Administrative History
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PART II: (continued)


A historic structure report for the Great Hall was compiled in 1970 by Erwin N. Thompson. He laboriously analyzed the construction of fur trade structures in the United States and Canada, particularly Grand Portage's successor, Fort William, to ascertain a conjectural picture of the Great Hall's appearance 200 years ago. The first reconstruction effort was not primarily concerned with historical accuracy. While tragic, the 1969 fire was also viewed as a blessing in disguise. Thompson wrote:

Students of fur trading posts already had recognized ways in which that reconstruction [1938-40] could have been more accurately done. Although the fire was by no means welcome—it destroyed many artifacts along with a useful building—one result of it was a fresh opportunity to rebuild the Great Hall in a more authentic manner. [35]

A pronounced emphasis on authenticity was placed on the second reconstruction of the Great Hall. The Park Service once again commissioned Alan R. Woolworth of the MHS to conduct an archeological excavation of the Great Hall and the surrounding area. The foundation of the burned building was removed as excavators searched and found the outlines of a large porch which graced the front of the Great Hall. Woolworth's team found the site of a 35 by 27-foot structure which had once stood immediately behind it. From the wealth of artifacts it was determined that the Kitchen of the Great Hall had been found. In addition, the site of the Canoe Warehouse, which was discovered in 1963 and excavated in 1964, was investigated further.

When the archeologists completed their investigation, reconstruction began in 1971. Through an agreement with the Band, the timbers were cut from the reservation. According to Superintendent Richard S. Tousley,

Erwin Thompson's meticulous research cannot be overstated. The present Great Hall was built by the Service with its own Chippewa day labor crews. While a heavy-duty woodworking shop was erected and furnished for the purpose, there was a great deal of hand work required to maintain authenticity.... The crew accepted a tremendous challenge and took quiet pride in its work. The building is a monument to the crew's skill and dedication. [36]

Three years later Grand Portage once again had a Great Hall, however scantily furnished. Superintendent Sherman W. Perry wrote:

We did not have much to show in the Great Hall as the furnishings plan had not been completed nor furnishings purchased. However, we were able to build and display tables of the type that were used by clerks and lesser members of the North West Company. Also the park had some temporary exhibits in the Great Hall, such as a flintlock musket, powderhorn, a lacrosse set, and some skins of beaver, bear, muskrat, mink, and marten. We had an exhibit of toys that children, primarily Indian, would have used during the period that the North West Company in operation. [37]

Interpretation was aided by the presentation of three films shown at various times during the day. Outside, the metal figures of a voyageur, Indian, and North West Company partner were on display. Also within the stockade were a carved seal and map detailing the voyageur's route. The display was positioned in front of a row of seats where a Ranger presented hourly talks.

Superintendent Perry was worried about the destruction of the wilderness setting of Grand Portage by the increasing threat of timber farming near the monument's boundaries, a problem which to date has not been resolved. Perry commented:

We lack the 5,000 contiguous acres needed to be classified as a wilderness area, but do consider the park land north of Highway 61 as wild land. It contains the flora and fuma [sic] indigenous to such country, including our own timber wolves, moose, and pine marten. With this in mind, we mention the increased foot travel over the Grand Portage Trail that led to the overuse of the back country campsite at Fort Charlotte. Remarking the park boundary north of Highway 61 continues a pressing need because of Grand Portage Reservation timber sales continue and there are cutting operations adjacent to park lands. [38]

Crime is a problem which every Superintendent has to consider. A three-year low in the number of reported thefts was noted at the monument in 1972, principally in the nearby visitor's Isle Royale parking lot. The reported losses from visitors' cars were reduced 4,000 percent thanks to a change in the parking lot concession. Thefts dropped dramatically when a new contract was signed with the Grand Portage Band to charge daily parking fees and employ an Indian manager-security officer. [39]

The "Rendezvous Days" commemoration was inaugurated in the summer of 1972. Participants from the Grand Portage Band, NPS, Old Fort William (Ontario), and area enthusiasts all dressed in fur trade garb and engaged in canoe races and games of skill dating to the days of the voyageur. The event was patterned to be a small-scale modern reenactment of the annual Rendezvous of the North West Company. The local popularity of the festival has made Rendezvous Days an annual celebration at Grand Portage National Monument. [40]

An event of profound importance to the local economy took place on August 26, 1973, with the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Hilton Hotel complex. Built on the reservation, the hotel is the first such large-scale development to be undertaken at Grand Portage. The groundbreaking festivities were held at the Great Hall because the location on Grand Portage Bay was too swampy and mosquito-infested. The Grand Portage Development Corporation headed the estimated $1.6 million RBC project. The 100-room Hilton Hotel project signalled that investors were confident that the area's beauty and the popularity of the national monument were strong drawing cards to merit the construction of a major development. [41]

Before the project was completed, however, Hilton Hotels, Inc., pulled out of the deal and was soon replaced by Radisson Hotels, Inc. The managerial association with Radisson ended in 1980, and the hotel, now called the Grand Portage Lodge and Conference Center, is owned and managed by the Grand Portage Band of Minnesota Chippewas.

Interpretation was augmented at the monument in 1973 when the newly-reconstructed Canoe Warehouse opened to the public. Seasonals were on hand that year to interpret the exhibits which consisted of two birch bark canoes, barrels, kegs, gun cases, and a shaving horse. There is no furnishing plan for the warehouse, and visitor access is only with an interpreter on a conducted tour basis. Four temporary exhibits were on view in the Great Hall in 1973 depicting the archeological excavations at the site, and an audio station was added to the continental map exhibit. [42]

In 1973, a historic structure report on the Kitchen, prepared by Erwin N. Thompson, recognized that it was "essential to the Great Hall's role." He recommended that the building be reconstructed in the Canadian style and patterned after similar extant structures like the Chateau de Ramezay (Montreal) and the Big House, Lower Fort Garry (Manitoba). A simple covered walkway was designed to join the conjectural Kitchen to the Great Hall. [43]

A master plan for Grand Portage was completed in 1973, replacing an earlier 1970 plan. The master plan's forecast was for increasing visitation, thanks to the completion of the Canadian highway link to the Lake Superior Circle route. Conditions which limited development of Grand Portage's potential and management, however, were a lack of suitable land, legislative requirements, and an incomplete archeological study. The need to establish a Park Service headquarters, maintenance, and interpretive complex on the lakefront and abandon the Grand Marais location was seen as a requirement for future development. The new facilities would help "bring alive" the monument's original and reconstructed physical resources. Interpretation would also improve if reconstructions were undertaken east of Grand Portage Creek on the sites of the X Y Post, Boucher's Fort, and the voyageur camping area—although none were considered "essential." A pressing need was to recreate the historic scene of 1800 by relying on architects, historians, and archeologists, and to remove modern roads, power lines, and docks. [44]

(According to documents in the central files of the Midwest Regional Office, the 1973 Master Plan was reclassified in the mid-1970s to a "resource document" because it lacked an Environmental Impact Statement).

The last NPS Regional boundary alignment to date occurred in 1974 when Grand Portage National Monument, under the jurisdiction of the Mid-Atlantic (Philadelphia) Regional Office for several years, reverted back to the Midwest Regional Office in Omaha. [45] As a national historic site, Grand Portage first came under the jurisdiction of the Midwest Region, then known as Region II, in 1951. In July 1955, it was transferred to the authority of the Philadelphia Office (then designated Region V) for five years until the new national monument was shifted back to Omaha in July 1960. After the fire at the Great Hall, Grand Portage was administered for a short period in 1972 by the North Atlantic Regional Office in Boston and then by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. In early 1974, Grand Portage National Monument was once again under the authority of the Midwest Regional Office at Omaha. The change marked the fifth time in 23 years that Grand Portage had been shuffled between NPS Regions.

Park improvements in 1974 included an exhibit which permitted the visitor to handle beaver tricorns and top hats, beaver hides, and other skins. The positioning of new water and sewer lines the years before resulted in the relocation of the public restroom facility outside the stockade where a new building was erected in 1978. [46] The Great Hall was made accessible to the handicapped in 1974 with the construction of a wheelchair ramp.

The opening of the restaurant at the Grand Portage Radisson Inn in 1975 resulted in the monument's food concession to the Grand Portage Band being eliminated. The old Mount Maud Lookout building, which previously served as the coffee shop, was converted in 1976 to a temporary visitor center where pamphlets are now distributed and ENP & MA items are sold. An audio visual center was arranged there in 1977 and an array of films are aired at scheduled times during the day. The removal of these activities from the Great Hall has improved its historic scene and accuracy.

Another major improvement, stone retaining walls erected on the Mount Rose Trail in 1975, has ensured a higher level of safety on the more dangerous sections of the steep trail. Several wooden bridges were also fabricated for this purpose on the Grand Portage. [47]

A Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program was initiated at Grand Portage during the summer of 1976 under contract to the George Williams College of Chicago to provide a camp director and work crew leaders. The nonresident, coeducational camp accommodated 14 enrollees from the Grand Marais area. YCC workers cleaned the creek, landscaped the stockade, built trail bridges, improved the campground, and cleared trails. Superintendent Ivan D. Miller termed the program less than successful for a variety of reasons. He observed:

We elected not to have a YCC camp for the next season, recommending to others in situations similar to ours to consider using residential camps where possible, recruit enrollees on a statewide basis, and if a contract is used, insist on personnel and organizations with experience in YCC. [48]

Events which transpired in that same summer manifested the need for permanent administrative offices. The lease on the rented Grand Marais headquarters expired, forcing the NPS personnel to relocate for two months in cramped quarters at the local U.S. Coast Guard building. The large collection of artifacts was stored at the U.S. Customs facilities on the international border. In November 1976, a new "temporary headquarters" was occupied west of Grand Marais, where the park Superintendent's Office is still located. [49]

Devastating rainstorms in September 1977, resulted in heavy run-off from Mount Rose and Grand Portage Creek overflowing its banks. This, coupled with an elevated water level of Lake Superior, exacerbated an already serious shoreline erosion problem. The portage and foot bridges were badly damaged. Major shoreline stabilization, particularly near the stockade, was necessary. [50] Following a 1978 environmental review by the Division of Environmental Quality and Compliance, NPS maintenance experts were able to stabilize the creek banks which had threatened the east palisade wall. [51]

The floods also damaged the North West Company depot at Old Fort William, Ontario, and brought about a cooperative effort between the Park Service and the Canadian Ministry of Culture and Recreation Superintendent Miller recorded:

Grand Portage maintained its good relationship with the monument's Canadian counterpart throughout the year. The Old Fort Williams staff has been most accommodating in inviting the Grand Portage staff to their training and in sharing information regarding the furnishings, costuming, and historic preservation. Through the suggestion of Grand Portage, the National Park Service was able to assist Old Fort William after the disastrous flooding of September. The Harper's Ferry Center sent two museum conservation specialists to aid them in their salvage and preservation activities. [52]

Most of the furniture called for in the Great Hall's furnishing plan (Ralph H. Lewis, Harper's Ferry Center, 1972) arrived in late October 1977. Another park improvement involved directional, informational, and safety-oriented signs for the Great Hall and park. The monument's sign program underwent an examination. Five thousand dollars was appropriated for the project, which also called for new entrance signs.

A new interpretive program, called "Try-It-On" was initiated in the same year. Costumes of the fur trade purchased from the ENP & MA were available for tourists to wear and pose for photographs in an effort to personalize and "bring home" the experience of Grand Portage to the visitor. [53]

In April 1976, Thomas P. Busch, Historical Architect in the Midwest Regional Office, compiled a nomination for Grand Portage to the National Register of Historic Places. The boundaries and reconstructions of the national monument were all included in the nomination. On September 14, 1977, the Keeper of the National Register accepted Grand Portage National Monument to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. [54]

In 1978, the Cultural Demonstration Program was moved into the Crawford Log Cabin which was refurbished and decorated with native motifs and exhibits. Eight Chippewa women were hired to make handicraft items for sale to the public.

Park improvements were numerous in 1978. The Kitchen was finally completed and opened, but it appeared "sterile" without furnishings. Hikers on the Grand Portage could now be provided with a one-page informational pamphlet which included a valuable directional map. Fire protection was enhanced by the installation of a Halon fire suppression system in the Great Hall and Kitchen. [55]

There has been no development at the Fort Charlotte site of the national monument. Other than relocation of nearby Pigeon River Campgrounds every other season and some offshore MHS underwater archeological expeditions, little activity and no reconstruction exist where only mounds, furrows, and foundation depressions remain to mark the once bustling North West Company depot. Compared to the thousands who visit the Grand Portage depot each year, few people visit the western terminus of the portage. Only hardy hikers and canoeists journey to this wilderness and most would have no appreciation for their historic surroundings if the site were not demarcated by NPS signs.

The first scientific investigation since Dewey Albinson's 1922 survey took place in 1978 when NPS archeologists and scholars from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, contracted by the NPS Midwest Archeological Center (MWAC), conducted a magnetic survey of Fort Charlotte. Using a proton magnetometer, the archeologists surveyed a two block area (40 by 40 meters) which allegedly included the sites of the North West and X Y Company depots. Utilizing the 1922 maps drawn by Albinson, 12 transit maps of surface features were made to form a composite of the compound area. They discovered that "the similarity of the 1979 map to Albinson's 1922 version is striking, and while several structures in the earlier map appear to be somewhat idealized in their regularity, the accuracy of Albinson's work is still quite impressive." Only a few discrepancies from the 1922 map were ascertained. Footpaths in the area had eradicated surface evidence of the outer western palisade and above grade traces of small walls of other presumed structures have disappeared.

All of the transit mapping in the immediate Fort Charlotte vicinity has been completed, as well as the area south of Snow Creek. The immediate results of the 1979 survey enabled MWAC to flag a 20-meter wide buffer zone around the perimeter of the North West Company site so that campground and comfort stations could he harmlessly placed outside the boundaries. The magnetic survey team found that an earlier pit toilet had actually been excavated into archeological features. [56]

The area outside Fort Charlotte, including much of the monument area has not been surveyed and evaluated as called for in Executive Order 11593. Very few National Park Service areas have received total survey coverage and Grand Portage is, therefore, not unique in regard to its limited survey coverage.

In May 1979, news that an impending agreement between the Grand Portage Band and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a 250-berth marina on Grand Portage Bay sent NPS and MHS officials scrambling to block the project. Acting Midwest Regional Director Randall Pope wrote the Corps of Engineers Director of the St. Paul District saying that the NPS was "overwhelmed" and that the mission of two national parks would be destroyed if the project was carried through. If the proposed marina operated any-where near its capacity, the adverse effect on Isle Royale National Park would be catastrophic. The influx of water motor craft would jam the small harbors and the noise pollution would destroy the wilderness solitude. The spectacle of an obtrusive marina breakwater extending out into Grand Portage Bay and the din of scores of boats would obliterate any sense of the Grand Portage historic setting. The total economic loss to the Grand Portage community would negate any possible benefits. [57]

A meeting between NPS and Corps of Engineers officials in September 1979 revealed the Corps had revised its project down to a 125 to 150-berth marina which was still considered to be too large. To preserve the historic setting, Superintendent Ivan Miller insisted that any such facility should be on a small-scale and located at the hotel. The Park Service would be free to move the Isle Royale embarkation point to the new facility and then remove the present dock at the monument. [58] The uproar from the NPS and a few phone calls to congressional representatives by MHS officials effectively killed the grandiose Corps of Engineers project. Today, while some local people still lobby for a large facility, only a small dock operates at the Grand Portage Lodge.

Film projection at the temporary visitor center was supplemented in 1980 when all reel films were recorded on video tape and shown in the Great Hall. The eight different presentations were shown in the 25-seat Audio Visual room a total of 848 times during 1980 to an estimated 6,000 people. The new video equipment made the display more dependable and easier to present. [59] Schools, organizations, and other groups can borrow 16mm films with viewing guides free of charge throughout the year from the film library at the Superintendent's Office. Nine films are currently available titled "Northwest Passage—The Story of Grand Portage," "The Voyageurs," "Alexander MacKenzie—Lord of the North," "David Thompson—The Great Mapmaker," "From the Bottom Up," "The Birch Canoe Builder," "The Fishermen of Isle Royale," "The Pace of the Seasons at Voyageurs National Park," and "Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes." [60]

Beginning in 1980, NPS personnel at Grand Portage National Monument were certified to assist the U.S. Customs Services by inspecting boats which crossed the international border and docked at the stockade. The verbal agreement, which has never become a formal, written agreement, underlines the close cooperation between the two government agencies.

Major improvements at Grand Portage were underway in 1981. A general realignment of stockade posts and supports was accomplished as well as the laying of black asphalt in the parking lot and temporary visitor center areas. Sixteen bridges on the portage were either repaired or replaced. A cooperative agreement was negotiated with the Grand Portage Band to construct a 100,000 gallon water storage tank on reservation land. The new tank now supplies the village and monument with an adequate supply of water and has improved fire protection.

The Fourth North American Fur Trade Conference was held at Grand Portage Lodge and Old Fort William from September 30 to October 4, 1981. Hosted by the two historic sites, MHS, NPS, and a score of other groups, 200 participants listened to academic papers, attended a reception and viewed fur trade exhibits at the Great Rail, and hiked on the portage to Fort Charlotte. [61]

In response to a Washington directive that all NPS areas prepare a Resources Management Plan (RMP), an RMP was completed and approved for Grand Portage in 1981. The RMP identified 11 natural resource and 6 cultural resource problems that require resolution before management objectives can be achieved. [62]

In 1981, a new Interpretive Prospectus was approved for the monument which set forth the following NPS interpretive objectives:

To provide potential visitors with trip planning information designed to suggest enjoyable and well balanced educational experiences in the northern Minnesota/Lake Superior region, and more specifically, at Grand Portage National Monument.

To give the visitor a better understanding and appreciation for the people who were and are involved with activities at Grand Portage, including the resident Chippewa Indians.

To explain to the visitor the physical, socio-political, and other environmental conditions conducive to the exploration of North America and the development of the fur trade industry with particular emphasis on the period 1730-1804.

To provide the visitor with an understanding of the importance of Grand Portage to the fur trade, what happened to Grand Portage after 1804, and the importance of Grand Portage to our nation today.

To provide the visitor with an understanding of the changing face of northern Minnesota due to the continued interaction of socio-political and technological developments from the days of the fur trade to the present. [63]

The monument is classified as a "developing park," according to the 1981 Interpretive Prospectus and the interpretive program has reflected this lack of development. The situation allows for a high degree of experimentation and changeability, but suffers from a lack of long-term direction and cohesiveness. [64]

The report called for the construction of a "Visitor Contact Station" to be at the present Isle Royale parking lot. The temporary visitor station will then be removed and the parking lot obliterated with the ground being reseeded with native vegetation. The facility differs little from the one first proposed in the 1964 Interpretive Prospectus. It would include an information area, a park interpreter's office, a library to house the monument's 900 volumes, and a multipurpose room to accommodate 50 people. A museum storage room is also planned to be environmentally controlled and large enough to contain all the artifacts from the mid-1930s excavations which may someday be returned by the MHS. ("Grand Portage is the appropriate depository for all Grand Portage-related artifacts.") [65] Currently, the NPS artifact collection of 1,000 items is stored in an 11 by 11-foot room at the Superintendent's Office which lacks any environmental controls. Other options include a small museum and an administrative office for the Grand Portage Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

A Chippewa Handicraft Demonstration/Exhibit Boom will also he included in the Visitor Contact Station to house the cultural demonstrators and their handicrafts. The room will be patterned after the sales room at Pipestone National Monument. This will allow for the removal of the Crawford Log Cabin from the stockade area to provide for a more historically accurate setting. According to the Interpretive Prospectus:

immediately inside the gate an exhibit should describe the historic conditions within the Stockade. As presently maintained, the large mowed open area gives the visitor a misleading impression. In it heyday, the Stockade was cluttered with 16 buildings. Short of actual reconstruction of these buildings, the National Park Service should help the visitor imagine the historic scene. Utilizing archeological evidence, the sites of structures, should be located and designated. Differential mowing practices, stones, or logs are some possibilities for depicting building sites. [66]

Another major concern of the 1981 report is in regard to the area which includes the Voyageur's Camp, Boucher's Fort, the X Y Company Post, the Indian Sites, and the Fur Trade Ford. To be coordinated and interpreted as an Historic Sites Area, modern intrusions such as roads and the NPS maintenance area would be removed to restore the area's historical integrity. Presently there is no interpretation of this area to the visitor. With a series of signs, the Historic Sites Area should become an important element in the NPS interpretive program. [67]

In 1975, Alan R. and Nancy L. Woolworth of the MHS were contracted by the NPS to complete the inventory and evaluation of archeological resources at Grand Portage. The 225-page report titled, Grand Portage National Monument, An Historical Overview and An Inventory of Its Cultural Resources, was completed in late 1982. The report is thorough, abstracting and compiling more than 20 years of reports. It lists 110 structures and sites within the monument's boundaries, complete with descriptions, excavation information, historical significance statements, and recommendations. [68] The Woolworths' report is the most important document ever prepared for the monument. It is designed to assist in the more efficient management of Grand Portage's cultural resources.

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Last Updated: 27-Jan-2005