Document Collection

The Dismantling of the Valley Forge Mill Dam, 1920

A Phoenixville special of January 12 says: The Valley Forge Park Commission are continuing their plan of “beautifying” Valley Forge Park. The latest improvements have been the removal of the waters of the Valley Creek Dam.

All who have ever visited Valley Forge know of the beautiful setting that this body of water gave to the historic grounds. How from the heights it appeared as a sparkling jewel through the trees.

Mill Pond failed to load
Valley Forge Mill Pond1

The ancient mill that stands at the end of the dam is also to be taken away in the Spring. This building is of as much historic interest as Washington Headquarters itself, as it was standing there at the time of Washington’s Army encampment and flour for his army was furnished from this mill.

The removal of the dam has taken away a source of winter and summer sport for the youth of this section, as the dam made a place for skating and summer fishing.

As one resident remarked: “they might as well take the Headquarters away and finish the job right. I never knew I would see the day that I would not care to live in Valley Forge.”

Daily Local News 1/13/1920

Says the Phoenixville Republican: “Some time Saturday night the gates by the Valley Forge dam were dropped and it was not discovered until Sunday morning when the water was seen running over the breast.”

Colonel Hartranft, Superintendent of the Park, was at once notified and arrived on the scene shortly after.

He gave orders to lift the gates and let the water out, then they would immediately dynamite the breast.

This, however, could not be done, as a permit from the Governor of the State was necessary before the gates could be lifted again.

This is the situation at the present time. The water had once again filled the dam and is now running into the Schuylkill river, the same as in years gone by.

The next question is, how long will it stay there, or will it remain altogether? Now is the time for the people to get busy, as the Commission intends that it shall be blown up as soon as it is drained. There is no use trying to fight it now when it is filled up again; instead of blowing it up have it built up.

The Park Commission is very indignant and will punish the guilty party or parties, if found.

It took twenty-four hours for the dam to fill and no one seemed to notice it as the water ran in gradually and was covered with a thin sheeting of ice and snow. The most important question for discussion is, will it remain?

Daily Local News 1/28/1920

William Ellis, the live wire tax collector of Phoenixville, who is familiarly known as “Billy,” and so signs himself, was in West Chester yesterday afternoon on business and called on West Chester’s tax collector and told how he collected tax from delinquents.

But Billy is now engaged also in an effort with many other citizens of Phoenixville and vicinity to save the big dam at Valley Forge Park from being eliminated from the picturesque and historic park scenery. As has been published, the Valley Forge Park Commission some time since decided to let all of the water out of the big dam which skirts the public road at the foot of the park hills on the west, and this was done some weeks since and a big mudhole left. There have been many protests against this procedure, as it is claimed that the dam not only added to the beauty of the park, but furnished good boating and fishing.

“Why, if George Washington was to come back to Valley Forge now and was told that it was the place that the Continental Army camped, he wouldn’t believe them. They talk of ‘restoring’ it, but they have spoiled it in many ways,” he continued. “They cut out a strip of trees so that a view could be had from the drive of the dam, and now they want the dam let out. It’s a shame.”

After the water was let out some parties again lowered the gate at the dam breast and it again filled with water. The Park Commissioners, it is said, offer a reward to find out who did this.

A meeting of citizens and patriotic Orders to make a protest against the elimination of the dam has been called to be held in Phoenixville, on Sunday February 22d, when there will be numerous addresses made. “Billy” Ellis is getting out posters and is receiving communications from citizens and organizations promising to be present.

Daily Local News 1/31/1920

The Park Commission has had a force of men at work tearing down the old Valley Forge Mill, at the end of Valley Forge dam. The old mill has stood in the same old spot for many years, but it is now being torn down to beautify the Park. It is supposed that next thing to be removed will be the old dam breast, which is a good neighbor of the old mill dam. The gates of the old dam, which had been let down again by some one, after the Commission had emptied the dam, have again been opened.

Daily Local News 2/5/1920

Further draining of the dam at Valley Forge has been discontinued by order of Governor Sproul.

His action resulted from an appeal by lovers of the beauty of Valley Forge in this section, to Senator Philander C. Knox, who notified the Governor of the feeling against draining of the dam by the Park Commission.

The waters from this dam have been drained twice in several weeks, and it was reported that the breast was to be blown up to prevent any one closing the gates again, as happened about a week ago.

The mill that stands near this dam has been ordered taken away by Park Commissioners, and workmen have started to tear down this historic building that furnished flour for Washington’s army.

Action of the Valley Forge Park Commissioners has agitated the residents in that section to a marked degree, and a public meeting of protest is to be held in the Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, on the anniversary of Washington’s birthday, February 22.

Daily Local News 2/7/1920

“I think it is an outrage for the Valley Forge Park Commission to let the water out of the big dam at the park and eliminate that picturesque body of water that added to its attractions. I do not understand what they mean, and have not heard a person yet speaking of this act that has not condemned it. The citizens should take some action to protest against it.” – Sheriff John R. Pechin

Daily Local News 2/7/1920

William Ellis, tax collector for Phoenixville, for a number of years familiarly known as “Billy,” and which name he delights in as being of the common people, was a West Chester visitor this morning making settlement at the County Treasurer’s office of collection of delinquent taxes.

“Billy” is still interested in the retention of the historic dam at Valley Forge Park, and exults in the fact that he was instrumental in saving the proposed tearing of the dam breast down, until a hearing can be had by citizens before the State Public Commission, a restraining order having been issued by Governor Sproul. The water has again been let out of the dam, but the breast was not blown up, as it was rumored was to be done.

Mr. Ellis says it cost him considerable money to stage that big meeting of protest held in Phoenixville, on February 2d, but it was worth it. He dilated [sic] considerably on the tearing down also of the houses at Port Kennedy and Valley Forge, and destroying old landmarks and historic spots, when many homes are needed for mill workers.

Daily Local News 3/24/1920

A Philadelphia paper of this morning says: Protests of residents from Montgomery and Chester counties against the destruction of the historic old dam at Valley Forge were met yesterday with the statement that the structure must be torn down, because it was built thirty-six years after the Revolution.

Members of the Valley Forge Park Commission, who received the delegation in their offices in the Commercial Trust Building, explained that under the law the park must be restored as it was when Washington wintered there.

“I’d hate to be around if George Washington would come to life and be shown Valley Forge as it will be after the attempt to restore it,” said one of the delegation.

Colonel W. H. Sayer, President of the commission, explained the law to the citizens.  Senator T. Larry Eyre led the delegation from Montgomery County and former Senator Oscar E. Thomson was spokesman for those from Chester County.

Residents of the vicinity of Valley Forge Park have been fighting over the dam plans for some months.  The commission ordered the Park Superintendent to open the sluice gates and empty the place of water.  But every time this was attempted somebody stole around at night and closed the gates.  The dam has been alternatively filled and empty all winter.

At the time Washington’s forces occupied the Valley there was a smaller dam, two feet high, about 150 feet from the site of the present structure.  This is to be restored.

Daily Local News 5/7/1920

Valley Forge Dam Being Blown Up

The old Valley Forge dam which was drained during the heavy frost last winter, is now being torn away. A contractor from Berwyn has a large force of men at work tearing away the faithful old dam breast that has stood idle for the last six months. It will soon be lost forever. There was hope that the old historic waterway might be saved, but that hope is now passed.

Many efforts to save it were made by the citizens of the county and by the Fish and Game Commission. Petitions were sent to Governor Sproul, but it availed nothing. The dam was drained and weeds reached the height of seven or eight feet, resembling young trees.

Daily Local News 8/28/1920


  1. Valley Forge Guide and Handbook by Rev. James Riddle, 1910, published by J. B. Lippincott. Available online at: