Fort Washington State Park and the community of Fort Washington take their name from the temporary fort built here by soldiers of the American Revolution in the fall of 1777. Whitemarsh, as the area was called then, was the scene of the encampment of 12,000 soldiers of General Washington’s army from November 2 until December 11, 1777.
Following the unsuccessful battle of Germantown, Washington chose the heights of the Whitemarsh Valley as an easily defendable position. From here, he pondered the possibility of launching an attack against General Howe’s British army in Philadelphia.
Although Washington decided against an attack, the British marched out from Philadelphia on December 5 to try to engage the Americans in battle. Because of Washington’s strong position, only local skirmishes took place. After much marching back and forth, Howe led his army back to Philadelphia on December 8.
Knowing his poorly clad men needed better quarters, and also to protect the iron forges and foundries in the Schuylkill Valley, Washington left Whitemarsh on December 11, 1777, and marched the Continental Army to Valley Forge. There the American spirit had its first rendezvous with destiny.
The State Park
Although Fort Washington State Park is beyond the boundaries of Philadelphia, the city’s famous Fairmount Park Commission began acquiring land here in the early 1920s.
The commission, with the assistance of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters, administered the park until 1953 when an act by the state legislature turned the park over to the former Department of Forests and Waters, now the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
This hill was the western end of the Continental troop positions and was the site of the fort. All traces of the original fort have been lost.
The Pennsylvania Militia, under the command of generals Armstrong, Cadwalader, and Irvine, held positions along this ridge.
Built in 1801, Clifton House lies just north of Fort Hill on Bethlehem Pike. Formerly the Sandy Run Tavern, it now houses a valuable library and museum of local importance.
The house is operated by the Fort Washington Historical Society and is periodically open to the public. More information regarding the Clifton House can be obtained from: Fort Washington Historical Society, 473 Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington, PA 19034.