Maintaining A Legacy
An Administrative History of George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
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The Modern Era

During the middle of the 1970s, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park underwent a series of rapid changes that affirmed the major trends of the decade since the beginning of the federal presence in Vincennes and gave the park the final attributes of a full-fledged independent area in the national park system. These steps were a prelude to the kind of comprehensive management that had become typical throughout the park system; once facilities, personnel, and chains of command were established, the real work of running a modern park area could commence. As a result of the developments of the middle years of the 1970s, both the administration and the physical plant of the park were raised to the level of most agency areas, providing park officials the baseline amenities to conceive and implement the range of programs that distinguished Park Service areas from those run by state or local entities. Supported by efforts to commemorate the upcoming bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the American Republic in 1976, the park's development program gained momentum.

Two separate events defined the coming of age of George Rogers Clark National Historical Park: its final move towards independence with the declaration of its status as a freestanding park beginning July 1, 1975, and the long-awaited construction of the visitor center, itself a controversial series of decisions and responses. Taken together, these two events created a park that for the first time could be managed in the same manner as any other area in the park system and gave it the final and most important piece of its Interpretation and Resource Management program.

The catalyst for these final steps came from an adjustment of regional boundaries within the Park Service that resulted in part from the influx of new areas during Director George B. Hartzog, Jr.'s tenure. Between 1964 and 1972, when Hartzog headed the agency, sixty-nine areas joined the system, nearly seventy-five percent of the total added since the end of the New Deal in 1942. This influx meant an expansion in the size of the agency, both in numbers of staff and in capital and administrative needs. Facing the heightened set of expectations of the American public in the post-World War II era, the Park Service needed more comprehensive and sophisticated management policies and procedures. [1]

Realignment of the regional boundaries offered one kind of solution. Geographic divisions had been contentious since the first regional offices were established during the late 1930s, and the influx of new parks, many of which were in states with few national park areas, made some of the old boundaries archaic. In 1971, the Nixon administration called for common regional boundaries for federal agencies. The Park Service implemented this directive, but found itself with an unwieldy arrangement, with inherent problems exacerbated by the continuous addition of new park areas. As the lack of efficiency embodied in the organizational system became increasingly evident, Park Service officials pushed again for realignment. In December 1973, as part of another reorganization, two new NPS regions were formed — the Rocky Mountain Region, carved from the Midwest Region, and the North Atlantic Region, derived from the Northeast Region, which was then renamed the Mid-Atlantic Region.

The move had great consequences for parks throughout the Midwest. The new Rocky Mountain Region contained many of the western holdings of the old Midwest Region, which really had been an intermountain region oriented toward its large parks in Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. Parks in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were taken from the old Northeast Region, where they had been anomalous, and added to the new Midwest Region. As did regional offices, the new division finally reflected the geography embodied in name. [2]

For a park such as George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, the transfer to a Midwestern management entity with fewer parks and an entirely different orientation meant new opportunities. In the Northeast Region, the park had been a backwater, peripheral to the main concerns of a geographically large region focused on its eastern holdings. With the array of Revolutionary War and Colonial-era park areas along the eastern seaboard, the Northeast Region had little need to accentuate a park in Indiana devoted to the same themes. The experiences of the Northeast Region in Vincennes had not been good; planners could point to the failed cooperative agreements as a reason for investing little energy in what they regarded as an outpost.

The transfer caused the Midwest Region to reorient its priorities away from the large natural parks of the old region toward the combination of historic places, recreational areas, and other geographically small parks that made up the new region. In this new entity, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park was one of three national park areas located in an important state with a powerful congressional delegation. Its management needs mirrored those of other parks in the region, and its context within a community with vast interest in its operation typified the Midwest Region. Under the new management, recently appointed Superintendent Robert Lagemann and his staff had reason to be optimistic.

The construction of the visitor center became the fulcrum on which the future of the park pivoted. Included as a priority in the initial master plan and slated for funding for the first time in 1970, the visitor center was to be the capstone of park development. The acoustics within the rotunda were a detriment to interpretation, and because, as Robert Lagemann and others were fond of saying, "only the Wabash River flowed as it did in the 1770s," the visitor center was essential to the interpretive mission of the Park Service at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park. Without it, the park would not be able to offer the level of service common within the NPS system. [3]

In the late 1960s, development seemed to be progressing at the expected pace in Vincennes. With the completion and acceptance of the master plan, the visitor center was slated for construction in 1970. Contractors poured a stub of sidewalk matching the 1930s pavement as part of the parking lot contract in 1969 and with work on the new building scheduled for 1970, park staff and local people expected rapid progress toward a complete facility. Plans for the visitor center located the building south of the rotunda and away from downtown Vincennes, and the stub of sidewalk from the parking lot was intended to be extended to meet the concrete slab of the new structure. [4]

Considerations within the agency delayed the construction of the visitor center. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the proposal to build a national visitor center in the old Union Station in Washington, D.C., gained momentum. An opening date during the bicentennial year of 1976 was the goal for the project, and its capital needs took precedence in the agency. The national visitor center dwarfed projects at parks such as George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, eventually requiring the transfer of funds allocated for capital development elsewhere in the park system to the Washington, D.C., project. In 1970, the park gave back its construction funds, and the visitor center for Vincennes was delayed until the following year. In 1971, the process was repeated. Vincennes residents first looked for the signs of imminent construction and soon after discovered that the project again was postponed. The delays continued throughout 1972 and 1973. [5]

In Vincennes, where park-town relations had been strained since the appearance of the Park Service, the repeated delays subjected the park to intense local scrutiny. Since 1967, Lagemann had worked long and hard to develop rapport with the historic preservation community and the people of Vincennes. From the DAR to the Kiwanis, he was a well-known figure. Always in his Park Service uniform to show people that he represented the agency and not himself, Lagemann developed personal and professional relationships throughout the community. Vincennes residents trusted Lagemann, and increasingly the uniform he wore, but the repeated delays taxed their patience and threatened the ties he had built. The newspapers had published drawings of the finished grounds and Lagemann discussed the construction plans whenever the opportunity arose, but the people of Vincennes rightfully grew suspicious of agency motives. [6]

The transfer to the Midwest Region was the catalyst for the construction of the visitor center. On March 11 and 12, 1974, Lagemann and Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Superintendent John C. W. "Bill" Riddle traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, for an introductory meeting with officials in their new regional office. As they met their new superiors, they were able to develop a strong rapport as well as articulate the needs of the park. In the new environment, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park became a much higher priority. With the Bicentennial approaching, it was the only park in the Midwest Region that embodied a Revolutionary War theme. The Midwest Regional Office fought to keep the money for the visitor center instead of returning it to the national visitor center fund. In 1974, the first full year that the park was included in the Midwest Region, funding finally came through. On August 16, 1974, after an extensive local letter-writing campaign and with the lobbying efforts of U.S. Representative Roger Zion of Indiana, Congress appropriated $535,000 for the visitor center. Plans took shape to build the bi-level structure, with 4,000 square feet for interpretation and administration on the main floor and a 3,000-square-foot maintenance area below, in time for the Bicentennial. [7]

But the delay had been expensive, both in terms of capital and local goodwill. The amount that Congress appropriated in 1974 was the same as first had been allocated in 1970. Despite four years of inflation, no increase in funding for the project was included in the bill. This left the Park Service with a difficult situation; each year of delay translated into a decline in square footage and possibly the elimination of some amenities for visitors. Lagemann recalled that he had to estimate how many seats in the auditorium would be the minimum necessary to meet park needs. At another juncture, private restrooms for park staff were eliminated from the plans. Each year the visitor center seemed smaller to people in Vincennes, taxing their patience, confirming their predisposition to mistrust the federal government, and making it more and more difficult for Lagemann and his staff to maintain credibility. [8]

Their credibility received even more damage from a series of events that followed the congressional appropriation. The Midwest Regional Office previously decided to accept existing development plans for the parks added as a result of the 1973 reorganization; regional officials such as Regional Director Merrill "Dave" Beal and Associate Regional Director for Professional Services John Kawamoto recognized this as a way to maintain continuity and credibility with park staff and local communities. From the perspective of the Regional Office, the visitor center as drawn in the original master plan and funded by Congress would be built. Bids for construction were let early in 1975 and were opened on January 30. [9]

But opposition to the visitor center as planned existed within the Midwest Regional Office. Early in the summer of 1974, a team that included Regional Historian David Clary, Historical Architect Vance L. Kaminiski, and Landscape Architect Dan L. Wilson visited the park as part of a familiarization trip for Clary, who recently transferred from Washington, D.C. to the Midwest Region. They discovered that while the park had been under the administration of the Northeast Region, a visitor center "smack on the grounds" of the memorial had been approved. The team disapproved of the design; almost twenty years later, Clary referred to it as "a boxy building that looked more or less like a contemporary drive-up bank." Nor did its location seem appropriate. Placed directly to the south of the memorial, in their view it intruded upon the rotunda, the most important historic resource in the park, and transformed an area that the team regarded as "symbolic wilderness" into a part of the urban milieu. [10]

In a September 1974 memorandum, the team informed Kawamoto of four separate points of misgivings. The members regarded the proposed visitor center and its location as an intrusion upon the historic scene that conflicted with agency policy; as a negative impact upon the historic resources of the park; as an alteration of a scene that qualified as a work of art; and as a construction project with serious shortcomings in design and location. In a climate in which the highest echelons of the Park Service insisted on "scrupulous adherence" to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the team asserted that the construction of the visitor center as planned and the agency's finding of "no adverse effect" could be interpreted as acts of bad faith. The construction of the visitor center seemed to the team a poor decision both for the agency as a political entity and for the park as a destination for visitors. [11]

Clary came to the Midwest Region from the Washington office of the Park Service, where he served as coordinator of Environmental and Protection Activities in the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation. Under the tutelage of Robert M. Utley, chief historian of the National Park Service, Clary learned to understand the complex government statutes that regularly came across his desk. In the Department of the Interior, he became an expert in the evaluation of documents emanating from the new and poorly understood Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. While in the capital, Clary also developed a relationship with Robert R. Garvey, Jr., director of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). He played an instrumental role in defining the response of the agency to the publication of procedures for compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, issued by the ACHP in 1974. Under Section 106, federal agencies were obligated to review their proposed activities to determine potential impact on cultural resources; the ACHP, then a branch of the Park Service, had the right to comment on these undertakings, affirming or disputing the findings of the federal agency. [12]

Clary argued that the Section 106 compliance effort was marred by an improper determination of effect. The Park Service misunderstood not only the process, Clary believed, but the significance of the features of the park as well. In his view, the memorial was the primary historic resource at the park. Anything that altered its relationship with its surroundings required an assessment of "adverse effect." Otherwise the Park Service ran the risk that the ACHP would challenge the decision, and Clary noted, "the Advisory Council staff is replete with architectural historians likely to recognize [negative effects] on their own." If the Park Service did not recognize an "adverse effect" emanating from the project, Clary insisted, it stood to be "embarrassed considerably and may find the project forestalled well nigh forever." [13]

Clary's perspective reflected the new enthusiasm for historic preservation within the agency. The ACHP guidelines placed historic preservation in a position of new importance, and within the Park Service, powerful forces supported the concept. Not the least of these was Robert M. Utley, who in 1974 became Assistant to the Director for Historic Preservation, the lead person for agency efforts in that area. The new regulations gave historic preservation a clear agenda within the Park Service for the first time, and people such as David Clary pursued it with missionary zeal.

The argument Clary made centered on the historic resource qualities of the memorial structure and landscape. He and the rest of the team believed that the Clark memorial had intrinsic historic value, and that its layout reflected a spacial organization of the property that showed the progression from wilderness to civilization. Clary and the team asserted but did not document that the grounds had been designed with the intent to flow from a formal design east of the memorial to a less formal area, and then finally to a "symbolic wilderness" area at the west end of the park. This arrangement, Clary asserted, reflected the growth and expansion of the nation. [14]

From the perspective of the Regional Office, the need for compliance stemmed not from the historic qualities of the memorial, but from the automatic listing of the park in the National Register of Historic Places by virtue of its inclusion as a historical unit of the national park system. That the central feature of the park was a relatively modern commemorative structure that likely would not have met National Register criteria did not obviate the automatic designation. In this context, the decision by the Regional Office that the plans for the visitor center created "no adverse effect" on the characteristics that qualified the park for inclusion in the National Register reflected its understanding that the park qualified for the register because of its inclusion and not as a result of specific features within its boundaries. The location of the planned visitor center continued the axial format of the park, offered visitors an entry to the memorial that secluded them from the noise of downtown Vincennes, and allowed the Park Service a crucial feature of its planning anywhere, control of ingress and egress to the primary feature of the park, the memorial structure. [15]

Armed with this perspective and after four years of struggling for funds, regional officials felt the objections were of little relevance. The compliance process was new, and few in the regional office had any experience with its implications. Kawamoto disagreed with the assessment of the team, asserting that it reflected "just [Clary's] personal opinion." After a number of heated discussions, Regional Director Beal received the report. He decided, based on Kawamoto's recommendation and the experience of the agency, that the initial finding of "no adverse effect" would stand. Clary and the other members of the team refused to initial the document, but after the word "consensus" was removed, they assented. [16]

According to Kawamoto, Clary then bypassed the chain of command by sending the report to the Park Service office in Washington, D.C., without informing Kawamoto. Clary used a procedure referred to in the agency as a "blue envelope." This allowed him to take his report to a higher level without the concurrence of his superiors, but did not allow him to do so without informing them. In Kawamoto's view, the use of the "blue envelope" was not the problem; Clary had not followed procedure when he failed to inform Kawamoto that he planned to send the report ahead. [17]

According to Clary, Kawamoto had refused to take the team's objections to higher authority, preferring to address them within his office. Clary regarded this as an effort to stonewall that proved detrimental not only to the development of the park, but also to the role of historic preservation within the Park Service and the prospects of accomplishing the project in a timely manner. He was certain that the ACHP would "blow it up in their faces." Clary had a strong commitment to the practice of historic preservation and sought to develop a stronger ethos within the Park Service. [18] His fidelity to the concept, the statutory obligations of the agency, and the four-year delay in authorization of the funds combined to create an inflamed situation.

Kawamoto and Clary represented very different traditions within the Park Service. In 1974, Clary fashioned himself part of a new vanguard. In the middle of a meteoric rise in the historical corps of the agency, he had reached the position of regional historian after a stint in an important position in the Washington office of the Park Service. Outspoken and idealistic, Clary had great energy and initiative if relatively little seasoning. Kawamoto was a career official, just past the midpoint of a thirty-five-year career in the Midwest Regional Office. With extensive training and experience in landscape architecture, he was the person with best professional credentials to assess the concept of "symbolic wilderness"; he found it wanting. Kawamoto had considerable hard-won authority, a view of how to proceed, and a penchant for order and hierarchy. The professional values and objectives of these two created a confrontation over the location of the visitor center at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park. [19]

The Regional Office found itself in the middle of a situation in which there could be no winners. The powerful historic preservation constituency within the agency advocated a delay of the visitor center until a more appropriate location for it could be determined. This perspective did not take into account the on-the-ground realities of the issue. The people of Vincennes, the park staff, and the Regional Office wanted the long-awaited visitor center in time for the Bicentennial. All the groups interpreted the meaning of the resources of the park in different ways, leading to opposing points of view about the project. Two value systems had come into conflict, and an effective compromise looked very distant.

The point of view that Clary expressed gained momentum after it reached Washington, D.C. Clary framed a preliminary case report of compliance issues at the visitor center, but the report eventually sent to the ACHP seemed likely to elicit a strong response. When the council was asked for comment on the official agency view that the visitor center had "no adverse effect" on the historic resources of the park, it agreed with Clary's and the team's assessment. During a January 23, 1975, visit to the park, Garvey, his associate, Richard Howard, and Indiana State Historic Preservation Officer Carl Armstrong affirmed their view that the location of the visitor center posed a problem. They believed that it intruded upon the historic scene at the memorial. During their visit, the group did not contact Lagemann nor any other member of the park staff, preferring to view the situation without comment from interested parties. But the lack of input made them unaware of local views. On February 15, 1975, the ACHP found that the planned construction of the visitor center would have an "adverse effect" on the historic resources of the park and forced the Park Service to reassess its findings. [20]

The historic significance of the memorial had always been a problem for the Park Service. The Clark memorial was not yet fifty years old in 1975, the age usually required to qualify for the National Register of Historic Places; but as a unit of the National Park System, it was automatically listed in the National Register. This made federal actions affecting it subject to Section 106. The memorial was also a structure significant enough in its own right to merit consideration as a historic resource and a work of art. To the Park Service, steeped in its predisposition for historic authenticity, the Clark memorial was less valuable than might have been a remnant of Fort Sackville from the 1770s. But with the new emphasis upon compliance with historic preservation statutes in the Park Service following new guidelines for the administration of historic preservation issued in 1974, the agency acted in a cautious manner. [21]

As a result of the ACHP opinion, NPS Director Gary Everhardt canceled the visitor center project in February 1975. Section 106 mandated that until the compliance process was completed, the project could not begin. This made the decision to let the contract by the Midwest Regional Office appear to be inappropriate and possibly illegal. After a meeting with Garvey and the ACHP, Everhardt concurred with their opinion, noting that the location of the planned visitor center would bring "visitors to the central feature of the park by way of the back door." Everhardt sought to take the $305,000 allocated for the first phase of construction and use it instead for maintenance on the memorial itself. [22]

For staff at the park and in the Midwest Regional Office, the cancellation was a blow of major proportions. Even the vaunted Park Service grapevine did not spare local staff the indignity of not only losing their visitor center, but also of finding out about it on the streets of Vincennes. In early February 1975, while at the local post office, Lagemann encountered Robert Grumieaux, an acquaintance who was vice president of the Montgomery Construction Company. The company had built the parking area at the park, torn down the so-called "Alice House," and bid on the construction of the visitor center. As they deposited their mail, Grumieaux asked Lagemann why the bids on the visitor center were canceled. Lagemann was, in his word, "dumbfounded." The Denver Service Center had informed Grumieaux of the decision, but no one had called the park. When Lagemann called the Regional Office in the morning, Regional Director Beal was also caught unaware. "He took it with more ill will than I did, Lagemann recalled. Late in the afternoon, Beal confirmed Grumieaux's account. For the moment, the visitor center seemed to be dead. [23]

The new situation posed a major problem for Lagemann. After a delay of nearly five years, the Park Service once again failed to deliver for the people of Vincennes. Lagemann had put his personal credibility on the line along with that of his agency, raising local expectations about the importance of the park. Again local people were disappointed and again they blamed the bureaucracy for the problem. As Clary predicted, the situation became an embarrassment for the Park Service. Among the people of Vincennes, the Park Service had a certain odor as winter ended in 1975.

Many theories about the termination of the bid followed the initial announcement. Lagemann himself believed that powerful federal bureaucrats were repaying the Park Service for its role as lead preservation agency. During Stewart Udall's tenure as Secretary of the Interior, which lasted from 1961 until 1969, the agency had been the secretary's vehicle for challenging what he regarded as untoward growth and development. The Park Service became the federal agency that reminded its peers of statutory obligations to comply with historic preservation regulations. On occasion, the agency slowed the development plans of other agencies. Lagemann was told that the situation at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park stemmed from the desire of other agencies to see the Park Service abide by the rules it had championed in other cases. [24] Little evidence supported this explanation, but it was convenient for someone in Lagemann's position, who had to explain to an angry public what had occurred.

Although somewhat conspiratorial, Lagemann's explanation gained credence. It provided a succinct explanation, cleared the Park Service of any direct complicity in the problem, and reaffirmed the local predisposition to regard bureaucracies as venal and ineffectual. The visit of the Garvey team to the area offered a piece of evidence. Not only did they not talk to anyone at the park, but they never even met with representatives of the local community. The decision also accentuated the town's suspicion that for the Park Service and the rest of the federal government, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park was not important. The explanation did not solve the problem. It only made the reasons for its existence plausible to a largely uninformed public.

In reality, the causes of this unfortunate situation were far more complex. Within the federal government, and in particular in the Park Service, a growing staff of professionals with a commitment to historic preservation sought to implement statute. The laws at their disposal resulted from the great destruction of historic resources that occurred in the immense building spree that followed World War II. Urban renewal and interstate highway construction destroyed much historic fabric, and the damming of American rivers inundated more. The preservation laws were a response to those changes, but to some agencies that had to implement them, such as the Park Service, the compliance process represented a challenge to the self-image of the agency. Such agencies believed their actions to be positive; having to account for the impact of their decisions as negative effects could be painful and disconcerting. [25]

The historic orientation of the Park Service had been toward development. With the exception of Newton Drury's decade as director, landscape architects and planners dominated the agency. From Mather and Albright onward, the Park Service pursued a policy of accommodating visitors; from the New Deal through MISSION 66, to build was to advance within the agency. But the post-1960s cultural climate and laws such as the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 forced the agency to adjust its time-honored behavior patterns. The new situation posed a major problem for Lagemann. After a delay of nearly five years, the Park Service once again failed to deliver for the people of Vincennes. Lagemann had put his personal credibility on the line along with that of his agency, raising local expectations about the importance of the park. Again local people were disappointed and again they blamed the bureaucracy for the problem. As Clary predicted, the situation became an embarrassment for the Park Service. Among the people of Vincennes, the Park Service had a certain odor as winter ended in 1975.

There were long-term changes in agency procedures and attitudes that stemmed from the visitor center debacle. For preservationists in the agency, the incident increased their prestige and importance. Instead of being on the fringes of power in the agency, they were perceived as important participants in the planning and development process; David Clary described their post-controversy status as "grudging acceptance." [26] In some ways this led to situations where the agency went too far in accommodating history, for the delay of the visitor center served as a cautionary tale that no one in the agency wanted to repeat. When faced with planning decisions that required compliance with Section 106, as the statute colloquially became known, Park Service officials carefully assessed the implications of their actions.

Personalities and management styles also contributed to the problem. Nearly twenty years after the incident, Clary looked back and described the person he had been in 1975 as "the new hotshot from the big city who had made a career of afflicting the comfortable." [27] The compliance procedures were new to the Regional Office, where they were handled clumsily. Nor were the implications of the choices of actions well understood. In the end, everyone emerged chastened from a convoluted process.

The fiasco over Section 106 compliance for the visitor center also created another major problem for the Park Service. Although the delay was purported to be temporary, in reality it had dire consequences. If construction on the visitor center did not begin in 1975, it could not be completed before the Bicentennial celebration in 1976. Then "our name would really be mud" in Vincennes, Lagemann believed. After the Bicentennial, support for parks with Revolutionary War themes seemed likely to decline. If the park, the Regional Office, and the local community did not quickly forge a plan, on July 4, 1976, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park would be the only Revolutionary War park of any significance in the nation that lacked permanent visitor facilities. Lagemann sorely wanted to avoid this particular distinction. [28]

Park Service officials sought to salvage what local support and goodwill they could. That task fell to Associate Regional Director John Kawamoto. Kawamoto led an interesting life before he came to the Park Service; his family was among those Japanese-Americans interned as security risks during World War II. During his nearly twenty years at the Regional Office prior to 1975, he had developed a reputation as a tough administrator and a solid problem solver. Kawamoto would require every bit of those skills to resolve the problems that the cancellation of the visitor center created for the Park Service in Vincennes.

Thrown into the situation as both the person to pacify the local community and the one designated to salvage the stake of the Park Service, Kawamoto faced a difficult task. On February 24, 1975, he arrived in Vincennes to meet with community leaders. The group went to the home of William Brooks, editor of the Vincennes Sun-Commercial and someone who, despite holding a view that the activities of the federal government should be limited in scope, had become an ardent supporter of the Park Service and the park. [29]

Since before the planning of the memorial in the 1920s, Vincennes had been home to a number of powerful people in Indiana politics. These included major supporters of the memorial and the visitor center. Along with Brooks, Thomas Emison, an eminent attorney and the son of Ewing Emison, who had been instrumental in securing funding for the memorial in the 1930s, also supported the reinstatement of the visitor center. Kawamoto had to convince these two in particular that the project was still worth their efforts.

Kawamoto succeeded. Within one week of his first visit, Brooks' Sun-Commercial began to feature a daily front-page story about the visitor center, beginning a string of more than forty successive days of prominent coverage. During the week of March 10, the paper included three editorials on the subject. Every day, David Stayer, a reporter from the paper, dropped by Lagemann's office to discuss the controversy in greater depth. Lagemann provided background information so that Stayer understood the context of the situation. The two developed a rapport; Lagemann recalled confiding off-the-record material to Stayer and never having his trust violated.

The support of the Sun-Commercial was crucial, but no more important than that of influential members of the community. Thomas Emison preferred to remain out of public situations regarding the visitor center, but he became a source of information about local and state views for the Park Service. His ties generated information to which neither Lagemann nor Regional Office officials had access. [30]

Support came from other parts of the community. During another Kawamoto visit on March 6, he calmed irate individuals at a noon luncheon called by Mayor E. H. Montgomery, who had secured prior construction projects from the park and so had a vested interest in the project, and quieted a difficult crowd at a later DAR meeting. The day before, the Indianapolis Star quoted NPS representative Robert M. Utley as labeling the planning of the location of the visitor center behind the memorial a mistake. The visitor center should have been constructed beyond Vigo Street, Utley noted, affording a view of the "magnificent esplanade" as visitors approached the rotunda. Local residents who attended the meeting were incensed. By disavowing earlier plans, the Park Service left Vincennes without a chance to reacquire the important amenity they regarded as unjustly taken from them. In the view of Vincennes residents, only the community suffered as a result. Again Kawamoto played myriad roles: advocate, counselor, listener of complaints, and galvanizer of local resentment transformed into action. [31]

One outgrowth of the meetings was a postcard campaign to President Gerald R. Ford organized by the President of the Vincennes Historical and Antiquarian Society, Mrs. Opal C. Ramsey. After a number of local and regional television and radio appearances in which she championed the visitor center, Mrs. Ramsey initiated a "postcard-to-the-president" campaign. A local supplier donated 5,000 cards, and students from third grade through high school wrote to the President, asking him to review and reconsider the ACHP and Park Service decision. By March 21, 1975, 4,500 of the 5,000 postcards had been mailed. [32]

The postcard campaign was one of a number of tactics that an energized local community undertook to save their visitor center. During one of his visits, Kawamoto indicated that if the decision was not rescinded prior to March 30, 1975, little chance existed to complete the project before the Bicentennial. A local Chamber of Commerce petition drive seemed likely to net as many as 10,000 signatures. President Ford had a planned visit to South Bend, Indiana, on his schedule for March 18. Before he arrived in Indiana, the White House was inundated with telegrams. Mrs. Ramsey and others beseeched Indiana Governor Otis Bowen to bring up the visitor center issue with Ford. After Bowen discussed the subject, Ford said he would "look into it." On March 18, Bowen's request to Ford was repeated on the NBC network morning program, The Today Show. The Indiana congressional delegation, headed by U.S. senators Vance Hartke and Birch Bayh, and U.S. Rep. Philip Hayes, met to consider options. The drive supporting the visitor center had gained much momentum during the two weeks since the cancellation became public knowledge. [33]

The visitor center had taken on, in Robert Lagemann's words, "some of the aura of a crusade." In the immediate post-Watergate era, when the actions of government were inherently suspect, it highlighted a cosmological difference between ordinary Indiana folks and government bureaucrats. Once again, in a place where governmental action was subject to intense scrutiny, the word of individuals representing even positive federal agencies had been proven to be empty. In addition to the history of limited cooperation that already existed in Vincennes, the visitor center incident seemed to be the finale to a relationship that had bogged down before it began.

The initial Park Service response to the cancellation illustrated some of the management problems inherent for the agency in the 1960s and 1970s. Although early directors such as Mather and Albright had a certain autonomy, during the post-war era the Park Service had less control of its destiny than ever before. The politicization of the directorship, a process that began during President Richard Nixon's second administration, had weakened Park Service leadership, and the agency did not seek to challenge edicts from other branches of government. Its mandatory function as the agency that represented historic preservation interests in federal undertakings added to existing problems. The Park Service, as did other federal agencies in the aftermath of the American cultural revolution of the 1960s, operated less on the basis of management principles and more in response to the powerful governmental or public entities around it. [34]

This made for a confused response to situations such as the one at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, where to abide by federal rules and regulations meant to betray a local constituency that already lacked faith in the agency.

Because of the vagaries of this new style of management, in which administrators routinely tossed aside long held objectives when faced with opposition, the Park Service found itself astride a genuine controversy. When the announcement of the cancellation first appeared, NPS officials from Robert Utley to Merrill Beal publicly supported the decision. As the local effort gained momentum, agency officials appeared to switch positions. Although most of the people in the agency probably supported the construction of the visitor center throughout the controversy, many could not say so in public. When NPS officials finally began to push for the center, it seemed to some that they were following rather than leading the community back to the original objective of the agency. The exception to whatever negative sentiments the Vincennes public felt toward the agency was John Kawamoto. He went to Vincennes to smooth out problems four times during the nearly two-month crisis. He spoke clearly and candidly with the community, helping to assess their options and on one occasion even suggesting that completion of the visitor center before 1979 was unlikely. Such a delay reflected widely held fears and was not welcome news, but the clarity and honesty with which Kawamoto addressed the situation won him the respect not only of the public, but of other NPS officials as well. In a difficult situation, he managed to uphold the integrity of the agency and recapture at least some of the respect it had lost.

The public crusade to save the visitor center drastically altered the gloomy scenario. With much political and public capital amassed, federal officials sought to find a way to resolve the problem to the satisfaction of the local community. Caught in the middle, Park Service officials found themselves contradicting their pronouncements of mere weeks before. By early April, advocates of immediate construction of the visitor center had gained control of the situation.

The entire visitor center issue appeared to hinge on an ACHP meeting in early May. At that time, the council could either affirm the initial stand of the Park Service; suggest that the same structure be built on a different location; or maintain its stated position that the visitor center be halted and the money used for repair of the memorial and the creation of a new master plan for a more comprehensive national historical park. [35] Advocates realized that they could restore the center if they could garner enough support and turn it into influence before the meeting.

The first intimations of a change in the federal perspective appeared in the Vincennes Sun-Commercial. On April 4, 1975, beneath a headline titled "Extraordinary Circumstances Reason Given for Review of Center Project," the paper trumpeted the first evidence of the success of the campaign. NPS Associate Director for Legislative Affairs Richard Curry remarked that even though the Park Service still believed the initial ACHP decision was correct, a review of the decision had become likely. The original bidders had received information that the project was not canceled, but merely delayed. Local pressure had begun to have an effect. [36]

The pronouncement that a review of the decision to postpone was under consideration energized the already galvanized local population. On April 7, Vincennes Mayor Montgomery informed the community that Senator Bayh asked for written documents to demonstrate the broadest possible base of support for the project. "I think Vincennes can get the visitors' center if we push hard right now," he said. "This is something the city needs and should have." Mrs. Ramsey and others in the local community helped gather new evidence of support, and with the Indiana congressional delegation pledging its backing, the momentum had clearly swung to the advocates of immediate construction. [37]

Even the ACHP began to retreat from its opposition to the project. On April 17, senators Bayh and Hartke took a delegation from Vincennes to meet ACHP Director Robert Garvey. The delegation included Montgomery; Mrs. Ramsey; Mrs. Marshall Miller, who served as president of the Vincennes Francis Vigo Chapter of the DAR; local architect Dan Hebert; and William Brooks of the Vincennes Sun-Commercial. Garvey told them that the Park Service usually accepted ACHP recommendations but that other factors could influence the process. The objection of the ACHP focused not on the design of the visitor center, but on its location, he reminded the participants. NPS Associate Director Ernest A. Connally echoed this sentiment. Senator Hartke was incensed; the initial ACHP objection had been to the possible destruction of archeological resources that might lie under the proposed site. Later the design had become an issue. Hartke demanded to know "what factors are you talking about?" [38]

Despite the contentiousness of the session, it offered a rapid and relatively painless solution to proponents of immediate construction. They simply had to find another location for the visitor center. To the west of the initial location was the river; to the south lay Dubois Street; to the north were the park grounds, alternate US 50, and downtown Vincennes. Representative Hayes had been exploring alternative locations since late March. At a community meeting in Vincennes led by William Brooks, and attended by Kawamoto, Kaminiski, Washington Office staff historian Barry Mackintosh, and Ross Gee of the Denver Service Center, the beginnings of a compromise were forged. The NPS people were asked to leave the room. After approximately fifteen minutes they were called back. Brooks announced that although a change in location would disappoint the community, whose members believed that the original site remained the best choice, they would agree to a new location in order to complete the visitor center in time for the Bicentennial. They proposed a location east and slightly south of the memorial, just beyond the southern boundary of the property of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. The new proposal found favor in the press. It provided an alternative that allowed everyone to achieve at least part of what they wanted. [39]

The move to quietly compromise gathered momentum. As late as April 21, when U.S. Rep. Roger Zion toured the area, "a slim hope" was all that he believed remained of the plans to construct the visitor center before the Bicentennial. But the location that advocates first offered in the April 17 meeting had many advantages — not the least of which being that it allowed the Park Service to save face and rebuild relationships in the local community. Agency officials called an April 28 conference to formally present the new site to the people of Vincennes. [40]

At 2 P.M. on Monday, April 28, 1975, in the conference room of the Bishop Simon Brute Library located behind the Old Cathedral, what local newspapers had come to call the "Second War of George Rogers Clark" came to an end. In precise words, NPS Associate Director Connally discussed the new location; all the other governmental agencies expressed their willingness to assent to the change in location. Only Brooks, a staunch supporter of the original plan, seemed unwilling, but the overwhelming view of the group of thirty local residents in attendance was to accept the proposal. "I don't see how we can afford to quibble," Judge Curtis G. Shake observed. [41]

The local community interpreted the decision in several ways. To some, the decision proved that the system did work. In the aftermath of the Watergate affair, which caused the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, this was a reassuring prospect. To others, it showed the power of people when they joined together toward a common goal. Newspapers were full of testimonials to the effectiveness of various proponents of the project. Mrs. Opal C. Ramsey rightly received much of the credit. Only the Valley Advance noted that the community might owe Robert Garvey of the ACHP, whom the local press had vilified, an apology for slights to his professional reputation and personal character. [42]

With a tight schedule necessary to complete the visitor center in time for the Bicentennial, NPS officials and contractors began planning again. Within three weeks of the end of the "war," preliminary designs for the visitor center had been approved. Nix Construction of Evansville secured the bid for the project, agreeing to deliver the building on March 30, 1976. On August 20, 1975, a coterie of local leaders, politicians, advocates, and NPS officials all watched as U.S. Sen. Vance Hartke turned the first shovel of dirt for the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park Visitor Center. [43] After nearly half a decade of delay and one cancellation, the groundbreaking had powerful symbolism for the people of Vincennes.

The construction phase of the project became problematic. Weather initially put the project behind schedule, although the Park Service retained faith in Nix Construction. A controversy arose concerning the bricks for the visitor center. Carefully matched in color and texture to the ones used in the new library in the Old Cathedral, the bricks had been delivered from a kiln in Evansville and built into the walls. A second load followed. Project Supervisor Stanley Fretwell noted that the new ones were different in color from the initial bricks, forcing him to stop the work until the proper bricks could be delivered. The contractor lost more than one week as a result of the initial problem. Park Service officials also rejected a second load; in the commotion related to this refusal, one of the contractors suffered a heart attack. Finally after a total of fourteen lost working days, bricks with the proper coloring were delivered and the project continued. [44]

By the end of 1975, Park Service officials asked legitimate questions about the ability of the contractor to complete the visitor center on time. At that point, twenty-nine percent of the project had been completed in sixty-seven percent of the allotted time, a sure indicator that the contract would have to be extended. There were no problems with the contractor nor with the work of the company. Lagemann recalled that the people in the Nix company were dependable contractors who recognized that this project would be one of their legacies. Unfortunate circumstances simply plagued the project. [45]

In difficult circumstances, Stanley Fretwell, project supervisor for the Park Service, performed extraordinarily. He held the contractor to the specifications of the contract, handled the necessary details, and earned the respect of both Lagemann and contractor Chris Nix. Nix remarked that he found it refreshing to find a government employee who took his work as seriously as did Fretwell, and Lagemann added his kudos. The contractor finally delivered the building in late June, nearly three months after the original delivery date and later than the scheduled date of the initial dedication ceremony. Everyone agreed that the visitor center was a well-built structure that fit aesthetically into the park and possessed the amenities necessary to fulfill its functions. [46]

There remained considerable doubt about whether the project could be finished in time for the Bicentennial. Two seasonal rangers, Willard Cockerham and Gerald "Jerry" Erny, took it upon themselves to do everything they could to assist in the process. When the Harpers Ferry Center team came to the park, the two rangers followed them around and "each time they would finish a project," Cockerham recalled, "we would clean up the mess, right at their heels." The two "turned into maintenance men" in an effort to ready the building for its July 4, 1976, opening. [47]

Their efforts succeeded. In a fitting moment of symbolism, the visitor center officially opened on July 4, 1976, the bicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. At 10 A.M., Lagemann opened the door and welcomed a throng of Vincennes residents. The first to enter the new building was the Honorable Curtis G. Shake, who had been involved with the memorial since the 1920s. An array of influential local people who had played a role in the process followed him into the building. [48] For the people of Vincennes, the opening of the building was a triumph of the persistence of local will. For the Park Service, it represented the completion of the basic elements of a physical plant necessary to support a modern park.

The construction of the visitor center created a new level of expectations at the park. Instead of a makeshift office, the Park Service had a gleaming new facility that made George Rogers Clark National Historical Park appear as important as any area in the national park system. The new building also created new obligations for the agency. Visitors who arrived and saw the new center could expect standard Park Service amenities. Yet much of the planning and analysis for such activities remained to be accomplished.

In this respect, George Rogers Clark lagged behind many other park areas. Lacking autonomous status before 1975, the park had not received the kind of attention upon which a staff with direct ties to a regional office could insist. The needs of George Rogers Clark National Historical Park were paired with those of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, and when Regional Office personnel assessed requests for support, it became easy to regard the two parks as one. When George Rogers Clark National Historical Park acquired independent management status in 1975, a redesigning of park goals took place.

Among the primary objectives of this process was the establishment of formal protocols and practices to support management. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the planning process within the Park Service became more sophisticated in response to the growing demands and concern of the public, and after 1969, in response to the compliance regulations mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and other statutes. At George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, this meant an effort to bring the standards at the park in line with those of the agency as a whole.

The first intimations that this effort had begun to have an impact at the park occurred in 1978, when Robert Lagemann noted that conditions had improved markedly since the completion of the visitor center. The debut of the new introductory film, "A Few Men Well Conducted," took place in the park auditorium on March 31 of that year. A centerpiece for the interpretation program, the film added the type of interpretation essential to the plans of the park.

On May 27, 1978, the formal dedication of the visitor center affirmed the widely held perspective that things had changed at George Rogers Clark. An array of public officials and local leaders joined the ceremonies, hosted by Midwest Regional Deputy Director Randall Pope and featuring speeches by U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, Indiana Lt. Gov. Robert Orr, Brooks, Thomas S. Emison, past president of the Vincennes Historical and Antiquarian Society, and Mrs. Ramsey. Clark's Volunteers, a group of frontier history reenactors, lent a "colorful and historic" background to the dedication, and the festivities continued the entire day and throughout most of the next. [49] The dedication ceremony took on a celebratory character, as if to welcome the completed park to the full-fledged status within the park system. More than a decade of community and agency efforts finally had paid dividends.

Lagemann, still the central figure in the history of the park, noted other more subtle but equally important changes. The condition of the grounds and buildings had improved, showing that, as Lagemann wrote, they were "cared for at a higher standard than sometimes in the past." Lagemann created sufficient workpower to accomplish park goals by using temporary appointments, and he remembered taking pride in the achievements of the park in interpretation, maintenance, and administration. Despite a temporary park shutdown in March that resulted from a state utilities commission edict during an acute shortage of coal, the park seemed to be headed toward the kind of comprehensive management that characterized the vast majority of Park Service areas. [50]

The bicentennial anniversary of the surrender of Fort Sackville, in February 1979, offered another opportunity to highlight the new park as well as to bring attention to the importance of Vincennes in American history. The U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative postal card from Vincennes in honor of the occasion, while the park staged a mock surrender on the bicentennial date of February 25. [51] Although bad weather limited attendance to approximately eighty people, the activity served to illustrate the heightened stature the park had acquired during the decade since plans for the construction of the visitor center were first considered.

As the 1980s began, Robert Lagemann could look back with considerable pride upon a nearly fifteen-year relationship with George Rogers Clark National Historical Park. with more than twenty-five years in federal service, he considered retirement. on February 29, 1980, he stepped down as superintendent, continuing as a reemployed annuitant until June 29, when Roy J. Beasley, Jr., who came from Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in New York, became the second superintendent in the history of the park. [52]

This change in leadership reflected the new status of the park as well as a typical kind of evolution for park areas. Lagemann had been a founder and a builder, a man who recognized the needs of a park in its early stages. He spent a significant amount of time in local relations, building strong ties in the surrounding area, and in the most positive sense of the term, becoming a member of the community. Lagemann oversaw the development of the park, the creation of its facilities, and the growth and expansion of its offerings to the public. There was something folksy about Lagemann, who had run a one-man endeavor in difficult circumstances for an interminably long time. His retirement brought an end to the founding era at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park.

The first task the new superintendent faced was establishing a context for management. Despite the many strides made during the first fifteen years of Park Service management, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park still lacked many of the basic management documents central to park administration. Unlike older more established parks, where there was considerable precedent for management decisions, the combination of the short history of the area as a separate unit of the park system and the idiosyncratic demands upon park staff left a sizable gap in the development of goals and objectives. Beginning in the early 1980s, the entire array of park planning and administrative documents began to be assembled. A Resources Management Plan was completed in 1981 and revised in 1982. The original Statement for Management was revised in 1983 and again in 1989, while the Historic Structure Report, Administrative Data Section and Architectural Data Section for the park was completed in 1983. A Maintenance Management System (MMS) document was devised in 1989, followed by a new Statement for Management and a new Resources Management Plan in 1993. [53]

Nor was the park unaffected by the administrative changes initiated under Secretary of the Interior James Watt and continued throughout the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Committed to the principle that federal services should pay for themselves when feasible, these administrations initiated programs that sometimes conflicted with longstanding NPS practices as well as the desires of many within the agency. Fee collection within national park areas, which was an attempt to shift some of the cost of the system from taxpayers generally to specific park users, topped the list of such changes.

At many park areas, fee collection was a welcomed step, although enthusiasm for it dampened when park personnel discovered that revenues collected were assigned to the NPS general fund instead for use at a specific park. Some selected parks had a long history of fee collection: Yellowstone National Park had collected entrance fees since before the creation of the Park Service in 1916, but the cost of the fee had declined tremendously. In 1916, ten dollars was the price for automobile entry into the park; in 1960, a fifteen-day permit cost three dollars. [54] In the 1980s, officials at large natural parks and other places far from concentrations of people found that entrance fees created fewer problems. Grand Canyon National Park initiated a $1-per-car fee in 1926 to cover the cost of water and facilities provided to auto campers. Visitors who came to such places planned their trips, expected to stay for a time, and did not resent paying for the privilege of entry and the basic services they received.

But for parks in or near urban or semi-urban areas, the fees posed a major problem. Such parks had local as well as national constituencies, and local people had patterns of use and accommodation to which they had grown accustomed. Many communities had proprietary feelings about their local national park area and resented changes implemented without their approval when such changes altered the nature of their activities at the park and their relationship to it.

Vincennes was one such community. The George Rogers Clark National Historical Park once had been its state park, and with the vast historic fabric and widespread consciousness about the past in Vincennes, a decision from far away that required local people to pay to enter the rotunda hinted at the problems between the community and the federal bureaucracy that characterized the early 1970s. Within the Park Service, many were aware of the problem. Early studies made during the transfer from the state suggested that the Park Service would be best served by eliminating the old state fee. These sentiments prevailed and George Rogers Clark National Historical Park was not included in early fee initiatives. [55]

In 1988, a fee was first enacted for the park, but the Park Service did not reap the benefits its officials initially anticipated. Projections for the first year indicated the agency could expect $30,000 in revenue from fees. The actual first-year collection was $5,998. Officials attributed this marked shortfall to decreased visitation totals as well as resistance to the concept of fees. Almost 4,000 people walked away from the memorial after seeing the sign explaining the charge. [56]

Although the subsequent years revealed a process of accommodation as well as an increase in the amount collected, visitor fees became a harbinger of the difficulties of park management during an era of economic declension. By the early 1990s, the nation was embroiled in an extended economic recession, the federal deficit had grown immensely as a result of the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s, and many major corporations were engaged in "downsizing," trimming their work forces to attain a smaller, more efficient work force. The national mood was grim if not bleak, and it seemed likely that no federal agencies could expect an increase in appropriations except in unusual circumstances.

The conditions of the 1990s posed a tremendous challenge for park managers, not only at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, but throughout the park system. During the 1990s, Americans as a whole were asked to do more with less; the federal system was no exception. Proposed reductions in NPS staff during 1994 typified the way in which park-level personnel were asked to assume greater future burdens. At George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, such trends were exacerbated by the manner in which relations between the park and the town functioned. Since its arrival, the NPS sought to offer help and support to the local cultural resources community and the city as a whole. At a time when that help was regarded as more necessary and desirable and was finally received without the fears of the past, particularly in the local cultural resources community, the burden of delivery began to fall upon the resources of the park instead of those of the Regional Office and service entities such as the Harpers Ferry Center and the Denver Service Center. With limits on personnel and budgets, the park was stretched by the need to fulfill its many obligations with less support from the rest of the agency than it had received in the past. If it cannot fulfill such obligations, perceived and real, to the people of Vincennes, the ties that park staff have worked long and hard to build will dissipate; if the park devotes a growing portion of its limited resources to the community, the possibility exists that maintenance, interpretation, and other primary obligations may suffer. This is the dilemma facing park managers during a time of increasing demand and constant or declining resources.

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006