Willow Grove and Fort Washington Community Information

Willow Grove: Upper Moreland Township occupies an area of 7.5 square miles in the northeastern corner of Montgomery County. Upper Moreland is part of the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area and is approximately 15 miles north of downtown Philadelphia. The Township is bordered by the communities of Hatboro, Upper Dublin, Abington, Bryn Athyn and Lower Moreland. Bucks County lies to the north.

In the past decade, Upper Moreland has experienced great success in attracting new businesses throughout the Township. The 1990s saw the completion of the Marketplace Shopping Center and the arrival of major corporations such as Home Depot, Marriott, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Best Buys, Regal Cinemas, Office Max, and Staples. Proximity to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Willow Grove Mall and major office complexes help make Upper Moreland an ideal location for a wide variety of commercial and service oriented businesses while providing local firms already established in the Township with an incentive to stay in the area. As a result, the local economy has grown steadily bringing jobs, companies, and enhanced property values to Upper Moreland.

With an eye toward the future, local officials have taken steps designed to ensure that the Township will continue to provide its residents with the same excellent quality of life they enjoy today. In 1996, the Board of Commissioners adopted an Open Space and Environmental Protection Plan and, using over $1,000,000 in county funds, acquired 100 acres of land that is now protected from future development and dedicated for recreational use. This land supplements the Township’s 18 municipal parks. Nearby, Fort Washington State Park consists of 493 acres in eastern Montgomery County.

The history of Willow Grove Park dates back to the late 1890s when Peter Widener and William Elkins, two influential men in the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, conceived the concept of creating a park to entice Philadelphians and others to ride their new trolley line. The first trolley car arrived in Willow Grove by way of Glenside on May 11, 1895. The Park opened a year later. Concerts at the Park, referred to as a "noble experiment", were a regular part of the annual schedule beginning in 1897. John Philip Sousa, the ‘March King’ of U.S. Marine Band fame, appeared in 1901 and thereafter yearly until 1926, with the exception of one year, 1911, when on world tour. As a result of these musical triumphs, parks all over the country engaged bands and orchestras. However, it was Willow Grove Park that became known as "The Music Capitol of America."

After being sold in parcels over the years and changing hands on numerous occasions over the next six decades, the days of the once glamorous Willow Grove Park came to an end on April 14, 1976, and it was demolished to make way for a giant shopping mall.

Records indicate that as early as 1722, the Willow Grove area was referred to as 'round-the-meadow', later shortened to Round Meadow, owing to the great 'S' shaped curve made by the Old York Road between a large meadow on one side and a 150-acre swamp on the other. The road was laid out on an existing Lenni Lenape Indian trail.

Around 1768 to 1770, the Wagon Tavern was sold at the junction of York and Easton Roads and it was renamed The Red Lion Inn. The Inn became well known throughout the area for its amenities and food and was a stop on the stagecoach lines of the day. The popularity of the Inn lent its name to the area and by the time of the Revolution, the Willow Grove area was called Red Lion.

In the late 1700s, farmers north of the town would drive their livestock to Philadelphia to the market and to city buyers. During these drives they would stay overnight at the local inn, usually sleeping on the floor due to overcrowding, while their livestock was kept in enclosures nearby.

In 1792, a mapmaker named Reading Howell of Hartsville was working on a map of townships of Pennsylvania. Tradition has it that while preparing that part of the map concerning the local area, he saw a farmer planting willow trees in an effort to draw off water from the swampy surroundings and asked the farmer what he should designate the place by on the map. The farmer's reply was certainly influenced by his occupation of the moment and he suggested Willow Grove. Reading Howell's map of 1792 is the earliest mention of the name Willow Grove.

Fort Washington: Fort Washington was first known as Whitemarsh during the days of the Revolutionary War. It 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.

In 1891, a granite marker commemorating Fort Hill was placed along the Bethlehem Pike by the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. This stone is located on American Legion property north of the park office.

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.

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