HAMPTON AND THE FOUNDING OF THE NATIONAL TRUST
A Letter by Ronald F. Lee, April 14, 1970
April 14, 1970
Mr. Charles W. Peterson
Dear Mr. Peterson:
You asked for my recollection of the relationship of Hampton to the beginnings of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I am glad to respond, provided you will accept my statement as preliminary. I have had no opportunity as yet to refresh my memory from the National Park Service documents concerning Hampton now on deposit with the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
In my judgment, the possibility of the loss of Hampton in 1946 revealed to a number of influential people in Washington, D.C. the existence of several important forces that were destined to have mounting impact on the preservation of historic sites and buildings in the United States in the aftermath of World War II. (1) Urban sprawl was clearly visible at Hampton as a threat to the preservation of familiar landmarks. By 1946 Mr. John Ridgely, the owner of Hampton, had already sold off a considerable part of his lands for real estate subdivision when the possibility of preserving the great Georgian house and its immediate surroundings first came to the attention of Mr. David E. Finley. Mr. Ridgely's sale of land was in response to the steady expansion of Baltimore into its northern suburbs during and after World War II. Yet Mr. Ridgely was not only reluctant to part with the main house but wished to participate actively in an effort to save it. (2) Efforts subsequently made to preserve Hampton revealed the unavailability of Federal resources to carry out this kind of historic preservation task alone. The Bureau of the Budget, for example, was quite unwilling to permit the National Park Service to acquire and operate Hampton from appropriated funds. (3) The threat to Hampton's survival revealed the existence of philanthropic interest in historic preservation after World War II. Through the good offices of Mr. Finley, it became apparent fairly soon that the generosity of the Avalon Foundation would make the preservation of Hampton possible. (4) Hampton revealed the growing desire of locally concerned citizens actively to participate in historic preservation work. The Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities had been recently organized and its officers and members responded eagerly to the invitation to help save Hampton. (5) Hampton also revealed the presence of high-level government concern to find new ways of meeting the mounting need for historic preservation in the aftermath of World War II. This was particularly true of Mr. David E. Finley, Director of the National Gallery of Art, Mr. Arthur E. Demaray, Associate Director and Mr. Newton B. Drury, Director of the National Park Service and their staffs. For these reasons Hampton became one of the important roots from which grew the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In his book, History of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1947-1963, Mr. David E. Finley includes these two paragraphs:
In one of his informative annual reports to the National Trust for Historic Preservation during his many years as Chairman of its Board of Trustees, Mr. Finley elaborated on his personal association with the saving of Hampton and its connection with his role in the beginnings of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I have been unable to locate my copy of that report, but Mrs. Helen Bullock has undertaken to secure a copy for me from the archives of the National Trust.
My own recollection of the preservation of Hampton and the beginnings of the National Trust is as follows: Early in 1946, Mr. Finley talked with Mr. Demaray to determine whether Hampton might be acquired and preserved as part of the National Park System if donated funds were available to help. It so happened that Mr. Finley and Mr. Demaray were well known to each other. Mr. Demaray represented the National Park Service in the many complex negotiations involved in construction of the National Gallery of Art on the Mall and was a member of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission during much of the period Mr. Finley served as Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission. Both were also well known to Mr. Donald E. Shepard, co-trustee of the Avalon Foundation, founded by Mrs. Ailsa Mellon Bruce, which in due course provided a generous grant to the United States for the preservation of Hampton.
When the National Gallery of Art was opened, Mr. Finley has informed me, it possessed no adequate example of Thomas Sully's work. Macgill James, also associated with the Gallery, knew of Sully's full length portrait of Eliza Ridgely, The Lady With a Harp, which hung at Hampton, and in the summer or fall of 1945, arranged for Mr. Finley to join him in a visit to Mr. Ridgely at Hampton. The result was that Mr. Finley acquired the Sully portrait for the National Gallery and at the same time learned that Mr. Ridgely had been obligated to sell a good deal of the pleasant rolling land surrounding Hampton to developers and was considering the possible necessity of selling Hampton itself. I have a personal letter from Mr. Finley, dated December 12, 1963 in which he notes: "I find in my correspondence file that as early as December 5, 1945, I had talked with Fiske Kimball as to whether Hampton would be eligible for preservation by the National Park Service; also I talked with Mrs. Bruce at that time and the matter had been discussed with you before March 28, 1946."
You will recall that the offices of the Director of the National Park Service were moved to Chicago during World War II and that Director Drury and his staff did not return to Washington until 1947. During a period of some four years, Associate Director Demaray headed a liaison office for the Service in Washington, D.C. Early in 1946, he was approached by Mr. Finley about Hampton. As it happened, I had returned to the National Park Service as Chief Historian in January 1946, re-joining the Washington Office after 3-1/2 years absence with the U.S. Air Force, spent mostly in England, where among other experiences, I had an opportunity to learn a good deal about the British National Trust. Mr. Demaray asked me to talk with Mr. Finley about Hampton, visit the house, and make a recommendation whether the National Park Service should undertake to add Hampton to the National Park System. Both Mr. Demaray and I felt attracted by the possibility of saving this historic house with the assistance of foundation support, which Mr. Finley had indicated might be forthcoming. Director Drury concurred. I do not have at hand copies of memoranda or reports I may have written about Hampton at that time, but do recall that early in 1946 I found myself proceding to Hampton in company with Mr. Finley and Mr. Shepard. We were joined by Mr. Donald E. Lee, just out of the Navy, who was then responsible for National Park Service land acquisition matters in Washington. On one of our several successive visits, Donald Lee negotiated an option with Mr. John Ridgely for the purchase of Hampton at a price well below its market value. Mr. Ridgely was willing to make a financial sacrifice to preserve Hampton, which had been built by his family and lived in by successive Ridgely generations for over a century and a half. I recall Donald Lee typed the option on a very old typewriter, itself a kind of antique, in Mr. Ridgely's bedroom in my presence, and a few minutes later it was signed. With option in hand and a generous grant of $90,000 in prospect from the Avalon Foundation for acquisition and restoration, Mr. Demaray submitted the proposed addition to the National Park System to the Bureau of the Budget for approval. At that time, just after World War II, there was a very large backlog of deferred maintenance and physical improvements for the long-established areas of the National Park System. Appropriations for new National Park Service projects were almost non-existent and the Bureau of the Budget was unwilling to allow the Service to acquire Hampton, even with donated funds, unless a non-governmental organization could be found that would assume the costs of maintenance and operation. At this point, we learned that the Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities might be interested in helping to preserve Hampton. Mr. Demaray asked me to go to Baltimore and discuss the project with the president of the Society, Mr. Robert Garrett. In due course, Mr. Garrett and I negotiated a formal cooperative agreement between the Secretary of the Interior and the Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities, under the terms of which the Society agreed to assume the costs of maintaining and operating Hampton, provided it was acquired and restored by the United States. With this agreement and evidence of the Avalon Foundation grant before it, the Bureau of the Budget concurred in the project and subsequently both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as I recall, approved the acceptance of Hampton as an addition to the National Park System.
Now it is necessary to turn back briefly to another chain of events which helps explain how, by the late autumn of 1946, the National Park Service had become convinced of the need for a national non-governmental historic preservation organization and decided to explore this larger idea with Mr. Finley as the Hampton project developed. For some time officials of the National Park Service had been growing more and more aware of the major inroads which threatened historic sites and buildings in the United States during the postwar period. Problems that called for a response from the Service were springing up on every hand--on Washington Square in New York City and Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., at Fort Sumter, South Carolina and Fort Snelling, Minnesota, at Gettysburg and Fredericksburg and Natchez, and in many of the country's river valleys where large dams were under construction which would impound huge reservoirs and inundate much of the nation's historic and prehistoric record. I was invited to give a talk on these matters before a meeting of the American Association for State and Local History in Washington, D.C. on October 26, 1946. Aided by wise advance counsel from Mr. Demaray, I discussed numerous examples of pressing preservation problems then before the National Park Service and recommended a three-point action program which included a planned campaign to arouse public consciousness of the mounting need for historic preservation; active participation in preservation efforts by national, state and local governments and organizations at all levels; and lastly, "a special national conference. . .to discuss problems of conserving historic sites and buildings in the United States."
Meanwhile, Mr. George A. McAneny, President of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society in New York had become aware of many of these problems even before their seriousness was fully appreciated within the National Park Service. Founded as a national preservation organization in 1895, for many years the Society had encouraged conservation projects throughout the country, but by 1946 its activities had become focused primarily upon historic and scenic areas in New York State. Mr. McAneny, however, had never lost sight of its national preservation purpose and concluded that in the postwar period the Society should either spread its wings again, or a new national preservation organization should be founded. During the autumn of 1946 he discussed his conclusions with me and other officials of the National Park Service. Mr. McAneny was in close touch with the Service partly because as President of the Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, he had participated in 1938 in the rescue of the Old Philadelphia Custom House from sale by the Treasury Department and probable demolition, and had helped instead in its establishment as a National Historic Site. As Chairman of the Federal Hall Memorial Associates, Mr. McAneny strongly resisted the proposed sale of the old Sub-Treasury Building on Wall and Broad Streets in New York City by the Treasury Department in 1939 and helped make possible its permanent preservation as the Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site. Furthermore, immediately after World War II, Mr. McAneny led a movement to prevent the demolition of old Castle Garden in Battery Park in New York City during construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and did much to help secure its permanent preservation as the Castle Clinton National Monument, authorized by Congress in August 1946. I worked closely with Mr. McAneny on each of these projects.
On October 28, 1946, Mr. McAneny invited me to dinner in New York City with Mr. Eric Gugler and Dr. Francis S. Ronalds to discuss the possibility of mobilizing new and broader interest in the conservation of historic sites and buildings in the United States. Our talk led to the formulation of a tentative plan to bring together a dozen or so individuals, perhaps under the auspices of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, to explore the problem further. Mr. McAneny felt that the possibility of useful accomplishment would be much improved, however, if the new organization were formed with Washington, D.C. as its focal point. After helpful discussions with Mr. Demaray I sent a letter to Mr. McAneny on November 8, 1946, suggesting the names of some fifteen persons influential in local, state and national circles who might be invited together for a preliminary meeting. Nothing came of this then, however, for a very good reason. About this time, as it happened, Mr. McAneny visited Washington, D.C. to discuss matters of mutual concern with the National Park Service. Having very much in mind both Mr. McAneny's and Mr. Finley's deep interest in historic preservation, I suggested to Mr. McAneny that we call on Mr. Finley together and discuss with him the idea of an exploratory historic preservation meeting. Dr. Christopher Crittenden, founder of the American Association for State and Local History and an old friend of mine, happened to also be in Washington and I invited him to join us. It was through these circumstances that Mr. Finley, Mr. McAneny, Dr. Crittenden and I sat down together in Mr. Finley's office in the National Gallery of Art late in the autumn of 1946 to discuss the possibility of a new national preservation organization. At that meeting, it became very clear that Mr. Finley, as Director of the National Gallery of Art, Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission, and as a distinguished leader of cultural affairs in the National Capital, could do much to help lead and strengthen the historic preservation cause in the United States. Mr. Finley at once offered his full counsel and support and the admirable facilities of the National Gallery of Art for exploratory meetings looking toward the launching of the new organization. As a result of this conference, Mr. Finley invited ten persons representing as many organizations on whose participation we all agreed, to a preliminary gathering held in the National Gallery of Art on February 5, 1947 as described in Mr. Finley's valuable History of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Mr. Finley served as Chairman of the February 5th meeting and appointed Mr. McAneny Chairman of a Preparatory Committee for the April 15th meeting, on which Dr. Waldo Leland and I served as members. The second larger meeting was held in the National Gallery on April 15, 1947, attended by forty-one persons from a much wider circle of states and cities. At that meeting the new organization was formally launched. Mr. Robert Garrett, President of the Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities, who had signed the Hampton agreement, was one of the participants in the second meeting. You will recall very well your own presence and active participation there. As you well know, the result of all this was the legal incorporation of the National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings on June 23, 1947 followed by the chartering of the National Trust for Historic Preservation by Act of Congress on October 26, 1949. Mr. Finley became Chairman of the Executive Board of the National Council and then of the Board of Trustees of the National Trust, when it was organized. I was with Mr. McAneny in his room in the Shoreham Hotel in Washington on April 14, when he wrote into the draft of proposed by-laws of the National Council a clause instructing the members of its governing body to proceed promptly with all the steps necessary to establish a National Trust. Later, in 1947, I carried the draft of the bill to charter the National Trust to Cong. J. Hardin Peterson of Florida in his office on the Hill, and sat with him while he rewrote the preamble to insure that the bill would be referred to the House Public Lands Committee of which he was Chairman, rather than to the Judiciary Committee, so that he could support a favorable committee report. I served as the first voluntary Secretary of the Council, and then of the Trust, and Mrs. Lee, as another volunteer, did much of the early typing, until a salaried staff could be provided.
As I look back over those years, it appears to me that the National Trust for Historic Preservation had several roots, growing in part out of the complex conditions surrounding the preservation of historic sites during the aftermath of World War II and in part out of the varied backgrounds of the persons who organized it. Mr. David E. Finley's interest, which proved central to the whole effort, must have developed from many sources, including his experience not only as Director of the National Gallery of Art and Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission, but also as a member of the Roberts Commission concerned with protecting historic monuments in Europe during the course of World War II. Mr. McAneny's interest was also deep and long standing, growing out of his many years as President of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, Chairman of the Federal Hall Memorial Associates, and President of the Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation. Other persons who participated in the founding of the National Trust and named in Mr. Finley's book each had his own avenues of interest. Certainly Horace Albright had a recognized concern with historic preservation going back many years before 1931 when he established the History Division in the National Park Service as part of a new Federal preservation effort which included establishment of the Colonial and George Washington Birthplace National Monuments in 1930 and the transfer of all federal historical properties to the National Park Service in 1933. Dr. Waldo G. Leland, both through his work on the American Council of Learned Societies and through his position as Chairman of the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments, also had a long-standing concern with this cause. Judge Edwin O. Lewis, Chairman of the Philadelphia National Shrines Park Commission, had helped to sponsor the national interest in Federal preservation legislation in 1934 and 1935, which resulted in adoption of the Historic Sites Act in 1935, and of course he led the postwar preservation movement in Philadelphia. Dr. Guy Stanton Ford had been President of the American Historical Association and in 1946, was serving as its Executive Secretary. Although General U.S. Grant, III, did not attend the February meeting, he became a leading participant in April and because of his distinguished stature was elected the first president of the National Council. Mr. James Edmunds, President of the American Institute of Architects, reflected that organization's interest in preservation as expressed by its preservation committees and in the Historic American Buildings Survey.
Others who were present, including yourself, had equally deep interest in helping to find the means to meet the multiplying problems of historic preservation in the aftermath of World War II. In this setting, Hampton may be considered the first postwar project that brought these complex conditions into focus and revealed the opportunity to bring together influential persons who could create and support a new national body to help preserve the historic heritage of the United States.
Last Updated: 07-Jul-2008