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Chapter Six:

Interpretation at Cowpens NBS before Expansion

During the early years at Cowpens NBS, visitors included passing motorists and various school groups. Although some visitors used the area for picnics or other recreational activities, after the Mission 66 improvements the National Park Service began discouraging such uses in an attempt to focus on the historical significance of the site. Wofford College students used the battleground to study battle tactics and to conduct metal detector searches for musket balls. In addition, staff from Kings Mountain manned the site for two annual events. The first event occurred each January 17 when the NSDAR held battle anniversary ceremonies that usually attracted between one and three hundred locals. During the 1950s and 1960s, an open house was held every May 4 to celebrate the anniversary of the federal legislation establishing the national battlefield site at Cowpens. Annual visitation estimates for the site grew from a few hundred during the 1940s to nearly two thousand by the late 1950s. Following Mission 66 improvements, the estimates increased dramatically and reached over forty thousand by the late 1960s. By contrast, Kings Mountain, a full-scale park, had annual visitation estimates ranging between three and four hundred thousand. [1]

Once at Cowpens, visitors received little interpretive assistance. Except for special occasions, the site was without staff or interpretive devices. Information about Cowpens could be obtained at Kings Mountain, but the only interpretation at Cowpens was the inscription on the U.S. Monument. In 1955 the NPS produced a free interpretive folder, but the site had no dispenser. Instead, folders were distributed at Kings Mountain or through the mail in response to requests. The mayors of nearby Chesnee and Cowpens handled many such requests. [2]

Mission 66 improvements at Cowpens provided the first significant attempt at on-site interpretation. The Mission 66 plan recognized that in the absence of "the rewarding benefits of personal service available at other historical parks, it is that much more necessary that interpretive devices effectively substitute." [3] Between 1958 and 1959, the NPS installed two Petersburg exhibit cases near the U.S. Monument overlooking the battlefield. The sealed cases housed texts, illustrations, maps, and diagrams related to the battle. Topics covered included the military situation in the southern colonies, biographical information on Morgan and Tarleton, descriptions of the Patriot and British troops involved, battle tactics, and the victory of the Patriots. [4] The exhibits avoided "any controversy of subject matter." [5] In addition, the NPS installed a Mohawk message repeater in one of the cases with an audio recording using a second person dialogue to encourage visitors to imagine themselves as Morgan watching the battle unfold. Despite frequent mechanical problems with the message repeater, the device was a valuable interpretive addition. The information for the exhibits and the audio message resulted from a 1958 research project by Kings Mountain Historian Sherman W. Perry. The NPS provided the site with a free folder dispenser as well. While visitors still received information about Cowpens through interpretive programs at Kings Mountain, they could now get detailed interpretation at Cowpens itself. [6]

park visitors
Figure 19: Visitors reading the Mission 66 interpretive displays at Cowpens NBS, December 1958

Interpretation during the Development of Cowpens NB

While the development program at Cowpens was underway, the park provided interpretation and visitor services with a temporary visitor center located in the administration building, a house adjacent to the original NPS tract. Opened to the public in 1978, this temporary facility provided visitors an audiovisual room for a fifteen-minute slide show and a twenty-eight-minute film Private Yankee Doodle, which focused on eighteenth-century military life. Museum exhibits utilized artwork, artifacts, a reproduction British cannon, and audio message repeaters. The artwork included portraits of Morgan and Tarleton painted by South Carolina artist Robert W. Wilson. In addition, the facility housed an outlet for the Eastern National Parks and Monuments Association (ENPMA), a private organization that donated a percentage of sales revenue to the NPS for park projects. ENPMA provided the film for the park. Its sales items included books and reproduction artifacts. [7]

As the development program progressed, Cowpens gradually completed interpretive facilities, although its temporary visitor center was still used. Both the walking tour trail and the automobile tour loop were opened to the public. [8] Kings Mountain Superintendent Benjamin Moomaw made occasional modifications to NPS guidelines, as when an exhibit-planning document called for the display of modern artwork in the new visitor center. According to Moomaw, "the local community is not quite ready for an abstract painting." [9] The final exhibit plan for the visitor center was completed in December 1979. It advised the display of eighteenth-century military artifacts and reproductions, paintings and portraits, reproductions of the Cowpens medals, and an audiovisual map presentation showing the troop movements during the battle. The Recreation and Park Administration Program at Clemson University compiled a 1980 interpretive prospectus for the Robert Scruggs House that called for the structure to be furnished and used to interpret colonial life in the backcountry. To increase public interest in Cowpens, park staff sponsored special interpretive events. Summer programs included weekend concerts and a children's nature workshop that focused on environmental education. [10]

interpretive program
Figure 20: A program on snakes in front of the temporary visitor center, 1979

Interpretive Programs

Interpretive efforts at Cowpens have primarily involved visitor center orientation through exhibits and programs, staff-guided and self-guided battlefield tours, and special programs like living history demonstrations. The park gradually expanded the exhibits in the visitor center during the 1980s. The exhibits continued to consist of original and reproduction artwork and military artifacts, although the park possessed no artifacts directly linked to the Battle of Cowpens. The park expanded and upgraded ENPMA's sales area in 1984. Donations by ENPMA to the park funded various research activities, including a study of battle participants by Professor Bobby Moss from nearby Limestone College. Besides the battlefield tours and living history demonstrations, the park began a new program in 1981. Reenactors portrayed Morgan and Tarleton through first person interpretation. This program was offered off-site at events such as the South Carolina Peach Festival in Gaffney. [11]

A major addition to the park's interpretative program was Daybreak at the Cowpens, an audiovisual slide show for the visitor center. Completed in 1983, the show was the result of a cooperative endeavor between the park and businessman Arthur Magill of nearby Greenville, South Carolina. Magill financed the program, which was based on a poem of the same title he had written and published. In both the poem and slide show, a fictitious veteran of the battle tells his great-grandson about the event. Produced by Spectrum South, Inc., of Greenville, the program primarily presented slides of reenactment scenes. Working with ENPMA, the park negotiated a memorandum of understanding with Magill. The agreement allowed ENPMA to use Daybreak at the Cowpens at the visitor center and charge admission fees, which would be split between the association and Magill. The slide show was premiered at a hotel in Greenville and subsequently put into use at the visitor center. The interpretive potential of Daybreak at the Cowpens was further enhanced by the inclusion of a VHS tape, a soundtrack tape, and sets of slides from the program as sales items at the park around 1990. Magill funded an equipment upgrade for the presentation in 1994. [12]

During the summer of 1984, following the production of the main audiovisual program, park staff embarked on a major expansion of the interpretive program. Superintendent Stanek's expectation of this effort was "a big summer season at Cowpens with increased visitation." [13] The expanded program included two guided battlefield walking tours and one British three-pounder cannon demonstration each day. The weekend schedule added interpretation at the Scruggs House and evening programs at the picnic shelter. The evening programs featured films and speakers on topics as varied as eighteenth-century cooking, women in the Revolutionary War, landscape restoration at the battlefield, snakes, stars, and other national parks. Despite the park's efforts, the expanded interpretive program failed to attract more visitors. With limited community participation and the park's increasingly tight budget, Stanek decided to terminate the program, [14] noting that "the interpretation programs have been streamlined to get back to the basics and concentrate on the park's story in a more timely and cost effective manner." [15] Thereafter, park efforts to educate visitors through audiovisual programs stagnated because of the lack of visitor participationa lack due in part to the growing amount and variety of television programming available in visitors' homes. [16]

interpretive program
Figure 21: A living history demonstration by Park Ranger Bob Kirch, 1981

Despite these cutbacks, the park continued outreach efforts for local schools. During the 1980s, park rangers visited schools to discuss the battle and display some living history reproductions. For school groups that visited the battlefield, the park offered tours and followup efforts like Park Historian Karen G. Rehm's 1985 essay contest. However, as staffing and funding levels stagnated or decreased, the park became unable to offer guided tours to every school group. Realizing the need to rely on teachers to guide the students around the battlefield, the park produced a teacher guide for use in preparing class visits to the park. The guide was prepared by Dr. Anita P. Davis of Converse College in Spartanburg and funded by ENPMA percentage donations. Completed in 1993, the guide included historical information on the Battle of Cowpens as well as exercises and games intended to help teach students about colonial life and the Revolutionary War. In addition to the teacher guide, Davis prepared a children's book on the American Revolution in the South as an ENPMA sales item. These efforts were further enhanced in 1993 with the purchase of eighteenth-century reproduction clothes sized to fit children and used in the park's interpretive program for schools. Other programs have highlighted certain topics. For example, four hundred school students attended Earth Day activities at the park in 1998. [17]

Following up on its school efforts, the park initiated a junior ranger program in 1994 thanks to a grant from Kraft Food, Lite and Lively. The program brought children to the battlefield for a couple of hours to work through four of seven activities in the park's junior ranger booklet. After these activities and picking up litter or recycling, each child pledged to protect resources and received a certificate and badge. Polaroids of participating children were included in a visitor center display about the junior ranger program. [18] Ruff stated that the staff "feel the Junior Ranger program is one of the most important activities we have attempted for children." [19]

During the 1990s, the park has made numerous additions to its interpretive publications and programs. With the park situated on the fringe of the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan area, a region with a significant number of international manufacturing firms, staff had the park brochure translated into German in 1984 by a student from the University of South Carolina and again in 1992 by Wilfred and Heinz Thiele. A volunteer prepared a Japanese translation of the park brochure in 1998. In 1996, the park prepared a bird checklist and a tree booklet, the latter being particularly useful to visitors seeking fall colors in October. Special programs were sponsored by the park, like a living history show with Howard Burnham of Great Britain portraying Cornwallis in 1993. [20]

The park also stepped up its efforts to interpret early nineteenth-century life at the Scruggs House. Living history programs were offered at the house on spring and summer weekends in 1993. Staff and volunteers in period costume demonstrated eighteenth-century cooking techniques and other processes. Since the Scruggs House was not staffed except during the living history programs, the park took steps to allow unmanned interpretation for visitors at the structure. In 1993, metal security gates were placed at the house's doorways to allow visitors to view the furnishings inside. Postcards of the house were included as ENPMA sales items, and a brochure on the house was produced in 1996. [21]

Changing visitation patterns sparked new interpretive programs at Cowpens. One such pattern was that the average visitor was spending less time at the battlefield. Over the 1990s, park visitation increased by half and receipts for ENPMA sales items more than doubled, but admission fees for Daybreak at the Cowpens stagnated. Not only were fewer visitors viewing the audiovisual program, but fewer were walking the interpretive battlefield trail. Recognizing that many visitors were lacking the orientation provided by Daybreak at the Cowpens and the wayside exhibits on the battlefield trail, park staff developed an audio tape tour of the battlefield as a sales item meant to be used by visitors driving the automobile tour road. The script for the audio tape was written by Chief Ranger Ruff and included a version for the walking trail. Using ENPMA donations, the audio tape was produced by the Finley Holiday Film Corporation and made available for sale at the park by the end of 1996. [22]

Figure 22: Living history interpretation at the Scruggs House, 1995

Another interpretive initiative at Cowpens during the late 1990s was the incorporation of African-American history in the park's programs. The earliest such efforts were inspired by the creation of the park's first equal opportunity program in 1984. As part of that program in subsequent years, the park included an appropriate exhibit in the visitor center and sent information packets to local schools during Black History Month. However, these efforts generally focused on NPS sites that commemorate African-American heritage as opposed to specific information on blacks at Cowpens. [23] In 1993 the park began stocking postcards of William Ranney's 1845 painting of the cavalry fight after the battle that depicts an African-American servant saving Colonel William Washington's life (see Figure 2). At the time, the park viewed the painting as "the only interpretive medium that shows an African-American participating in this battle." [24] New research during the mid-1990s provided solid information for the interpretation of black participation in the Battle of Cowpens. Dr. Donald Williams of the University of Southern Mississippi discovered the names of over a dozen African-American battle participants in Revolutionary War pension records. The discoveries by Williams came unexpectedly from his research for the park's GIS database project. Between 1997 and 1999, the park followed up on this research with additions to its interpretive programs. New displays in the visitor center included a manikin of a black militiaman in the First Spartan Regiment and a painting of two African-American militiamen by Lisa Price with appropriate interpretive text panels. In addition, information on black participation in the battle was included in the park's interpretive talks at the battlefield. [25]

Technological developments like the internet have presented additional opportunities to the park's outreach efforts. In 1999, going beyond a standard NPS park web page, Cowpens developed an expanded web page with the assistance of volunteer John Robertson. A current internet project is a Revolutionary War database to be housed by the Amercian Battlefield Protection Program at NPS's Washington office and accessed via a web site. The database will include information on battle participants, military campaigns, and NPS sites related to the Revolutionary War. The planning stage of the project received a boost in 1997 with a donation of funds by the Magill family of Greenville. [26]

In addition to interpretation through visitor center exhibits and the battlefield itself, the park has sought to further educate the public on the Battle of Cowpens by upgrading its ENPMA sales outlet. During the 1990s, staff worked to expand the number of items offered and the volume of sales. Between 1992 and 1996, the space used for the ENPMA displays was expanded with more shelving several times. This expansion allowed the park to offer more books as well as other items like VHS videos, audio tapes, and reproductions of period items. In 1996, the park worked with Overmountain Press to reprint Battle of Cowpens: A Documented Narrative and Troop Movement Maps, by retired NPS Historian Ed Bearss, as a sales item. This attention to the ENPMA outlet at Cowpens appeared to pay off as sales increased from $20,003 in fiscal year 1990 to $52,695 in fiscal year 1999. Besides providing educational materials for sale to visitors, the relationship with ENPMA allowed the park to receive partial funding for a staff position as well as percentage donations to fund special events and interpretive programs. [27]

Over the past two decades of NPS management at Cowpens, visitation patterns have evolved. Most importantly, there was a general increase in total visitation from 64,614 in 1981 to 179,108 in 1998. This large increase is consistent with the Service-wide trend of increasing visitation. Cowpens visitors can be separated into several groupsstandard visitors, school groups, annual event attendees, special groups, and locals using the park's roads and trails for walking, running, bicycling, horseback riding, rollerblading, and skateboarding. As visitation increased during the 1990s, the park had to address certain problems, especially the competition between automobiles and other recreational users for right of way on roads and trails. One interesting group of occasional visitors has been the military. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, visits to the park have been conducted by the U.S. Army out of Fort Jackson in South Carolina, the U.S. Marine Corps out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, local National Guard units, and other military groups. The primary purpose of these visits is to educate service personnel on the tactics used during the Battle of Cowpens. [28]

Figure 23: A bicycler using the park's roads, 1999

Annual Events

In addition to its interpretive programs, Cowpens has sponsored various annual events. The park continued hosting battle anniversary observances each January. Until the completion of park facilities in 1981, these events usually consisted of an afternoon program with a wreath-laying at the U.S. Monument, speeches, music, and eighteenth-century military demonstrations by living history reenactors. During the 1970s, similar activities were coordinated by the Cherokee County American Revolution Bicentennial Committee chaired by Dr. J.N. Lipscomb, a staunch park supporter. The bicentennial celebrations were sponsored by state and local officials, community leaders, and the NPS. As the first battle anniversary in the nation during the bicentennial year 1976, the Cowpens observance featured a parade and a reenactment of the battle before a crowd of eight thousand spectators. Between 1978 and 1980, the park held a historical seminar dinner on the evening prior to the battlefield anniversary ceremony. The speakers were noted historians like Hugh F. Rankin in 1979 and Thomas Fleming in 1980. In addition, the park invited Manning, Gettys, and other local supporters who had led the fight to enlarge the battlefield site. [29]

Marking the two hundredth anniversary of the battle and the formal dedication of the new park facilities, the 1981 anniversary observance at Cowpens was more elaborate than any previous one. The event was planned by the Cowpens Bicentennial Celebration Committee with Lipscomb and Wilhelmina Dearybury serving as co-chairpersons. On Saturday, January 17, the celebration began with a wreath-laying at the Morgan Monument in Spartanburg, a parade in the Town of Cowpens, and a ceremony at a local junior high school to cancel commemorative Cowpens U.S. Postal Service postcards. Twice on Saturday and once on Sunday, five hundred reenactors staged scenes at Cowpens to demonstrate the military tactics used during the battle. Noted historian Richard B. Morris spoke Saturday evening at a dinner in Spartanburg's Memorial Auditorium. During the celebration, the park gave its first Daniel Morgan Memorial Awards to three individuals for their contributions to Cowpens history, including Magill for the poem Battle at the Cowpens, University of South Carolina history professor Henry Lumpkin, and artist Wilson. Unlike earlier anniversary programs lasting only a few hours, the 1981 anniversary marked the beginning of weekend-long celebrations with numerous activities. [30]

In addition to the anniversary of the Battle of Cowpens, the park observed the anniversary of the patriot militiamen's march to the Battle of Kings Mountain. This event began in 1975 when a group of reenactors marched the route of the mountainmen from the mountains of Tennessee to Kings Mountain. Subsequently, the participants organized the Overmountain Victory Trail Association to coordinate future anniversary marches. In 1980 congressional legislation was signed into law designating the Overmountain Victory Trail as a national historic trail. The 220-mile tour route followed highways from Abingdon, Virginia, to Kings Mountain NMP and highlighted various points of interest. [31] Like the original militiamen in 1780, the reenactors camped at Cowpens for a night during their annual October marches along the Overmountain Victory Trail. Over the years, the two to three dozen reenactors have provided various interpretive opportunities for the local community and visitors at the battlefield, including living history demonstrations, school visits, and special exhibits. [32]

Figure 24: Spectators watching the two hundredth anniversary reenactment scenes at Cowpens, January 1981

Figure 25: Overmountain Victory Trail marchers at Cowpens, 1982

musket demonstration
Figure 26: A musket demonstration at the 1990 battle anniversary celebration

cannon demonstration
Figure 27: A cannon demonstration at the 1999 Fourth of July celebration

After the 1981 battle anniversary celebration, the park continued to add new activities, such as a candlelight walking tour of the battlefield that quickly became a tradition in the early 1980s. A contingent of Washington Light Infantry members from Charleston placed a wreath at the unit's monument in 1987. In 1990 U.S. Army troops and equipment from Fort Bragg in North Carolina participated in the celebration to demonstrate the changes in military technology since 1781. A living history program with a park ranger and volunteer portraying Morgan and Tarleton was added in 1996. Total visitation to the anniversary observances varied. For example, attendance numbers fluctuated from five thousand in 1993 to thirteen thousand in 1994 to only fifteen hundred at a rain-hampered program in 1995. [33]

Anniversary celebrations remained the primary focus of the park, but they generated spin-off activities. For example, a competitive run known as the "Race for the Grasshopper" was started with the 1986 anniversary. The name was inspired by the Patriot effort to seize the British cannon position at the end of the Battle of Cowpens. The Spartanburg YMCA sponsored this race along the automobile tour road. The annual event attracted between two and three hundred participants for both five-kilometer and ten-kilometer runs as a well as a one-mile walk. By 1994 the "Race for the Grasshopper" was occurring on another weekend in January apart from the battle anniversary celebration. [34]

Another important program begun in the mid-1980s was a park effort to focus visitor attention on the Patriot and British armies that fought at Cowpens. First held during a weekend in May 1984, the "Rebels and Redcoats of Cowpens" included eighteenth-century living history military camps and weapon demonstrations along with a ceremony recognizing battle participants and their descendants. In addition, the park hosted sessions to provide visitors with genealogical research techniques and related information. Professor Bobby Moss, author of The Patriots at the Cowpens, presented a lecture. After a second program in 1985, the event was suspended due to low turnout. One reason for the failure of the "Rebels and Redcoats" program was declining interest in military reenactments sparked by a controversial change in NPS policy related to so-called "opposing line" battle recreations. In 1979 the Park Service had issued a directive banning such events. Various reasons inspired the directive, including a desire to preserve the memorial quality of national battlefields and to avoid resource damage. Safety was also a chief concern. The major Cowpens battle reenactment in 1981, re-classified as an "interpretive" or a "tactical" demonstration and orchestrated on NPS property not officially part of the battle site, allowed park managers to grandfather the event through bicentennial celebrations despite the policy change. Afterwards, however, such activities were strictly prevented. As a result, some re-enactor groups chose not to participate in NPS-sponsored recreated history demonstrations, including those at Cowpens. Less dramatic living history events did continue, however; for example, a military encampment was held at the park in May 1995. [35]

In 1993 another annual tradition began with the park's first Fourth of July celebration. Funded by the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, local businesses, and Magill, the evening program included patriotic music, speeches, and a fireworks show. After the first event proved a success, the park decided to continue the Fourth of July celebration. Funded by the local community, the celebration's attendance grew from three thousand in 1993 to twenty thousand by the mid-1990s. [36]

Commemorating the USS Cowpens

In addition to interpreting the Battle of Cowpens, park staff developed a tangential theme focused upon U.S. Navy ships named after the battle. The first USS Cowpens, CVL-25, was an Independence class aircraft carrier commissioned in May 1943. During two years of service in World War II, the ship's crew earned twelve battle stars and a Navy unit citation. Nicknamed "The Mighty Moo," the aircraft carrier was decommissioned in January 1947. After four decades without a ship named after the battle, in March 1991 the Navy commissioned the second USS Cowpens, CG-63, a Ticonderoga class Aegis guided missile cruiser. [37]

As early as October 1976, the connection between the battlefield and the World War II carrier was recognized at Cowpens when the Greenville-Spartanburg Chapter of the Naval Reserves Association donated a photograph of the carrier for use at the developing park. [38] However, the park's interest in the USS Cowpens grew out of annual reunions of former crewmembers sponsored by the nearby town of Cowpens. While encouraging the use of the park's new picnic area for the 1982 reunion, Superintendent Stanek stated, "[W]e feel a close affinity to the USS Cowpens and look forward to meeting her men." [39] The June reunion included a picnic at the battlefield with nearly two hundred people in attendance. By the early 1990s, the annual event had grown into the Mighty Moo Festival, a weekend-long event complete with a parade, entertainment, sports, rides, craft shows, and other activities. Though the festival was based in the town, a Saturday picnic and reception were held at the battlefield with walking tours and temporary exhibits. During the 1990 festival, the U.S. Navy presented the park with a model of the second USS Cowpens, which was under construction at the time by the Bath Iron Works in Maine. The presentation ceremony included former crewmembers of the World War II carrier, future crewmembers of the Aegis cruiser, and South Carolina dignitaries like General William C. Westmoreland, the commander of American forces during the Vietnam War. In March 1991, six park staff members were present at the commissioning ceremony for the second USS Cowpens held in Charleston. During a cocktail party before the ceremony, the park delegation presented the cruiser's crew a bronze plaque with an inscription by Magill. [40]

Superintendent Armstrong
Figure 28: Superintendent Armstrong presenting a bronze plaque during ceremonies to honor the USS Cowpens, March 1991

Beyond participating in USS Cowpens events, park staff developed a permanent exhibit on the two ships for the visitor center. The initial aim of the project was to build a database of men who had served on the two USS Cowpens ships. The 1990 donation of the model of the second USS Cowpens sparked the development of an interpretive display in the visitor center. In 1995 the park issued a contract for a model of the World War II carrier, but later rejected it due to inaccuracies by the contractor. The park issued a second contract in 1996 for a one-sixteenth scale model of the ship. Funded by donations from the former crewmembers, the model was on display in time for that year's reunion. Al Kalbfleisch of Connecticut created and donated a one-sixteenth scale model of the Aegis cruiser for display in the visitor center two years later. Using funds from the U.S. Navy's Legacy Resource Management Program, the park completed a more permanent display on the ships. It consisted of new display cases funded by ENPMA percentage donations from Daybreak at the Cowpens proceeds, a touch screen exhibit with videos produced by local television studios WSPA and WRET, a display with historic photographs and interpretive text panels, and a brochure on the ships. The touch screen exhibit provided access to the database of men who served on the two vessels. [41]

Navy ships are not within the park's core interpretive mission. Similarly, the park's sponsorship of running marathons and Fourth of July celebrations might seem beyond its formal mandate. Yet, such commemorative activities have helped Cowpens officials to strengthen the relationship between the NPS and the local community even despite declining interest in history and competition for visitor leisure time from a growing variety of other attractions. At the very least, these events inspire local park visitors to return year after year, deepening their affection and helping to integrate the park into the life of the community.

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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2002