The building in this drawing may look familiar, but it's not what you think. Not exactly, anyway. This was to be the central building of a new academic campus in our area.
Can you guess which school, and where it was almost located?
- Greg Prichard, Radnor Historical Society
Valley Forge Military Academy operated in just one building at its inception: the former Devon Park Inn next to the Devon Horse Show. When that building burned to the ground in January of 1929, the Academy took over the recently vacated buildings of St. Luke's School, a private boys' school close to North Wayne. The school's aspirations, however, were much larger and more grandiose than what the then-30 year old buildings of St. Luke's could provide to them.
Just two months after the fire at Devon, the Academy announced (via the Suburban & Wayne Times) that they would build a completely new campus on as-yet undeveloped land near Colonial Village. The Village, an experimental development just outside Radnor Township created by realtor J. Howard Mecke, played on the recent surge of interest into Colonial-era life and buildings fueled by the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition. Mecke was also on the Board of Governors of the Military Academy, and undoubtedly he was instrumental in convincing his colleagues that the new campus site, at Old Eagle School Road and Swedesford Road, was the ideal location. Not only did it adjoin Colonial Village, but it was also in close proximity to the Academy's namesake.
The new VFMA campus was to be built around this main building, an "exact duplicate of Independence Hall." The new gymnasium was to be an exact copy of Carpenter's Hall. Faculty houses would have also been replicas, duplicating the appearances of the Betsy Ross House, the Robert Morris House, Chew House and the William Penn House. According to the Academy, this cluster of buildings would have become an educational and tourist destination in itself.
Independence Hall has long been subject for reproduction, especially on college campuses including Howard University, Dartmouth College and Brooklyn College, but it was not meant to be for Valley Forge. Construction of the new campus was to be completed by September of 1929 (more than a month before the stock market crash), but in the end VFMA stayed on the old St. Luke's site and established themselves there with largely Colonial-influenced architecture, though no historical reproductions.