Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge Opens on Valley Forge Park Grounds

The Valley Forge Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge moved in to its new ‘old’ home in Valley Forge National Historic Park this week.  The article below was in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.  Montessori Children’s House is very special to me . . . our only child spent the first 3 years of her school career at this school when it was located at St. Matthews Methodist Church on Walker Road in Wayne. This was 25 years ago, and our little girl is now grown and will graduate from medical school and marry a young attorney this May. 

Congratulations to my friend Gill Gutteridge, the parents and teachers for following your dream . . . your vision created the magic for the children!

School Opens on Valley Forge Park Grounds

By Kristin E. Holmes Inquirer Staff Writer

Not every preschooler gets to learn the alphabet in a park that commemorates an epic struggle for independence, but when 80 students at the Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge look out their window, history stares back. The students and their teachers yesterday moved into the school’s new headquarters – a renovated barn and early-19th-century house on a southern corner of Valley Forge National Historical Park.

“We are so excited,” said Gillian Gutteridge, school administrator. “When we used to take a field trip, we went to the Great Valley Nature Center or the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy. Now, we can just take them outside.” The school is one of only a handful within the country’s 392 national parks, said Phil Sheridan, spokesman for the National Park Service, Northeast Region.

But the move yesterday is an example of the kind of relationship that the park system is seeking as a way to renovate and maintain some park buildings that have fallen into disrepair or remain unoccupied. The agency enlists organizations to lease and renovate buildings on federal land that the National Park Service can no longer afford to maintain.

The Montessori Children’s House, which for four years held classes in Phoenixville, spent $3.8 million to renovate a 3.5-acre property known as the David Walker Farm, or Ivy Hollow Farm. The parcel on Thomas Road included a main house, a barn, root cellar, and several small houses. The farm had been vacant since 2002. By the time Gutteridge took her first walk through the property, a ceiling had started to fall in, and ivy was growing in the buildings. But Gutteridge saw the possibilities. She envisioned an ideal marriage between the natural resources of the park and a school that would offer hands-on lessons in science, the environment, and history.

To Gutteridge, the park was perfect. But not everyone thought so. When neighbors heard talk of the school’s relocation, some expressed concern about the increase in traffic and congestion along Thomas Road and nearby Richards Road, heavily traveled, two-lane streets with no sidewalks. “Nobody minds the sounds of laughing children,” neighbor Barton Lynch said. “It’s just the traffic it might cause.” Neighbors Richard and Jacqueline Kunin say a double standard is in play. Neighbors argued against the school for reasons similar to ones enumerated by park officials when they fought the American Revolution Center, once proposed to be built in the northern section of the park, Richard Kunin said. The site was eventually abandoned, and the project moved to Philadelphia. “They thought their argument was good enough to oppose the ARC, but ours wasn’t good enough to oppose the school,” Richard Kunin said.

While park officials acknowledged that traffic would increase, they maintained that the $375 million ARC, a complex of new construction on open land, was different from the school’s renovation of four existing buildings. “Our dual mission is education and preservation,” said Deirdre Gibson, the park’s chief of planning and resource management. “We think it’s a wonderful thing to have a private nonprofit who shares a mission with us to share a part of the park with us.” The school and the park have signed a 40-year lease.

Construction began last April. The result is a main house with beige exterior accented by black shutters, with a stone fireplace once used by colonial families to cook meals. The building will be used as a library and parent meeting room. The school building – the old barn – has large windows trimmed in red, six classrooms, and barn motifs throughout the decor. Suzanne Snyder Schrogie called the school’s relocation a welcome change. Schrogie lived with her family on Ivy Hollow Farm for 30 years before moving to Chester Springs. They had moved to the farm in 1972 but lost it in 1978 when the property was acquired by eminent domain. She was allowed to live on the park land for up to 25 more years, but left in 2002. Over the years, Schrogie raised horses in the barn, hosted children’s Halloween parties in the root cellar, and watched Michael Jackson play basketball on her home court in 1975 when the singer and his brothers were recording an album in Philadelphia. “I’m thrilled with what they have done,” Schrogie said of the renovation.

Yesterday, teachers led the children on tours. Wow was perhaps the most popular word of the day. Four-year-old Ben Kenneck pronounced his new school “great,” and an improvement over the old, “much more boring-er” school building in Phoenixville. For Gutteridge, it’s like coming home: “I can’t think of anything better for the Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge than to be in Valley Forge.”

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3 Responses

  1. I am a MCHVF grad from the 1970’s – what a walk down memory lane for me. Thank you for sharing this information, I had no idea that the school was being built in Valley Forge Park. Such a wonderful place for children to go to school and have the entire park as their playground for walks, etc. Thanks!

  2. I knew this was in the works, but unaware the school had opened. What a wonderful new use for a beautiful property.

    When I grew grow up in Valley Forge, we were next door neighbors to Ethel Evans, the owner prior to 1972. Then the turnpike cut through the field between our properties. I still have a painting Ethel did of our barn from across that field. It brings back memories of a by gone time.

    Maybe Pattye can put Ivy Hollow Farm on the Trust House Tour

    • Libby — that is a great idea to include Ivy Hollow Farm on the 6th Annual Historic House Tour! I will follow-up with the school and see if they are interested. Alternate re-use of historic space.

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