YOU COULD SPEND a month of Sundays working your way through the many tourable attractions of the Valley Forge region, and no short list can do them justice. Here's a short list anyway, unjustly limited to a few freebies and a couple of suggestions for shoppers. FREEBIES
PETER WENTZ FARMSTEAD -- On Schultz Road in Worcester. This colonial farm, which once served as Gen'l. Washington's headquarters, has been restored (purists and preservationists might say rebuilt or replaced) to almost like new, so that we see it as the Father of our Country did whilst the Republic was in labour.
The farmstead's as bright as new money, or, as the county commissioners concede, even gaudy; but that's the way Peter Wentz wanted it, according to extensive -- and ongoing -- archeological research. The result is a fresh and lively look at a long-ago lifestyle, with tours of the main house, barn and log cabin conducted by well-informed docents. Such crafts as fraktur painting, scherenschnitte and fireplace baking are demonstrated by cheery volunteers in period costume.
It's easy to see why the place has been named one of the state's 10 top attractions by the Pennsylvania Travel Industry Advisory Council. Open 1 to 4 Sunday, 10 to 4 Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Mondays. Special access for handicapped. 215/584-5104.
PENNYPACKER MILLS -- On Haldeman Road in Schwenksville. George Washington slept here, too, and later ordered the mills disabled to keep them from grinding flour for the redcoats, but that's not the main reason Montgomery County preserves this colonial revival mansion.
Sam Pennypacker, soon to be governor of Pennsylvania, bought the place in 1900 because it was historic, and once had been in his family. He then proceeded to tear down every vestige of the original German-style stucco/stone farmhouse except the summer-kitchen fireplace, and replace it with a Georgian mansion whose 18th-century English-style details, from sills to shingles, all were purchased off the shelf in 1902.
Pennypacker did all this to exemplify American history and glorify early American architecture. If his intentions seem at cross-purposes with his method, the guides will explain it all to you while showing you around the handsome and handily furnished manse, which is as comfy and homey as any house so huge could possibly be. Open 1 to 4 Sundays, 10 to 4 Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Mondays. 215/287-9349.
MILL GROVE -- On Audubon Road at Park Avenue. Although this 1762 house is just up the road a piece from Valley Forge, George Washington apparently never slept here; it's revered because wildlife painter John James Audubon did. The farm, which included a lead mine, belonged to JJ's father. The young man spent several years running the place, courting the woman who would be his wife, and developing the fascination with nature that would make him the most famous bird illustrator in history until Roger Tory Peterson invented himself.
Since 1951, the 130-acre farm and the stone house and barn have been maintained as a wildlife sanctuary and Audubon museum. The mansion walls show the story of Audubon's life in murals by George M. Harding, and the place holds many Audubon memorabilia. The grounds have miles of marked trails, and the sanctuary bird list records nearly 200 species. Open 10 to 5 Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays. 215/666-5593. SHOPPING
THE COURT AND PLAZA AT KING OF PRUSSIA -- State Rte. 202 at the Pennsylvania Turnpike. There are shopping malls all over the world that claim to be the biggest shopping mall in the world, and some of them probably are. But we doubt you'll have the energy to dispute the Court & Plaza's claim after even a cursory cruise around its seven major department stores (Bloomingdale's, Bamberger's, A&S, JC Penney, John Wanamaker, Gimbels and Sears) and more than 300 shops, restaurants, theaters and whatever.
One of our more popular pop psychologists recently asserted that the average American spends more time in shopping malls than anywhere else except at work and in bed. That assertion seems rather less ridiculous to a Court & Plaza veteran.
SKIPPACK VILLAGE -- On Pennsylvania Rte. 73 a few miles north of Valley Forge. It's easy to overdo quaintness, but Pennsylvanians have an exquisite sense of that point where excess becomes excessive, and generally stop just short of it, as they have here.
Founded in 1702, Skippack has been a regional trading center ever since, and once even had a trolley. The twoscore boutiques, craft shoppes, art galleries and restaurants are overlaid on a solid base of service establishments. Skippack Village Merchants Association: 215/584-6259 or 584-4849.