Guilford Courthouse
Administrative History
NPS Logo

The War Years And Post-War Museum Improvements

Guilford Courthouse fared better than many national parks during the lean years of World War II. Although budgets were cut and visitation initially fell dramatically, the park remained in operation throughout. Over time the opening of a major military installation within Greensboro's city limits led to a rebound in visitation. [1]

Staffing was the most critical problem in this period. Four positions were lost during the war. Three laborers were inducted into the military and their positions were left vacant. Less serious was the loss of the Resident Commissioner's sinecure which was abolished effective 31 October 1941 at the termination of James H. Roane's appointment. For most of this period the staff consisted of a superintendent who handled all administrative and public contact tasks, a maintenance foreman and one laborer. At such minimal staffing levels little could be accomplished beyond the absolutely essential, and any distraction (such as the land acquisition controversy) could seriously affect all aspects of park operations. Potentially disastrous were two extended periods when staff levels fell still further because of the the transfer of superintendents. The first of these occurred in October 1942 when Acting Superintendent Brandon left for military service. He was replaced in March 1943 by Charles S. Marshall who transferred from the Statue of Liberty. Marshall remained as Acting Superintendent and Custodian (dating from 12 March 1944) until he returned to the Statue of Liberty as Superintendent in September 1945. His replacement, Superintendent Raleigh C. Taylor, formerly of Manassas National Battlefield Park, entered on duty 8 November 1945. During these lapses Maintenance Foreman John A. Flowers acted with extraordinary competence and devotion to duty. [2]

The first major initiative of the post war period was a program undertaken by Superintendent Taylor to improve the park's museum exhibits. The museum collection had been decimated by the removal of the Guilford Battle Ground Company's holdings a quarter century earlier. Exhibits fashioned from the leftovers featured an assortment of incorrectly identified anachronisms. Taylor's first step, taken in the winter of 1946, was to remove a "rack of 1873 rifles," replacing them with troop disposition and campaign maps, and portraits of Nathanael Greene and David Schenck. From Colonial NHP he obtained the loan of several WPA-made reproduction Revolutionary War uniforms which he displayed on "faceless mannequins." [3]

Taylor enlisted local media assistance in procuring more appropriate museum items for display. A 12 January 1947 Greensboro Daily News article entitled "Park Needs Museum Items" produced a number of offers to loan artifacts, including such notable pieces as a fusil carried at Guilford Courthouse by a British sergeant in the Seventy-First Regiment of Foot, and a shoe and razor case that belonged to the legendary American soldier Peter Francisco. Interpretive exhibits were also improved with the installation of an electric campaign map and a classic diorama prepared by the NPS Museum Division. [4]

The park's most noteworthy museum accession was obtained via the intercession of two local D.A.R. chapters whose members cooperated to purchase at auction a splendid Revolutionary War drum. The process of authentication, purchase and installation was completed and a formal presentation held on 17 September 1954. Chief Historian Herbert E. Kahler visited the park shortly after the drum's arrival and pronounced himself well pleased with the museum improvements. [5]

Two months later Chief Curator Harold L. Peterson visited the park. He too was impressed by the drum, but was less pleased by the condition of a portion of the battlefield that he inspected. In 1781 the third American battle line had faced grass-covered, fallow farm fields. On a 1952 visit Peterson had found this area "growing up in scrub pine that was yet only seedlings." He had discussed with Superintendent Taylor the need to keep this area cleared of trees. To his distinct displeasure Peterson found in 1955 "that the clearing has not yet been done and that the trees are now three or four years larger than they were when the subject was first discussed." He might also have noted that the courthouse area, also slated for clearing, was overgrown with honeysuckle and other thick vegetation which lent the area a jungle-like appearance.

Superintendent Taylor was unavailable to discuss these matters with Peterson. He had been hospitalized after suffering a nervous breakdown, perhaps brought on by stress associated with a long running legal dispute that had grown up between the park and neighboring property owner Charles O. Martin. [6] At the time of Peterson's second visit the Martin Trespass Case, as this controversy had come to be known, had monopolized park manpower and resources for five years. It would be five years more before this case was resolved, leading a frustrated National Park Service directorate to the brink of potentially catastrophic errors of judgment that were averted only by the intercession of Greensboro's mayor. More than any other modern event the Martin Trespass Case and its resolution shaped Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>
Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003