When a local Episcopal priest visited the site of the Valley Forge Encampment in the early 1900s, he came away disappointed at the small size of the park and the lack of interpretation of the Encampment, so he resolved to tell the story of Valley Forge himself.
Guided by the dean of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, the priest developed a concept for a roadside chapel and museum that would—he hoped—become the “Westminster Abbey of America,” a shrine to honor the people who had suffered and died in the war for American Independence, and an interpretive center to tell the story of the United States from prehistory to the present day.
Not to be dissuaded by his bishop, who believed that building a $40,000 chapel in the countryside was a waste of money, the priest ultimately succeeded in raising $300,000 over the years, and hired the foremost Philadelphia craftsmen to build and outfit his chapel, which was completed in 1921.
The windows, crafted by the Italian-American artist Nicola d’Ascenzo, tell the story of the establishment of the United States in medieval-style stained glass, with the window over the altar depicting the life of Christ and the window over the main entrance depicting the life of George Washington. A careful inspection of each window reveals not just scenes from history, but other curious details. In the window depicting the Navy hero John Paul Jones, dolphins and seahorses lurk in the borders, and the window honoring George Washington depicts various personal effects of the first American president.
Know Before You Go
The chapel is an active house of worship, and though it is located within Valley Forge Park it is not officially affiliated with the park. As such, worship services may be occurring, but all closures are posted on the parish website's calendar. The Cabin Shop, located behind the chapel, is staffed by volunteers and is a good place to stop for a quick lunch. Follow the signs to Valley Forge Park. The chapel is located on PA-23, about a mile west of the main entrance to the park, and about 1.5 miles east of Washington's Headquarters. It's a very large stone building with a bell tower.