and I have rekindled the tradition, making our way to watch the parade near the end of September.  However, we first hit the Midway where one can indulge in foods and fun that can't be experienced any other time of year.
The Lion's Club Toasted Cheeseburgers

The three best things about the Midway is the food, the food, and the food!  It is the only place in America where you can consume 3000 calories in less than an hour and still long for more!  My parents both worked in Ephrata at one time or another and became connoisseurs of fair food during the anticipated week of the Ephrata Fair.  Sweigart's Steaks were a must and they were only available during fair week.  They are still there, coming out for one week a year to the delight of their loyal patrons who come from far and near to support them.  Next, it was tradition to head to Bixler's French Fries wagon for a vegetable to accompany the steak sandwich.  And we can't forget the dairy group on the food pyramid, so you could chase all the hot food down with an Neapolitan ice cream sandwich with homemade waffles sprinkled with powdered sugar.  For your cholesterol's sake, it's probably a blessing that the fair only comes once a year.  

Crowds of Hungry People

There is something about fair food that you just can't seem to get anywhere else or at any other time of year.  Hershey Park added the Midway section to their amusement park a few years ago but the theme park version just isn't the same.  The food at the Green Dragon Farmer's Market a few miles away is a distant second but that's another story for another day.  The crowds appear after 5 PM and the Midway swells with hungry visitors who crave a deep fried toasted cheeseburger from the crowded Lion's Club stand.  Another fan favorite is the Italian sausage sandwich loaded with buttery peppers and onions on a freshly baked roll.  Getting hungry yet?  When I went away to college at Bloomsburg University, I was pleased to discover that they had their own annual fair.  I couldn't come home to the fair so the fair sort of came to visit me.  It was a huge event where even the local schools would close for the entire week so kids of all ages could enjoy the festivities.  Wow!

The Balloon Guy

The fair was great fun but it wasn't without it's stresses and challenges.  The line of stands beckoning games of chance were the gauntlet every kid had to navigate through at some point.  The week just wasn't complete without winning a prize and winning the big stuffed animal could make a kid's childhood complete.  It didn't matter how much allowance was on the line, you had to win something to carry home as a trophy of conquest from the Midway.  You couldn't help but be pulled in by the prizes dangling from the ceiling and sides of each stand.  All one would have to do, is defy the Laws of Physics, and you could walk off with treasure!  Darts were my game one-year and when the balloon popped and the hidden prize tag revealed a big stuffed dolphin, I was king for the rest of the week! It ranks right up there with graduating from college, my wedding, and the birth of my two kids!  It was quite an accomplishment!  Again... Wow!

Games of Chance / Skill

The only forbidden game (Parent Law) was the goldfish stand where a ping pong ball in the fishbowl would equate to a living prize you would have to carry around in a plastic bag the rest of the night.  It was an easy win but would most likely be dead by the next morning leading to feelings of guilt, remorse, and an internal debate on the meaning of life itself.  On this night, Katelyn's game also seemed to be darts as she won a small puppy to add to her extensive stuffed animal collection.  Next year I may allow her to play and trade up until she gets the top prize level.  Even though we could buy it at a store for one tenth of the price, there is something special about winning the big prize using your God-given talents!  I now understand why my brother kills animals in the woods and then mounts them on the walls of his home.  It comes down to our primal instincts and personal honor.  Ok, enough about games, time for a funnel cake with heaping mounds of white powdered sugar!  You're drooling... aren't you?

The Descent of Night

Well, the night was approaching and Katelyn and I were off to stake out a safe spot to watch the Wednesday night parade.  We were able to find an opening on a corner street just like Aunt Lois saved for my brother and I over 30 years ago.  Thankfully, the parade hasn't changed much over the years and the Rajah Shrine Temple Band from Reading, Pennsylvania still makes their appearance every year. The only downside to our evening of fun and food was that it was a school night and we were both starting to yawn.  Soon the police cruiser's lights were visible on the sides of nearby houses and we quickly rose with everyone else to scramble back to our cars.  As we were stuck in traffic for about an hour I longed for the comfort and refuge of Betty Haines' house.

Reserved Seating

Thanks for helping create the memory Aunt Lois! I think of you every time we go to the fair, especially during the parade, when the Warwick band passes by and we jump out of our chairs to clap and cheer!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Valley Forge - Part 3/3


Washington Memorial Chapel / Patriot Tower
One last stop before go foraging for provisions in the outside modern world.  We had previously passed the Washington Memorial Chapel on Route 23 when we were seeking the Visitors Center and I wanted to go back and check it out.  Katelyn was running out of historical energy and had visions of french fries dancing in her head.  My faithful sidekick had been a good sport but was running out of patience.   We only had a few minutes before the growing threat of revolution within our Toyota RAV4 exploded into full mutiny! We quickly found a parking spot and I jumped out and began to make my way around the perimeter of the beautiful chapel with Katelyn slowly in tow.   

Cloister Courtyard Entrance
Surprisingly, the chapel turned out to be a private active Episcopal parish that was not part of the Valley Forge National Park even though it was built within the park boundaries. Like most churches, the parish began as a small wooden structure in the woods.  After President Theodore Roosevelt paid a visit to the Valley Forge Park and made a short speech on the steps of the tiny church, an effort was made to begin building a larger stone structure.  The corner stone was placed on June 19, 1903, which was the 125th anniversary of the Continental Army's official exit from their winter quarters at Valley Forge.  Funding problems plagued the construction process as the sanctuary walls were built piecemeal as money trickled in over time.  The main chapel was finally completed fourteen years after it was started in 1917.

Cloister of the Colonies
We entered into a beautiful courtyard known as the Cloister of the Colonies garden.  It resembled a setting from one of the Lord of the Rings movies. The Gothic style garden contained thirteen arched window wells with each one representing one of the thirteen colonies that was fighting for their individual liberty during the war.  The space was trimmed in bright green plants that were in contrast to the garden of stone.  The Washington Memorial Chapel is a unique blend of an active Episcopal Church and a memorial to honor George Washington.  Somehow the two agendas seamlessly accomplish their task.  Several hundred thousand people visit the chapel each year.  The chapel receives no funding from the Federal Government.

Grieving Mother's Memorial
Inside the Cloister of the Colonies courtyard your eye is immediately drawn to the sad sculpture positioned on the floor off to one side.  It is entitled Sacrifice and Devotion but is better known as the Grieving Mothers Monument.  It quickly grabs hold of you emotions as you think of all the mothers who said farewell to their young sons and never saw them again.  The statue is actually a memorial to a local woman named Henrietta Armitt Heckscher who died during childbirth in 1912.  It was commissioned by her grieving husband and placed within the Cloister of the Colonies garden of stone in 1914.  The Grieving Mother's Memorial statue adds an aura of mystique to the quiet peaceful setting of the space. 

Patriot Tower Stained Glass Window
The large Patriot Tower was added to the chapel in 1953.  The one-hundred foot tall tower houses the Washington Chapel National Carillon which includes fifty-eight bells of varying size. Each bell was designed to represent one of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and American territories abroad.  The size of each individual bell depicts the population size of the area it represents.  It always amazes me how much thought and symbolism is incorporated into many of the monuments I visit.  The tower inside contained several beautiful stained glass windows that came to life when the bright sun broke through the cloud filled sky.  The window shown above portrays General Washington in a humble bow of prayer resembling historic illustrations of the fabled scene at Valley Forge.  The tower itself was funded by a group I often come across in my travels, The Daughters of the American Revolution.  The DAR is a group I didn't know much about.  I was curious and did some research on this unique historic group. 

Rear Courtyard of the Chapel
FYI: Mission Statement from the Daughters of the American Revolution official web site...  

The DAR, founded in 1890 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a non-profit, non-political volunteer women's service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America's future through better education for children.  DAR members volunteer more than 60,000 hours annually to veteran patients, award over $150,000 in scholarships and financial aid each year to students, and support schools for the underprivileged with annual donations exceeding one million dollars.  As one of the most inclusive genealogical societies in the country, DAR boasts 165,000 members in 3,000 chapters across the United States and internationally. Any woman 18 years or older-regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background-who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution, is eligible for membership.  Source
Seated Statue of George Washington
Well, I guess I'm not eligible to join the DAR due to the gender issue.  I wonder why there isn't a Sons of the American Revolution (Historical Man Club)?  Oh well, back to our tour... Katelyn and I continued to make our way around the complex and came upon another courtyard that was a little hidden from view.  This space was enclosed by stone wall and an iron gate that was open.  As we ventured inside we were met by a statue of George Washington himself dressed in robes and seated upon a large chair.  The word throne quickly came to mind but I didn't say it out loud.  This courtyard led to a back entrance into the church and surprisingly a used bookstore.  Books were stacked up in several of the window wells near the end of this wing of the church and were reaching out to my curiosity.  However, our stomachs were now growling with lunchtime  hours overdue and it was time to go in search of provisions. 

Rolling Hills of the Park
There is always one more thing to see, one more corner left unexplored but that unavoidable reality always gives you an excuse to come back to see what you missed the first time.  Katelyn and I crawled back to the car and headed down the road toward the modern world.  Soon we had left 1777 behind us and within minutes were within the boundaries of the King of Prussia Mall.  One extreme to another!  We pulled into a TGI Fridays within view of Macy's Department Store and settled down to a tasty belated meal.  My wife would never have the will-power to be within site of one of the largest malls in the northeast without venturing inside and investing in the local economy.  Personally, I would rather go to the dentist than go inside the King of Prussia Mall. I decided to torture her by taking a picture of Macy's on my cell phone and sending her the image.  Katelyn and I finished our meal, turned our backs to the beckoning mall, and entered the Pennsylvania Turnpike and headed west toward Lancaster.  As we drove down the stretch of highway along the boundary of the Valley Forge park, oblivious white tailed deer grazed dangerously close to the roadway. 

TGI Finally
A special thank you to my daughter Katelyn who is my faithful travel companion and sidekick.  She joins me whenever possible as we travel around in search of history and points of interest.  She is a great sport and has conditioned herself to put up with me and my interests over the years.  We make a great team on the road and she makes our adventures more fun!  We are collecting site pins of all the places we have visited and we each have a banner to display them.  It is a fun way to visually log the places we have been.  I have my banner displayed in my classroom and Katelyn has her tribute to our travels in her bedroom.  Thanks Katelyn!

Please See My Additional Photos of Washington's Chapel at...





Note to Self:  Next time my wife drags me kicking and screaming for a day of emptying our bank account at the King of Prussia Mall, I plan to sneak out and go back to Valley Forge to explore the interior of the Washington Memorial Chapel.  I love it when a game plan comes together!

My 2009 Travel Pin Collection
(Bloomsburg University Banner)
+ Classroom Display +

Monday, April 5, 2010

Valley Forge - Part 2/3


The Train Station
Katelyn and I were roaming the park and began to circle the perimeter on a paved road where we soon came upon signs pointing the way to Washington's headquarters.  I was anxious to find it because I had never seen it before.  When I was a kid my parents took us to Valley Forge to see the Bicentennial Wagon Train that had passed through Lancaster and was making its way to Philadelphia.  However, I don't remember a whole lot about the trip other than the wagons.  If anyone remembers the wagon train please leave a comment below.  Anyway... we followed the signs and made our way into the new and improved parking lot. 

Approaching Freight Train
At first, I was confused because the building in view didn't quite match the pictures I had seen in books and online.  It turns out we were looking at a train station that was built to resemble the style of Washington's Headquarters located about 100 yards away.  We made our way down the long sidewalk pathway to the station, which was the midpoint between the parking lot and the famous house.  The station was built in 1911 by the Reading Line and was used as an entrance into the park for people who arrived by rail from Philadelphia.  The station was built with the same stone as the historical house to maintain the historical setting.  Service discontinued with the rise of the automobile in the early 1980s and the station stood vacant and in a state of disrepair for many years.   

Katelyn AKA "Train Junkie"
The train station is currently being renovated into a new visitors center and museum. The new parking area and sidewalks was the first stage of the project recently completed.  Katelyn and I are both a couple of "Train Junkies" and asked the park ranger if the line was still active.  He said it was an active freight line but he didn't know the schedule.  As if on cue, the ground began to rumble and a Norfolk Southern group of engines thundered around the railway bend. What luck!  The train had well over 100 cars and took several minutes to pass by the station.  Ok, time to turn away from the modern world and descend down the steps to 1777. 

Washington's Headquarters
Washington needed a place to reside and conduct the business of the Continental Army.  He rented a house from the Widow Deborah Hewes who was the tenant of the home at the time.  The house was owned by Mrs. Hewes' nephew, Isaac Potts, who operated a nearby grist mill. The house soon became a bee hive of activity with dispatch riders arriving and leaving at all hours of the day and night with orders and correspondence.  The dining and sitting rooms downstairs were transformed into busy offices jammed with portable desks.  Officers Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette often slept in the upstairs bedrooms.  Washington retained one bedroom for himself, perhaps the only refuge of privacy he could hope to find in the small crowded house.

The Dining Room
Washington was accompanied and protected by a select group of soldiers created by Congress called the Life Guard.  The unit was made up of selected men from all 13 Colonies and was described as an elite force.  Their mission was to protect Washington and other top officers as well as the sensitive papers of the Continental Army.  The group was first organized in 1776 and had approximately 180 men from a combination of infantry and cavalry backgrounds.  The unit grew to over 250 men when the army camped at Morristown, New Jersey, because the British Army was much closer and the threat of attack higher.  The honored men of the Life Guard built huts around the Isaac Spots House and organized a detail to protect the Continental Headquarters around the clock.  Some historians compare the Life Guard to the Secret Service created after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. 

The Front Parlor
Washington's Headquarters was filled with activity and resembled a busy office as the day to day needs of the Continental Army were addressed.  The yard was filled with individuals waiting for a chance to converse with the Commander-In-Chief concerning some form of business.  The crowd was always under the watchful eye of the ever present troops of the Life Guard.  The community of Valley Forge had suffered British raids before Washington's arrival where several homes were destroyed by fire.  As a result, lodgings for officers were scare.  Some were able to rent out rooms in nearby farm houses while others built winter huts of their own.  Still others bedded down on the floor within the first floor office space where they had previously worked much of the day.  Some accounts describe men sleeping on the stairs that led to the bed chambers on the second floor to escape the outside cold.

Small Upstairs Bedroom
It was refreshing to be able to take pictures of the interior of a historic home for a change.  One reason for the rare privilege may be the result of the lack of an official guidebook of the site. Normally historic sites do not allow interior pictures, forcing you to purchase the official guidebook of the park at the gift shop.  This policy may change when the train station renovations are completed in late August of 2010, which is when the new visitors center at Washington's Headquarters will open.  I will bet it will most likely contain a new gift shop!  The house was guarded by a friendly Continental soldier who answered questions for us and offered a few stories.  I didn't ask him if he was a member of Washington's Life Guard although he was armed with a Pennsylvania rifle.

Washington Slept Here
Washington's private bed chamber was small like the other rooms in the Georgian style home.  An antique four-poster bed filled the space.  This is the space where I imagined Washington pondering the weight of his fears and concerns for his fragile army in the form of many sleepless nights.  His wife Martha later arrived to spend the remaining months of winter with her husband as she had at all his winter encampments.  She arrived shortly before his 45th birthday and took command of the busy house and assisted her stress burdened spouse whenever possible.  

Two Faithful Continentals
Sadly, the Valley Forge historic site currently faces new enemies from within.  Like many historic parks, the land ownership is fragmented between many public and private interests.  In 2001, a 62 acre plot of land within the park went up for sale and was purchased by a real estate development company for 2.5 million dollars.  Public outrage pushed the federal government to act and two years later purchased the land from the developer for an inflated price of 7.5 million dollars.  Extortion?  Disaster prevented at a price.  However in 2007, another 78 acres within the park was sold by a private land owner to a large hotel developer who had big plans for the site.  That action has been put on hold in court as lawsuits have been filed.  Can history be preserved?  See my previous blog on the Gettysburg Address published in September of 2009 to see the similar problems facing historic spaces with abundant acreage.  Hopefully, common sense and compromise will preserve our heritage.

More of the Local Riff-Raff
Deer were abundant in all directions and would have been a welcome site to the soldiers!  We always see them along the highway when traveling down the Pennsylvania Turnpike that parallels the park. In an effort to control the deer population a controversial winter hunt at the park was scheduled.   Park officials would like to reduce the 1300 + herd by 80 percent over the next four years.  The park cites the main reason the hunt is necessary is due to the fact that the large deer population is destroying and eliminating the natural vegetation within the park. The plan has come under attack from Animal Rights Groups who have challenged the legality of the hunt, which has postponed the plan for the time being.

Please See my Additional Photos of Washington's Headquarters at...

Come on Katelyn, we are now off to our final stop on our tour of Valley Forge... Tune in next week for our short visit to The Washington Chapel before we hit the road home west toward Lititz, Pennsylvania.




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