The Freedom Valley Chronicles: Three Presidents – Part Two

In addition to a roadway, a cemetery, a park, and a fire company have also been named after President George Washington in this section of the Freedom Valley. A village that includes portions of both Whitemarsh Township and Upper Dublin Township has also been named in honor of our first President.

The Village of Fort Washington got its name from the fortification built during the Battle of Whitemarsh in 1777. During this battle, the British attempted to wipe out the Continental Army, then under the command of General Washington. The British failed in their overall goal. The Continental Army moved on to Valley Forge and the rest, as they say, is history.

The map at the top of this news article details some aspects of this battle.

The fort, none of which still exists, was located on Fort Hill in what was then the Village of Whitemarsh. The fort appeared to be located to the east of today’s Bethlehem Pike on maps in the 1800’s.

According to Bean’s History of Montgomery County in 1884, the Whitemarsh Post Office was moved to a location at a railroad crossing on what is today Bethlehem Pike in 1873. This book states that the post office was renamed as the “Fort Washington Post Office” on January 1, 1879.

The Militia Hill Picnic Area is part of the Fort Washington State Park.

A portion of the acreage that was involved in the Battle of Whitemarsh is now preserved as public land. The largest of these public spaces is the Fort Washington State Park.

This park began not as a state park, but as an extension of Fairmount Park in the City of Philadelphia. Through two pieces of state legislation, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania authorized the Fairmount Park Commission to survey and then purchase lands along the Wissahickon Creek in Montgomery County. The first legislative act that allowed for the survey of Militia Hill, Fort Hill, and other lands was passed on June 18, 1915.

The second legislative act that authorized the purchase of up to 1,100 acres in Montgomery County by the Fairmount Park Commission was passed on July 25, 1917.

Through the years, the Commonwealth provided funding to the Fairmount Park Commission to purchase a number of parcels of land in Whitemarsh Township and Springfield Township.

In 1953, a new piece of legislation was passed transferring control of these lands from the Fairmount Park Commission to the Commonwealth itself.

Today, the Fort Washington State Park includes 543 acres. Historical, recreational, and environmental aspects are included in this Commonwealth property.

Beyond the state park, there are a number of businesses, organizations, and facilities that also use “Fort Washington” in their name. Some are located in the Freedom Valley, while others are located just beyond. Among these entities are a fire company and neighborhood in Upper Dublin Township, the Fort Washington Historical Society headquartered in Whitemarsh Township, and more than 2 dozen businesses that serve the area. Products and services from these businesses range from automobiles and dental services to hotels and veterinary services.

The entrance to the George Washington Memorial Park is on Stenton Avenue in Plymouth Meeting.

Not far from sections of the Fort Washington State Park is the George Washington Memorial Park. This cemetery is located along Stenton Avenue in the Plymouth Meeting section of Whitemarsh Township. The Indiana Gazette printed a news article on May 14, 1940, announcing the establishment of the cemetery.

It has been reported that portions of the land included in this cemetery were used during the encampment by troops led by General Washington. A number of murals painted by Ralph P. Coleman are displayed at the George Washington Memorial Park.

A memorial for unburied members of the military was dedicated at this cemetery in October of 1952, according to The News-Herald of Franklin. The newspaper reported that Colonel John Hopper delivered a speech at the dedication on behalf of then-candidate, and future President, Dwight David Eisenhower.

In the speech, according to The News-Herald, General Eisenhower was quoted as stating that “We are reminded that freedom is never fully won or forever possessed – it must be re-earned every day in every crisis.”

A rider at Wissahickon Farms in 1932.

The site of the George Washington Memorial Park was formerly Wissahickon Farms. Both horse and dog races were held at this farm for a number of years. The Evening News of Harrisburg stated that the grandstands of the former Wissahickon Farms were destroyed in a massive fire on November 2, 1940. Other news reports indicate that the lack of water to fight the fire led to the swift destruction of the grandstands.

The historic building of the Washington Hose and Steam Fire Engine Company is located in Downtown Conshohocken.

In Conshohocken, one of the two fire companies is named after President Washington. The Washington Hose and Steam Fire Engine Company was founded in 1873. A new building to house this fire company was constructed in 1878. This building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 20, 1975.

The fire company now operates out of a newer building on Elm Street at Forrest Street. Known affectionately as the “Washies”, the men and women of this fire company have served the Freedom Valley from minor situations to large disasters, including the natural gas explosions and fires in West Conshohocken in 1971 and the Millennium Fire in Conshohocken in 2008.

Another local fire had also been named after a President. The Lincoln Fire Company was named after President Abraham Lincoln. Founded in 1929, the Lincoln Fire Company was established initially in response to a fire in the Cedar Heights neighborhood of Whitemarsh Township. From that modest beginning, this fire company grew to be one of the three fire companies serving Whitemarsh Township.

In 2016, the Township Board of Supervisors made the decision to no longer fund this specific fire company. Without that funding, the Lincoln Fire Company made the decision to close.

The map image at the top of this news article is courtesy of the Library of Congress. The Plan des befestigten Lagers der Amerikaner bey Whitemarsh may have been produced in 1777 by Mr. Johann Martin Will.

The photographs of the Fort Washington State Park and the George Washington Memorial Park are courtesy of Google, 2012 and 2017, respectively.

The photo of Wissahickon Farms appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin on September 23, 1932, and is provided courtesy of the George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photographic Collection of Temple University.

The image of the letterhead of the Lincoln Fire Company is courtesy of the Facebook page of the Lincoln Fire Company.

Do you have questions about local history? A street name? A building? Your questions may be used in a future news article.

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© 2018 Richard McDonough