Maintaining A Legacy
An Administrative History of George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
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"A Sort of Orphan": The Consequences of Independent Status

The dedication of the memorial in 1936 ended one era of positive development; it did not inaugurate another with any such beneficial results. Instead, during the following thirty years, the George Rogers Clark Memorial languished in a variety of hands as the people who conceived of it proved incapable of satisfactory management, and governmental agencies at the state level sought to shift the cost of its upkeep onto other departments. A newspaper editorial in Vincennes in the 1960s accurately characterized the resulting situation when it referred to the memorial as "a sort of orphan." [1]

Much of this predicament resulted from the problems of maintaining an attraction of national size and caliber within a state system more closely directed at managing small natural areas. Although federal money paid for much of the construction of the memorial, the initial legislation authorizing federal expenditures ceded ongoing responsibility for the memorial to the state of Indiana. This was one of the conditions that underlay federal support. But Indiana simply lacked the required expertise to administer a site devoted to American heritage. Such expertise was vital in an era that increasingly stressed leisure and recreation over patriotic activities. Without professional administration, the memorial had little chance to fulfill the aspirations of its founders.

The lack of expertise of state officials created an independent status for the memorial that made its management a consistent chore. They labored with an expensive albatross — albeit an extremely important one — while the federal agency responsible for similar places grew in significance and power. Between 1936 and 1966, the National Park Service evolved from a small agency in charge of great scenic parks and historic areas into the agency with primary responsibility for nearly every aspect of federal recreation and preservation. It developed clear and distinct standards of service, accommodation, and interpretation, becoming the federal agency of which the American public had the best opinion. Its standards became widely accepted among the American public; even more, visitors associated national importance with the levels of service the agency offered. The Park Service presented mountains and geysers, historic places such as battlefields, recreational areas, and even national lakeshores in a manner that accommodated the needs of a haste-driven; sedentary public. [2] The level of service and maintenance at the Indiana-run George Rogers Clark Memorial never equaled that at similar national park areas.

None of this was apparent in the heady climate that followed the dedication in 1936. The appearance of the President, the vast crowds, and the elaborate ceremonies gave the impression of a place of considerable social and cultural importance. The memorial and the mall upon which it stood were extremely attractive, overlooking not only the Wabash River but downtown Vincennes as well. This symbol, this evocation of a proud past, seemed to have great meaning not only in southern Indiana and its surroundings, but also in the nation as a whole.

Administering the park presented potential difficulties. The memorial was the responsibility of the national commission, which had a temporary mandate and no ongoing appropriation for management or maintenance. During construction, Congress remained generous; besides the additional $250,000 funded in 1933, the memorial received another $50,000 in a deficiency measure first proposed in 1934, but filibustered by U.S. Senator Huey P. Long. A subsequent measure granting the money finally passed in 1936. But after the dedication, Congress became far less willing to support the memorial. In both 1937 and 1938, it turned down financing requests, forcing Culbertson and the commission to seek Works Progress Administration (WPA) support. The WPA declined to fund activities at the memorial, and despite renewal of the mandate of the federal commission twice when it neared expiration, Congress refused to grant any more funding. [3] The money for upkeep would have to come from elsewhere.

The state of Indiana seemed the likely answer, but in fact state officials had already sought to transfer the memorial to the federal government. Although Culbertson did not think that the federal government would take over the memorial, in 1935, the Indiana legislature introduced a bill to transfer it to federal administration. After passage, Governor McNutt signed it into law, but the federal government took no action to accept the memorial. [4] It remained state property, but the desire of state officials to shed themselves of responsibility for the memorial became public knowledge.

In the middle of a period of great expansion, the National Park Service took only slight interest in the Clark memorial. As it emerged as the agency most responsible for the preservation of national heritage in a time when federal funds supported acquisition and development, Park Service officials seemed willing to consider places such as the Clark memorial as additions to the system. Early in the first Roosevelt administration in 1933, Christopher Coleman of the Indiana Historical Society approached the vaunted Secretary of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes, a Chicagoan. Despite his reputation as a man who "learned his principles of conservation at the feet of Gifford Pinchot" and who might eat "half a dozen ten penny nails and few dozen buttered brick bats for breakfast," Ickes was fond of the Park Service and the concept of preservation. Director Horace M. Albright, who left the agency for private industry immediately before the reorganization of the federal bureaucracy in August 1933, was a particular favorite and Ickes was willing to listen to Coleman. [5] But at a time when the impending reorganization loomed large, he and his staff had little time and less energy for the Clark memorial.

Nor did subsequent attempts prove any more successful. Before the state passed its measure transferring the memorial to the federal government, Coleman again contacted Ickes and received the same result. In 1938, with the mandate of the federal sesquicentennial commission due to expire on June 30, 1939, and the likelihood of a third renewal uncertain at best, a National Park Service official visited the memorial. He told the custodian that he was studying the area, but left the impression that agency officials lacked genuine interest in acquiring the memorial. The memorial was in bad shape, the official averred, but he did suggest that a bill in Congress was a necessary ingredient if the federal government was to acquire the property. [6]

The powerful Indiana delegation in Congress took up the cause. On May 8, 1939, companion bills offered in the House by Representative Fred Landis and in the Senate by Senator Sherman Minton provided for the transfer of the memorial to the National Park Service. There were good reasons for such an idea. The Park Service had a budget and experience with similar kinds of areas, a national memorial required federal administration, and in a period of consolidation of responsibilities, it made far more sense for the Park Service to administer the area than for it to remain under the jurisdiction of the expiring sesquicentennial commission. The respective library committees reported favorably on the bill, and both houses of Congress passed the measure. [7] The measure seemed assured of success.

But Franklin D. Roosevelt put an end to the idea. On August 5, 1939, he vetoed the bill, pointing out that the state of Indiana agreed to assume the maintenance of the memorial without expense to the federal government in the 1928 legislation that created the national commission. He could see no compelling reason to overturn the directives embodied in the initial statute. [8] The transfer was dead until Roosevelt left office or could be convinced to change his mind. The chances of either occurrence seemed slim in 1939.

This left the administration of the memorial to the state. As required, the national commission dissolved at midnight, June 30, 1939, and the old state commission assumed responsibility for the memorial. This entity lacked many of the advantages bestowed on the national commission. It never had a congressional appropriation nor the national influence of its federal counterpart, and Indiana, its sponsor, had been the most recalcitrant and tight-fisted of the governmental bodies involved in the funding process. State commission members recognized that their task was to safeguard the memorial and maintain it until the proper caretaking agency, state or federal, could be found. With an effort to pass the national memorial legislation underway in Congress and Indiana Governor Francis Townsend seeking to arrange for the state's conservation department to take control of the memorial, some resolution of the administrative dilemma seemed at hand.

In August 1940, Governor Townsend finalized a new administrative arrangement for the Clark memorial. After a delay while the abstracts of deeds for the property were completed, the Indiana commission met in Indianapolis to turn the title over to the state. Although the transaction could not be completed because no quorum appeared at the first meeting on August 13, 1940, one week later, on August 20, the commission abdicated its responsibilities in favor of the Department of Conservation. Governor Townsend thanked the members for their years of work and issued a proclamation dissolving the commission. [9]

During the months spanning the process of transfer, the memorial itself had suffered. Little had been done to maintain the grounds in particular, and aware of the impending end of their mandate and consumed with the process of completing the transfer, state commission members neglected to maintain the condition of the memorial building. By the end of May 1940, the area had not been mowed for an extended period, and grass and weeds were nearly two feet high. Vandalism was rampant; a miscreant even had broken one of the fingers on the Vigo statue. The situation was so bad that at the prompting of a visitor shocked by the condition of the monument, the Vincennes Sun-Commercial published a feature story highlighting the dilapidated state of the memorial. [10] The story inspired outrage that led to two separate kinds of responses. Although the Department of Conservation had yet to assume responsibility, its director, Virgil Simmons, promised the public that the memorial would be in fine shape for the Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) holiday at the end of May. Simmons could not fulfill his promise, but a local man, Dexter C. Gardner, paid a crew to cut the grass and weeds, trim the shrubs, and clean the grounds before the holiday. [11]

The state press also picked up the story. On May 30, the most influential newspaper in the state, the Indianapolis Star, featured a lead editorial decrying the condition of the memorial and the actions of its various administrative agencies. The situation humiliated Indiana and disgraced an important historical event, the editorial insisted. State plans to charge an admission fee were even worse; in the view of the author, they enhanced the undeserved reputation of the state for parsimonious behavior. The state should take responsibility for the memorial and manage it properly, the editorial writer closed, keeping the memorial in "a condition worthy of the hero it commemorates." [12]

While such vehemence was shared by newspaper writers, it was not sufficient to change management of the memorial. The beginning of administration by the Department of Conservation meant relatively little in the day-to-day operations of the memorial. Since the dedication, the national commission had a caretaking staff on site; when the state commission assumed jurisdiction, it kept on the employees: Charles L. Kuhn as daytime custodian and John N. Bey as night watchman. The Indiana Department of Conservation previously had budgeted $7,500 for upkeep of the monument. One of its first acts was to hire two men, John Davidson and Leo Boyer, to maintain the grounds. This suggested better care was in the future; night vandals, loiterers, and others would be subject to monitoring and possible arrest, and the grounds could be kept up in at least the most basic sense. [13]

While such functions as trash removal and cutting the grass were seemingly assured, the Department of Conservation made no effort to interpret the Clark memorial. It was an organization experienced in the management of state recreational parks such as Turkey Run State Park, one of Indiana's most famous natural areas. Accustomed to charging a fee and providing some recreational support, the Department of Conservation had little experience with the needs of the public when interpreting the historic past. Despite the many opportunities to seek the advice of agencies such as the National Park Service, the Department of Conservation did not see that aspect of its obligations at the Clark memorial as a primary need.

By the early 1940s, the National Park Service had established itself as the primary purveyor of historical information to the American public. For more than two decades, the park system had offered interpretation of natural and archeological areas. Nature walks, tours of ruins, pamphlets, books, and museums were all parts of the process; during the 1930s, officials of the agency planned a museum of the fur trade for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis that, in the difficult economic times, was transformed into a museum of national expansion that lauded American experience and showed the difficulties inherent in the process. At some park areas, complete interpretation programs for visitors had been designed and implemented. [14] Despite the need for such programming at the George Rogers Clark Memorial, no formal contact toward establishing a program ever occurred.

Again the independent status of the monument proved a liability. Managed by an agency accustomed to different kinds of activities, the memorial languished at a time when its message had great importance to the American people. During both the Depression of the 1930s and the Second World War, symbols of struggle to overcome adversity had great resonance throughout the nation. Americans believed in their heritage and its institutions in visible and meaningful ways, and in a manner more closely associated with the nineteenth century, revered places that highlighted those experiences. Despite its clear significance in this context, the Clark memorial played little or no part in affirming the public's ideas about the American past.

Even more telling, the Indiana Department of Conservation was unable to successfully maintain the memorial. "I don't believe that I have ever seen a worse mess than it is," Frank Wallace, the acting commissioner of the department, wrote in 1941 in response to one of the many complaints he received. Although department officials made many promises about improving the condition of the monument, they rarely were able to maintain professional-caliber care for long. Part of the problem was funding, a theme Director Hugh Barnhart of the Department of Conservation often repeated. Another problem was the myriad of things wrong with the memorial — the consistent leaking of the roof and terrace, and other structural and mechanical problems. [15] Nor did the position of the memorial as the lone built monument in the state park system and as a piece of cultural heritage in an agency devoted to preserving natural heritage indicate that any improvement was likely. The George Rogers Clark Memorial was an anomaly and that status assured peripheral treatment of the resource.

The change in cultural climate that followed World War II did little to improve the situation of the memorial. Although Americans had much money saved after the relative austerity of the war years, there was a tremendous amount of pent-up consumer demand. Americans invented new concepts of leisure, exploring widespread automobile travel, staying at resorts, and visiting places that reflected on the patriotism and sacrifice of Americans in general. [16] Although it clearly reflected such themes, the George Rogers Clark Memorial lacked the amenities that the public had come to expect. It was left out of the great expansion in travel during the immediate post war era. The construction of interstate highways made communities such as Vincennes, which were bypassed by these new arteries of rapid travel, more rather than less remote. Much of the growth in travel focused on outdoor recreation. By the early 1960s, a new federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation had been established, the Park Service and the Forest Service both had invested large amounts of time and money into recreational programming and a generation of American children had seen the national parks and had this outdoor recreational message reinforced by cartoons such as "Yogi Bear." Historical interpretation improved greatly; many parks utilized new mediums such as films and movies to educate the public about their resource — interpretation often generated by newly developed teams of specialists within the agency.

But amid this great cultural change in behavior and values, the Clark memorial remained constant. Much of the focus of the new emphasis on recreation centered on western national parks. In the immediate postwar era, Americans could reach these splendid and well-promoted monuments to the grandeur of the continent in their personal vehicles — for the first time. Even in historical interpretation, the myth of the American West took a new kind of precedence in popular culture. During the 1940s and 1950s and culminating in the 1960s, the traditional kind of western movie, highlighted by films usually directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, reached a new pinnacle; the experiences of the Revolutionary War era, the subject of numerous pre-World War II movies, were surpassed by the symbolic meaning of the Western genre. The heroic attack by George Rogers Clark and his Big Knives on Fort Sackville was overshadowed by equally triumphant, but more recent conquests, in the overall outlook of a nation with immense faith in progress.

Nor did the Department of Conservation take steps to change the Clark memorial. Interpretation programs were still nonexistent, the grounds were maintained to a greater or lesser degree of acceptability and the consistent but small audience for the Clark story continued to visit. Yet little occurred to improve the park or to make its message coincide with the dominant themes of historical interpretation. Of major importance to the founding of the American Republic but anomalous in location and management, the Clark memorial once again suffered as a result of its independent status.

The lack of response to the changing climate increased the perception that the Clark memorial was a relic of an earlier era. Built in the grandiose style of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the structure and its formal landscaping towered over downtown Vincennes. The comparisons with the Lincoln Memorial so often made by proponents during the debates of the 1930s harkened true at least in one respect. The Clark memorial, similar to many of its counterparts, was designed to inspire reverence and awe; it had little in the way of the interactive facilities that had become common in historical parks. The rotunda was a small place, with the statue of Clark in the middle and the murals by Winter on the wall. While people could enter and look around, there was little to do other than to look at the rotunda and walk on the grounds. With only a small souvenir stand inside the door and none of the other interpretive accouterments to which the public had become accustomed, the Clark memorial offered an experience that culturally was out of time.

The Indiana Department of Conservation lacked both the funds and the inclination to interpret the memorial and pay for the consistently needed upkeep. The Indiana legislature was reasonably generous with the monument, appropriating $6,300 for upkeep even before the site was transferred to the state and giving the Department of Conservation $7,500 in fiscal 1941, $15,000 in fiscal 1942, and $7,500 in fiscal 1943 for repair and upkeep. Yet the money was not sufficient to meet the ever-growing demand for repairs. [17]

This situation came to characterize conditions at the memorial well into the 1960s. The Indiana Department of Conservation sought to maintain the site, devoting nearly all the resources it had for the memorial to the maintenance and upkeep of the rotunda and the grounds. The people who worked at the Clark memorial were defined as custodians, laborers, and facility attendants, all jobs that connoted more responsibility for the physical plant than for the experiences of visitors. An attractive mall that in many ways overshadowed the adjacent downtown, the Clark memorial never filled the kind of educational function its founders had envisioned.

It also became something of a city park. Located in the heart of downtown in an era before the widespread decay of city centers, the memorial was an important local symbol. Places such as Vincennes experienced difficult times in the aftermath of World War II. Unlike industrial cities such as Anderson or Muncie elsewhere in Indiana that benefitted from the vast expansion of the industrial economy, Vincennes and much of southern Indiana remained more deeply tied to a traditional rural economy. This exacerbated existing economic problems and made the affirmation provided by a place such as the Clark memorial even more significant. Local people felt a continuing strong attachment to the memorial, for it suggested an ongoing national importance. Its location made it part of the ambience of the community. The grounds were often filled with evening walkers, parents pushing children in strollers, and other people in a scene more reminiscent of city parks than shrines devoted to Revolutionary War heroes. In these local uses came an expression of the feelings of the community for what locals regarded as their shrine. The people of Vincennes had been instrumental in the process of creating the memorial and they regarded it as their own. [18]

This complex stasis persisted and the longer it did, the more the meaning of the George Rogers Clark Memorial was buried within layers of different kinds of significance. As the memorial took on characteristics of a city park, as visitors shortened their stay because their was little to see and do, and as long as the state saw its obligations as limited to the maintenance of the area (a reality reinforced when the Department of Conservation became the Department of Natural Resources) the meaning of the park was likely to remain a secondary consideration for all but the most enthusiastic history buffs. The memorial constructed for powerful patriotic reasons had become entirely something else.

As the Clark memorial languished throughout the 1940s and 1950s, its message directed at the people of an earlier time, the National Park Service again reinvented itself. In the aftermath of NPS director Newton Drury's tenure, a preservation-oriented era, the agency responded to new demands on its resources as well as a changing legislative climate. The great onslaught of visitation that followed World War II taxed the infrastructure developed during the 1930s. Noted author Bernard DeVoto argued that if the national parks were not maintained properly, they should be closed. New Deal programs had been sufficient to create facilities for the limited traveling public of that time. During the 1950s, new roads and interstate highways were constructed, a greater percentage of the public possessed the resources for travel, and parks bore much of the brunt of the newfound widespread American ability to travel by car. [19]

The change in leadership brought by Conrad L. Wirth, a twenty-year veteran of the Park Service who emphasized access to park areas, to the directorship in December 1951. Wirth arrived at the best moment for a man of his beliefs; the park system needed roads, facilities, and other accouterments for the middle class traveling public. Wirth began a development campaign that culminated in MISSION 66, a ten-year capital development program during which Congress fought to give the agency ever larger appropriations. Massive facilities programs began, funding the construction of facilities at most of the areas in the national park system. Two particularly important features defined the MISSION 66 program: the construction of visitor centers gave the agency much stronger visibility with the public as well as a venue to display interpretive programs, while the growth in staff reflected the increased importance of national park areas in local economies. By the early 1960s, the National Park Service was in the middle of a peak period in its development. [20]

Also aggressive about acquiring new areas, the agency pursued growth during the decade. A steady stream of new park areas entered the system throughout the 1950s. Beginning in 1960, the number of new additions exploded. In 1960, five new parks joined the system, in 1961, six, and in 1962, nine. Many of these were smaller historical areas such as Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site in Colorado and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in the District of Columbia, places with characteristics similar to those of the George Rogers Clark Memorial. [21]

The seemingly rapid growth in these new kinds of areas reflected the increased affluence and optimism of American society, its growing sense of the importance of a meaningful past, and the ever-present efforts of members of Congress to deliver tangible assets to their districts. As park budgets and visitation grew, park areas became valuable assets, particularly in rural areas and small towns. Local and regional businesses and industries could capitalize on the presence of visitors as a new source of revenue, while development of such parks offered myriad opportunities for every facet of the local economy. While this practice, later pejoratively labeled "park barreling," sometimes elevated places with primarily local or regional significance to national status, it had the ability to have a positive impact where there was economic blight. [22]

The increase in areas added to the park system continued during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1964, ten new areas joined the system, seven of which were historical in nature. During the peak year of 1965, fourteen new areas entered the system; although fewer of these were historical in character, they emphasized both the growing importance of park areas and their increased significance to Congress. As the different branches fought to assure the Park Service of larger and larger appropriations for the system, members of Congress who did not deliver such benefits to their constituencies risked being regarded as unsuccessful as elections approached. [23]

The Clark memorial remained in its anomalous status, although the change in the manner of creation of national park areas did not escape the Indiana congressional delegation. Similar to many other Midwestern states, Indiana had relatively few places in the national park system. Founded on the principle of large mountaintop scenic vistas — the Sierra Nevada Mountain orientation of Stephen T. Mather and Horace Albright, both Californians — and derived overwhelmingly from federal lands, the park system was distributed unevenly among the regions. Much of the eastern part of the nation was underrepresented. Until the state relinquished part of a state park that became Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in 1962, Indiana had no national park areas and it acquired its first and only natural area, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (authorized in 1966) after a long and contentious dispute with the state. [24] But as parks developed increasing value to local areas and historic places became more desirable, delegations from states such as Indiana scoured their history for places of appropriate significance.

Indiana was rich in the history of the Old Northwest, the country's frontier in the first post-Revolutionary era of westward expansion. Besides having the location of Fort Sackville, Indiana had been the scene of the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home was located near the Ohio River, and one of the many utopian communities of the 1820s, New Harmony, was within the state's boundaries. As New Harmony was added to the National Historic Landmark category in August 1965, Johnson's Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, announced that the addition of the George Rogers Clark Memorial to the national park system was under consideration. [25]

This development resulted from the activities of Winfield K. Denton, U.S. representative from Indiana. Chairman of the subcommittee on the Department of the Interior and related agencies for the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Denton wielded tremendous influence. During the Easter congressional recess in 1965, Denton visited Vincennes and saw firsthand the condition of the memorial. A number of influential local people discussed the plight of the memorial and recommended its addition to the national park system. On his return to Washington, D. C., Denton learned of the act of the Indiana state legislature in 1935 that permitted the governor to convey title of the memorial to the federal government. This led to the bill vetoed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939. In the climate of the 1960s, such presidential opposition seemed far less likely. Denton contacted the governor of Indiana, Roger Branigin, and the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, John Mitchell, to assess their feelings about a transfer to federal status. Both reacted favorably. [26]

From his position on Capitol Hill, Denton was well placed to initiate a transfer. On July 1, 1965, he introduced H.R. 9599, which proposed to grant the National Park Service responsibility for the Clark memorial. This measure reflected both Denton's power and influence, the relative lack of Indiana sites in the National Park System, and the rapid growth of the National Park Service.

Southern Indianians responded with positive, but guarded sentiments. Although editorial writers at the Vincennes Sun-Commercial were pleased at the chance to rectify the "sort of orphan" status of the memorial, their first choice would have been a local commission as the managing entity. "Begun with high hopes, the beautiful building on the Wabash has something less than a happy history," the newspaper averred. The National Park Service, with its "ample experience" in the management of historic places, seemed the best candidate for the task of managing the park. [27]

The proposal revived old problems with the memorial. Local control was a major issue in an anti-government state such as Indiana, full of farmers and conservative businesspeople who regarded government intervention in the economy as an anathema. In addition, national control meant a lessening of local prerogative at the memorial, a downside to the many advantages of federal management. "The structure reflects more of what it might have been than what it is," the Sun-Commercial reminded its audience while arguing for the federal role. [28] While the local community might remain suspicious of federal management, local people recognized that only the National Park Service had the ability to showcase their site in a manner that would receive national attention.

In a meeting with Representative Denton on August 16 and 17, 1965, Park Service officials argued for a broadened mandate in Vincennes. A study of the proposed park by the Northeast Regional Office suggested an expanded park area that would include Grouseland, the home of William Henry Harrison, along with the Indiana Territory Capitol, a frame structure located on the Vincennes University campus. NPS Chief Historian Robert M. Utley and members of the Division of History reviewed the report, recommending a national historical park that included these other historic sites. At the meeting, Denton saw the revamped proposal and heard comparisons being made to the relationships between the Park Service and the operators of nearby historical sites at parks such as Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia and the newly established Nez Perce National Historical Park in Idaho. Denton recognized that if cooperative agreement relationships could be reached with officials at Grouseland and at the Indiana Territory Capitol, Vincennes would have a far more important park area. Pleased with the results, Denton requested that the Park Service shape an amended bill in time for a congressional hearing at the end of August 1965. Park Service officials scrambled to provide Denton with the details he needed. [29]

After Secretary Udall's declaration of interest at New Harmony, Park Service officials continued assessing the park and the region. Assistant Director George Palmer of the Northeast Region visited Vincennes and discussed the situation with local leaders. They convinced him that despite the lack of historic fabric, the Vincennes area had important historic characteristics that merited Park Service interpretation. Palmer conveyed this view to Regional Director Ronald F. Lee, a veteran of thirty years and one of the most important historians in the agency, who concurred and recommended the cooperative agreement concept to Director George B. Hartzog, Jr. [30]

This judgment helped clear the way for the transfer of the Clark memorial to federal jurisdiction. On Hartzog's recommendation, Secretary Udall and the Department of the Interior offered support for H.R. 9599; Udall stipulated that the bill be amended to include the provision for cooperative agreements with the owners of other historic properties in the region. This amendment gave the Park Service maximum flexibility in developing its new holding. [31]

With the appropriate local and departmental approval, federal status for the Clark memorial awaited the passage of a bill by Congress and the signature of the president. But the first session of the 89th Congress did not act on the bill, and when the second session convened, Udall again sought to further the effort. He explained in a letter to U.S. Representative Wayne N. Aspinall of Colorado, chairman of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, that the Interior Department was prepared to spend as much as $300,000 on the memorial. The funds included money for the construction of a visitor center and a fifty-car parking lot as well as a sizable sum for maintenance. Besides obvious possible additions such as Grouseland, the Territory Capitol, and the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Udall wanted to know more about the historic features of the community. A survey of historic places in the Vincennes area was included; owners of appropriate sites could have them included in the park or could allow the Park Service to interpret them. [32] The willingness to spend already allocated funds helped clear the way for passage.

Legislative support for the bill grew. When the Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation conducted hearings to evaluate the bill on April 25, 1966, a long line of official representatives spoke in favor of the project. Much of the Indiana delegation to Congress came forward, including Denton, Representative William Bray, and Senator Vance Hartke who, along with Senator Birch Bayh, had sponsored the companion bill in the Senate. Former Governor of Indiana Matthew Welch, a native of Vincennes, also spoke in support, as did John Mitchell, head of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Mayor Earl C. Lawson of Vincennes, and Judge Curtis G. Shake, one of the initiators of the memorial's construction three decades before. Director Hartzog and Assistant Secretary of the Interior Stanley E. Cain represented the Park Service. The committee responded favorably to the bill, although the clause about cooperative agreements with property owners was changed to limit the arrangement to places within the boundaries of the city of Vincennes. [33]

The approval of the subcommittee was the catalyst for rapid progress. The House of Representatives passed the bill on June 6, 1966. Soon thereafter, the Senate subcommittee conducted a hearing on the bill. It passed the Senate on July 11. Twelve days later, on July 23, 1966, in front of more than an estimated 20,000 people at the Clark memorial, President Johnson signed the bill into law. [34] The George Rogers Clark Memorial, an independent historical park, had become the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, a unit of the national park system. But such a status alone was not the solution to all the problems of the memorial. In a prescient observation during the discussion of federal status, the Vincennes Sun-Commercial noted that the memorial was incomplete; lacking a museum and with its scenic drive unfinished, it had never quite become what its founders dreamed either symbolically or physically. [35] The desire of Park Service officials to enhance the Clark memorial they had acquired with other historic structures dating from the era of the capture of Fort Sackville exacerbated existing problems. Not only had the new park failed to meet local expectations, it was established as a unit of the park system with the expectation it would grow in size and importance as a result of new acquisitions. These different understandings of the meaning of the park, its function in the local community, and the value of the Clark memorial in relation to other historic sites in the Vincennes area made for a complicated genesis.

Yet the transfer represented a reasonable solution for a long-standing local and regional problem. The Clark memorial was too important to be run by local or state concerns; it genuinely represented an important component of national heritage, and unlike many of the lesser sites that entered the system during the same era, the memorial merited national recognition. The National Park Service truly was the agency best suited to administer historic sites and places. The only problem with the transfer was that while the agency had vast experience managing historic places, very little of that experience was with designed landscapes. As a result, the transition to National Park Service management was fraught with more than the usual degree of difficulty.

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006