America's Best History Spotlight
On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.
Betzwood Movie Studio, Pennsylvania
Yes, there was a Betzwood before there was a Hollywood. At one time, between 1912 and 1924, one of the largest film studios in the world was located in downtown Philadelphia and on their studio lot in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, right next to the park. So, yes, there was this odd juxtaposition between the Valley Forge Historical Park where Washington's men had frozen during their winter encampment of 1777-8 and bad actors and actresses making mostly silent film in the over three hundred acre movie lot next door. Valley Forge park was in existence then, a state park since 1893, not federal until 1976. But in the valley looking southwest from today's Visitor Center, there were western sets, film production labs, and more stretching along the Schuylkill River. Photo above: Western lot at Betzwood Movie Studio, 1914. Courtesy Betzwood Film Archives.
Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
Betzwood Movie Studio
Today there's not a whole lot to see when you're doing a search for the studio adjunct. We wouldn't make a specific trip, however, if you live in the area, or are visiting Valley Forge and have a movie trivia mentality, take a walk across the new footbridge to the western side of the park. There's a picnic area there, and a parking lot that's not too easy to access, and part of the Schulykill River trail. Head east on that macadam trail, and before too long you'll see a row of old masonry buildings and a sign dedicated to the Betzwood Motion Picture Studio and its founder, Siegmund Lubin. Yes, those buildings, now refurbished into apartments, and all the ground toward the river from them, are the remnants of the studio.
Photo above: Still from the silent film, Toonerville Trolley, made by the Betzwood Film Studio, 1920, Betzwood Film Studio. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Actress is Wilna Harvey.
Where Is It
Valley Forge National Historical Park is located twenty miles west of Philadelphia. It's a trip down the Schuylkill Expressway, then a short jaunt down Route 422. Beware of the turns in the area; it's not easy to navigate. If you're going for the park and a movie adjunct day, it's best to park in the main parking lot of Valley Forge, then head over the pedestrian bridge to the west side of the river. For those just wanting to see where the studio was, continue west on Route 422, then take the ramp for Route 363. At the top of the ramp, go to the hard left at the light. Keep winding your way down toward the river to the parking lot.
What is There Now
A historical marker, the two film processing buildings, and open ground where the various studio lots were located. There's also a modern office building attached to the classic structures called the Lubin Building, in honor of Siegmund. Through the website of the Betzwood Film Archives below, you can also view some of the Betzwood films.
How Much to Visit
Free. BTW, so is Valley Forge park, so you don't have to worry about access to the site through their parking lots.
Dawn to dusk. Seeing the sign and two remaining buildings is part of the Schuylkill River Trail system and the heritage area associated with it.
Betzwood Film Archive
Before Hollywood, Philadephia Documentary
Schuylkill River Valley National Heritage Area
Well, it's obvious that the main historic site in the area around Betzwood is Valley Forge National Historical Park, where George Washington and his twelve thousand men spent a winter and learned to be an effective fighting force. Only twenty minutes east are all of the sites of Philadelphia, including Independence Hall. Out in this neck of the woods, for those with a nature sense, check out Mill Grove and the Audubon Society site.