Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: July 1983 Volume 21 Number 3, Pages 97–102

When the Valley Forge Military Academy was Located in Devon

Bob Goshorn

Page 97

When it first opened, the Valley Forge Military Academy was not located in Wayne, but was in Devon, on the south side of Berkley road, between Dorset and Waterloo roads. It was there for only five months, however, before a disastrous fire totally destroyed the school's main building and caused it to relocate.

The Military Academy wss founded in 1928 by Major Milton G. Baker. Major Baker had been graduated from St. John, in Annapolis, then considered one of the leading military colleges in the country, prior to the first World War. Following graduation, he served for several years in the regular army. After an assignment in the office of the Secretary of War, he resigned to make a special study of military schools, teaching in several of them, including a year at Culver. In 1928 he decided to organize and establish his own military academy.

The Board of Governors for the new Academy included Major General William C. Price, the head of the Pennsylvania National Guard and also president of the Union League; Brigadier General Edward C. Shannon, commander of the 52d Cavalry Brigade; Colonel William H. Oury; Colonel Fred Taylor Pusey; Dr. W. Herbert Burk, rector of the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge; Judge W. Butler Windle; Walter Ewing Hope; Colonel Arthur Golshan; and J. Howard Mecke jr. On the Board of Trustees, along with Major Baker, were Thomas L. Latta, G. B. Wheeler, and Edgar G. Van Dyke.

Page 98

Devon Inn, Devon, Pa.

The site for the proposed school was the old Devon Inn, which Major Baker acquired in the summer of 1928. Built in 1883 as a summer hotel for fashionable Philadelphia families, it had once before served briefly as a school when, from 1924 to 1926, it was the home of the Devon Manor School for Girls.

In addition to several buildings, the property included fourteen acrea of lawn, beautifully landscaped with shrubbery and magnificent old shade trees.

The main building was an ornate structure of stone and brick, of old English design. About a quarter of a million dollars was spent to renovate it for use as a school.

After remodeling, in the main building were located twelve classrooms, a library of more than 7,000 volumes, the infirmary, a study hall, a large auditorium with a stage and a seating capacity for 500 persons, a dining room that could accommodate 400 at one time, and a well-equipped kitchen and bakery, as well as the offices of the Superintendent and Commandant, four spacious reception rooms, and general offices. The main hall also included about 150 bedrooms. Sixty of the bedrooms had private baths, twenty-five had semi-private baths, and the remainder all had hot and cold running water. The bedrooms were all equipped with Simmons iron beds, box springs, and mattresses.

Page 99

A separate building housed the recreation hall. In it were ten bowling alleys, a billiard room with facilities for billiards, pool, and shuffle board, rooms for checkers and chess, six reading rooms, and also the cadet's store. The recreation hall was strictly the cadet's own, with members of the faculty visiting it only for the official daily inspection by the officer in charge.

Only a few hundred feet from the main building was the long line of stables for the horses, with the grounds of the Devon Horse Show also available for instruction in horsemanship.

In short, the physical plant was described as "at least the equal" of other military schools throughout the country.

The faculty of thirteen was also reported to be "one of the strongest faculties ever assembled in any preparatory school in the East". Its members included Lieutenant Robert G. Posey, the headmaster and an instructor in languages; Captain Jackson A. Lahn, in mathematics and military science; Lieutenant William Treu, mathematics; Lieutenant Commander S. L. H. Hazard, chemistry, physics and history; Lieutenant Leopold Kretzlin, history and commercial; Captain Robert Maust and Miss Maybelle Asper, commercial; Captain Fred C. Patten, commercial and music; Lieutenant Harold Hayes and Lieutenant Sheldon Madiera, English and foreign languages; and Lieutenant Paul Shaffer, the athletic director. In the lower school were Lieutenants W. I. Ruten and Paul E. Tracy.

Major Baker served as Superintendent, with Capt. Patten also serving as the Executive Officer, and Capt. Maust as Quartermaster, in addition to their teaching duties. The school surgeon was Major Charles S. Miller, while Miss Edna Woelfel was the school nurse. Others on the administrative staff included Miss Asper and Miss Dorothy Rutter as secretaries, Robert C. Adams as engineer, and Frederick D'Sinter as canteen manager.

The purpose of the school, as described in its 39-page catalog, was fourfold - the building of boys "physically, morally, socially and mentally". Fees for the year were $1,000, which covered "tuition in all academic branches, board, room, heat, light, bed linens, blankets, table linen, lectures, concerts, moving pictures and all other entertainments; quarterly medical examinations by the school surgeon and medical attention in ordinary ailment at the Academy". The uniforms cost an additional $250. (The dress uniform, incidentally, was identical to that of the West Point cadet.)

The Academy opened at Devon on September 26, 1928 with an enrollment of 117 cadets, including a band of 20 musicians that had already been organized and practicing for the opening day ceremonies and a football squad of 28 players that had started practice on September 18 thunder head coach Paul Shaffer, a graduate of Phoenixville High School and Temple University.

While most of the students were from eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the enrollment also included students from Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, Virginia, and other states.

Page 100

Opening day was described by Cadet-Major Rudolph A. Parker, "In limousines, 'flivvers' and afoot," he reported, "all day long the new cadets poured into the building that was to be their home - strapping big fellows, lugging heavy bags'; shy young hopefuls, led by doting mothers or proud fathers, large and small, young and old - every one to become part of a mighty educational system. They received a military welcome - seemingly a bit rough yet producing results as nothing else can. After saying their fond farewells, they are assigned a room, and start the first lap of the school year. At this point the veteran cadets step into the picture with a 'bang'. Bearing themselves with pride, this old guard makes the recruits snap into it'. 'Get those shoulders back'. 'Stick at chest out!' 'Keep your chin up!' 'This is a military school, not a girls1 seminary!' 'Keep awake there!' These are only a few of the general hints that are handed out. ..."

After commenting on the spirit of the Academy "that demands that everyman do his share", Cadet-Major Parker noted that "we, the first to wear the cadet gray, are proud of the fact that we are helping to build a great institution". Although there were only about 125 cadets enrolled for the first year, it was expected that there would be more the following term, and within four months there already were reservations for almost twice the first year's enrollment, with the facilities easily capable of accommodating several hundred over all.

The Academy offered three courses of instruction along with the military department, A classical course, with requirements in English, Latin, history, modern languages, mathematics and science, was provided to prepare students for the general arts course of any college or university. A scientific course stressed mathematics, chemistry, modern languages and physics, and was for students planning to enter engineering or technical school. And for students going directly into the business world, a commercial course, with groundwork in English, history, mathematics and general commercial subjects, was provided.

The standards of the College Entrance Examination Board were adopted as the scholastic aim, although it was recognized that for those not going to college there should be "courses to prepare these boys thoroughly for life".

The academic day consisted of five periods of one hour each, with all cadets required to have a minimum of four classes a day. In addition, they were required to study for two hours five nights of the week. Each boy was also expected to participate in at least one sport each day of the school year.

In October the first issue of the Anvil, a mimeographed student newspaper, was issued. It was edited by Cadet E. S. Jackson, with Cadet W. R. Kavanaugh the assistant editor.

Page 101

The cadets of the Academy also participated in the Armistice Day parade in Wayne held on November 10th, "the splendidly equipped and excellent marching cadet corps" leading the line of march.

There was also a special Thanksgiving Day program at the school, during which time the "courtesy of the Academy" was extended to the parents of all the students. The festivities began on Wednesday, with a guard mount, band concert, and dress parade, followed in the evening by a presentation by the Valley Forge Military "players". On Thanksgiving Day the program included inspection of quarters, a dress parade, a Thanksgiving Day address by Dr. Burk, a formal guard mount, a football game against Northeast Catholic, formal retreat, dinner, and a "football hop", followed by a midnight buffet supper.

The Academy football team, incidentally, won the game by a 13-0 score to end its first season with a record of five victories and two losses. In addition to beating Northeast Catholic, the cadets had wins over Brown Prep, 26-0, the Church Farm School, 26-6, Tower Hill, 31-0, and Malvern Prep, 18-0, but lost to Temple, 6-0, and to LaSalle, 21-0. The captain of the team was halfback Al Schultz, with fullback "Red" Pierce, quarterback "Harp" Reynolds, "Meat" Winterbottom, an end, and tactile Curtis Rosar among the other outstanding players that year.

Classes were dismissed on December 19th for the Christmas furlough. Honoring a previous commitment, on December 21st the main building of the school was opened for the annual banquet of the Wayne Lodge, No. 581, of the Free and Accepted Masons.

It was less than two weeks after classes were resumed on January 7th, in the early morning hours of Friday, January 18, 1929, that the fire that was to move the Valley Forge Military Academy from Devon broke out.

The odor of smoke from a small blaze in the hallway on the top floor of the four-story building awakened the headmaster, Lt. Posey, who then woke up Captain Lahn, the Commandant, The cadets were quickly aroused by "fire call". With their overcoats over their pajamas, their heavy shoes still unlaced and untied, they attempted to control the blaze with hand fire extinguishers, but the fire spread rapidly down to the third floor, out of control. Major Baker put in a call to the township fire company for assistance, and ordered the building evacuated, A roll call showed that everyone had got out safely.

Firemen from seven fire companies - Paoli, Berwyn, Wayne, Bryn Mawr, Ardmore, Swedeland, and Bridgeport - soon arrived on tke scene, but by that time the building was a huge tower of flames and smoke. Within an hour from the time the fire had first been discovered the entire center section of the old Inn collapsed. Hampered by inadequate water pressure, there was little the firemen could do. By daybreak, only jagged sections of the brick walls and the chimneys remained standing, (The chimneys survived for one year., when they too were toppled by the explosion at the fireworks factory in Devon.)

Page 102

Immediately after the fire, the students were taken to the Brookline Square Club in Haverford. Within twelve hours, arrangements had been made to move the school temporarily to facilities at the St. Davids Golf Club, on the northeast corner of Eagle and Radnor Street roads, in Wayne. The club moved its offices into the locker room, which it retained, making its main club building, which had formerly been the St. Luke's School, and the former Crawford house available for use by the Academy. Cots and blankets were requisitioned from the Philadelphia Arsenal and placed in the old dormitories, and on the following Monday classes were continued with a minimum of interruption.

The following week, Major Baker reported that the plans for the future of the Academy could not yet be outlined, but that it was "confidently expected that the school will be rebuilt on the old site".

In July, however, it was announced that "after due deliberation" a decision had been made to purchase the 27-acre site of the former St. Luke!s School as a permanent site for the Academy, and that work on a new fire-proof brick barracks of a Colonial design would begin as soon as possible. It was also announced that no wood was to be used in the construction of this new dormitory. At the same time, plans . .were unveiled to renovate and alter the former main building of the old St. Luke's School to house the Academy's library, lecture halls, laboratories, class rooms, dining room, and offices.

At the end of the first year of operation, it was also reported that the Academy had attained "remarkable academic achievement", with its graduates having been accepted at West Point, Annapolis, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins, and other colleges. The Academy had also been given recognition by the War Department.

Enrollment for the second year of the school had already reached 179 students by July, with the expectation that the established quota of 250 would be reached by August.

Thus the Academy continued in its Wayne location and never returned to Devon. But it was in Devon that it got its start, and for the first five months of its existence the Valley Forge Military Academy was located on the south side of Berkley Road, between Dorset and Waterloo roads, in the buildings of the old Devon Inn.



Catalog of Valley Forge Military Academy for 1928-1929

Crossed Sabres, the Yearbook of the Class of 1929

Interview with Major General Milton H. Medenbach

Files of the Wayne Suburban


Page last updated: 2009-07-29 at 14:31 EST
Copyright © 2006-2009 Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society. All rights reserved.
Permission is given to make copies for personal use only.
All other uses require written permission of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society.