Valley Forge National Historical Park Wants To Lease Estate House For Private Parties

Valley Forge National Historial Park officials are proposing to rent out the Philander Chase Knox mansion to private parties throughout the year. NPS photo and map.

An estate house on the grounds of Valley Forge National Historical Park that dates to the 1700s would be open to private parties under a proposal the Park Service is seeking comments on.

Last year the two-story mansion was rented out for a 60th-birthday party as something of a test to see if it was worthwhile to make the Philander Chase Knox open to private parties for up to 200 people on a more regular basis. That event apparently went off well, as park officials are now proposing to lease the mansion for private affairs throughout the year.

Under the proposal, which is open to comment through October 25, portions of the house and surrounding grounds would be available for private events. "A tent could be erected on the east lawn in the warmer months, and events could take place indoors throughout the year," a Park Service release said. "During events, the relevant areas would be closed to use by the general public. The grounds would remain open to the general public on all non-event days."

According to the proposal, if the leasing is approved, an 18,000-square-foot gravel parking lot capable of handling approximate 74 vehicles would be built within a walled garden, a 10-foot wide access lane would be built between Library Lane and the proposed gravel lot, and a stone path to a nearby greenhouse would be rehabilitated.

The mansion currently is not regularly open to Valley Forge visitors, although the Horace Willcox Memorial Library within the building is open by appointment. Park officials see the leasing option as a means of maintaining the mansion, saying "preservation of the house and grounds would be supplemented by the maintenance required of the third-party lessee and the dollars generated by the lease that would be used for additional rehabilitation of the house and grounds."

The park announcement did not cite a specific fee for leasing the building, although it did mention a desire to negotiate an agreement with one lessee on a five-year contract. A story in the Philadelphia Inquirer said the annual fee could range from $10,000-$20,000, and that individual events could be leased for $1,000-$2,000.

You can comment on this proposal at this site.

Comments

I support the notion of renting the facility in order to manage the costs of maintenance and restoration. However, the leasing should be managed by the NPS or a 501 (C)(3) nonprofit Friends Association and not a for profit entity. More than 90% of the proceeds should accrue to the park.

The Park Service need not look at Yosemite or Sausalito for models for the Knox Mansion. The proposed formula is in place at Glen Foerd on the Delaware and at Knowlton, both here in Philadelphia. And there any many more variations and permutations on the "Rent the Old Place" theme. As an architect and engineer specializing in old and often historic properties including former mansions, I suggest that the Park Service not rush to this formula if, indeed, preservation of the property is a primary objective. Even $20,000 per year, if wholly dedicated to the maintenance of the Mansion, is simply not enough to account for capital replacement of systems and envelope. Catering services are not compatible with historic fabric. Part of NPS motives may be to reduce involvement but that can be a drastic mistake because an events based tenant can and will use and abuse the property for their own ends often at the expense of the fabric. This is not a gift horse; close inspection is warranted.

I would tend to agree that parties could be abusive to a property. Since, the plumbing in this house is antiquated and bathroom facilities limited (1 br with toilet???), will there be a requirement for having port-a-potties installed for each event? Will the tent be a permenant summer outside fixture?

I would suggest entertaining other alternatives that could be of a kinder use for the property. A use that would be staying with the theme of the park, related to family, educational and history awareness activities might be more desirable.