EARLY INTERPRETIVE EFFORTS
Prior to NPS control of Moores Creek in 1933, the battleground had no interpretive program. The MCMA used the site primarily for annual celebrations. Beyond the erection of the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge Monument and the reconstruction of the bridge, the War Department made no attempt to interpret the historical significance of the park. Even during the first three years of NPS administration, little was done to enlighten visitors about the events of the battle.
In 1936, interpretation became a priority when Moores Creek received its first historian ranger position. Consequently, the park began collecting general Revolutionary War materials and contacting local schools about visiting the battleground. Public indifference led the park to start an extensive education program. Superintendent King took charge of the program and gave 167 lectures to nearly sixteen thousand grade school and high school students and teachers. In addition, he gave a fifteen-minute talk about the park on radio station WPTF in Raleigh; mimeographed information circulars were prepared for public distribution. In an effort to improve interpretation at the park, staff prepared text for six interpretive markers and developed educational exhibits for a proposed museum. The central exhibit was to be a map of North Carolina in 1776. Other exhibits would highlight the story of the Moores Creek campaign, the Revolutionary War in the South, natural features in the park, and other national park areas. These ideas were drawn together in a museum plan and submitted to the regional office in May 1939.
That same year, King enclosed an MCMA dance pavilion for use as a temporary museum to provide visitors with information on events surrounding the battle. Exhibits produced both at Moores Creek and at Colonial National Historical Park focused on the battle's background, the preliminaries, the battle campaign, Patriot artifacts, Loyalist artifacts, the southern campaign, the battlefield, natural history, and other national parks in the region.
Besides the temporary museum, Moores Creek staff made other improvements to the park's interpretive program before World War II. In 1939, two narrative markers, four site markers, and four signs were placed around the battleground to mark significant points of interest and to direct visitors to the primary historic features. In June 1940, the park published its first information folder. In 1941, the two Civil War cannon were exchanged with Petersburg NB for a 1760 half-pound swivel gun and a 1748 two-pound cast iron cannon. These cannon marked the park's first exhibit of authentic Revolutionary War artifacts. Throughout the 1940s, the park's efforts to interpret the battleground were handicapped by the lack of permanent exhibits and appropriate facilities. A 1949 museum prospectus specifically identified the need for permanent exhibit and storage space for artifacts.
THE IMPACT OF MISSION 66 ON INTERPRETATION
As part of Moores Creek NMP's planning for Mission 66 development, a prospectus was prepared for a proposed visitor center and museum in 1953. It maintained that a visitor center was crucial for full implementation of the interpretive program at the park. Containing pictures, maps, and objects, the visitor center would serve as an orientation for the battleground. Visitors would then proceed to a self-guided trail leading through the earthworks to the Patriot Monument, past the two cannon to the Negro Head Point Road causeway, and to the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge Monument where an audio station would be located. The trail would then proceed along the historic road causeway past the earthworks. A wayside exhibit would be located along this portion of the trail.
The vision of a new visitor center and corresponding interpretive program was delayed until the arrival of Mission 66 funding in 1958. Meanwhile, park staff continued to improve the existing interpretive program. In March 1954, a new wayside exhibit was installed, and a self-guided trail was laid out the following month. However, shortage of staff and lack of proper facilities continued to hamper interpretive efforts. Interpretation was especially difficult at the entrance since it was only one hundred feet from the center of Highway 210.
Completion of the visitor center and museum in 1958 finally allowed installation of permanent exhibits. By 1961, there were displays about North Carolina's settlement, the pre-Revolutionary War history of the area, and the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge and its aftermath. The displays featured period artifacts of various ethnic groups in colonial North Carolina, including the Scottish Highlanders. An experimental electric campaign map was set up; a diorama was planned for installation in 1962. During this same time, several area residents urged the park to display a chair associated with Mary Slocumb in the visitor center museum. Superintendent Ford opposed the display in an effort to distance the park from the legend of Slocumb's ride. To support Ford's position, Park Historian S. Michael Hubbell conducted historical research that essentially discredited the Slocumb story. In addition to displays, the Eastern National Park and Monument Association soon established a sales area in the visitor center, beginning its involvement in what would become a number of park endeavors in the ensuing decades. The museum was supplemented by new wayside exhibits on the battleground and an audio station at the bridge site. The interpretive program was now far more comprehensive that at any previous time.
Additions to the interpretive program continued to be made throughout the remainder of the 1960s. In 1966, the park initiated year-round use of its audio program, which had been relocated to the visitor center for four months of the year. The MCBA assisted by printing one-page handouts. Roving personal interpretation was sometimes offered, but limited staffing usually hampered this service. In fact, visitor center hours, picnic area availability, and the number of talks offered were reduced due to staff limitations in 1967.
NEW INTERPRETIVE DIRECTIONS AFTER MISSION 66
The 1969 Moores Creek NMP Master Plan outlined the themes and direction of the park's interpretive program. The themes were defined as the clash of loyalties and cultural backgrounds that created factions ready for battle, the military campaign and troop movements that led to and included the battle, and the results of the battle. The causes and results of the battle were to be presented in the visitor center, while the battle itself was to be interpreted on the battleground.
In addition to the guidelines of the master plan, Regional Interpretive Specialist Donald Robinson made recommendations following his visit to the park in 1970. He suggested that the park prepare a historical handbook, clear the area along the creek between the two cannon and the bridge, replace the audio station at the cannon position, and seek additional permanent staff positions.
A long-range interpretive planning session took place in August 1997 with John Beck from the Southeast Support Office serving as meeting facilitator and plan author. The resulting plan called for adaptive reuse of the old restrooms to enlarge the visitor center museum, new exhibits, a new audiovisual presentation, and most significantly, planking on the reconstructed bridge crossing Moores Creek. Since it has long been accepted that the exact bridge design will probably never be known, it was determined that the bridge is most effectively interpreted with a wayside exhibit, while the battle story is interpreted best when visitors can retrace the Loyalist march across the bridge.
The American Revolution Bicentennial
In 1972, plans to renovate the visitor center took shape in preparation for the American Revolution Bicentennial. Completed in 1974, the remodeled visitor center featured a new thirteen-panel display, an audiovisual slide program, a diorama, and a collection of restored period weapons. The new exhibits emphasized the background of the colonial era, events leading up to the battle, the battle and its aftermath, and period weapons and equipment. Other preparations included various projects in cooperation with the North Carolina and Pender County Bicentennial Committees, the MCBA, the Pender County Historical Society, and the Pender County Centennial Committee. One project was a slide program developed by park staff and presented off-site to civic and church groups. This program highlighted NPS Bicentennial activities with special emphasis on parks set aside as Bicentennial showcases.
One way in which the NPS broadened its interpretive focus after Mission 66 was through living history. Although critics charge that living history sanitizes the past, especially at battlefields, supporters view it as a valuable technique to increase visitor interest and make history more tangible. Living history interpretation in the NPS began with weapon firing demonstrations at Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP and Antietam NB in 1961. The f&t military living history demonstrations by interpreters in period costume occurred at Fort Davis NHS in 1965. With the strong backing of NPS Director George B. Hartzog, Jr., living history programs became a standard part of interpretation at national battlefields and other historical parks during the late 1960s and early 1970s. By 1974, over one hundred national parks had initiated living history programs, including Moores Creek.
Moores Creek's first living history program began in 1972 and included an interpreter dressed in a Patriot uniform at a simulated camp on summer weekends. At other times during the year, weapon demonstrations were conducted. Although rather basic, the living history program was successful in generating visitor interest. In 1973, the program was expanded with the addition of a Scottish Highlander component. Interpreters dressed in period costume walked the battleground playing bagpipes and demonstrating battle-period weapons. Patriot interpreters demonstrated the use of the Brown Bess musket. The program also added the North Carolina Minuteman, a costumed interpreter that visited schools in New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Duplin, and Onslow Counties. At the park, costumed interpreters staged military camp scenes and demonstrations. Interpreters received training at a "military arts camp of instruction" that was first held in 1974. During the 1980s and 1990s, the park continued its summer living history programs and expanded its outreach programs to local schools and community groups.
During the 1960s, NPS interpretive policies were also directed towards environmental education. Environmental issues received significant national attention with the passage of several landmark bills, including the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act. Under the leadership of Director Hartzog, NPS policy leaders showed increasing interest in developing study areas at parks to educate the public on the environment. Between 1968 and 1975, the NPS created an office of environmental education at the Washington headquarters, developed environmental study areas at eighty parks, and initiated environmental programs for schools.
By 1972, environmental education became a priority at Moores Creek. That year park staff contacted the Pender County school system and other organizations about the possibility of a cooperative venture. In addition, the park prepared a handbook and guide for teachers who wished to take advantage of the environmental study area and trail that were developed in the park. Representatives from the NPS, the Pender Academy, and the Soil Conservation Service formed a steering committee to develop a workshop designed for teachers. The stated purpose was to develop environmental awareness among students through outdoor classrooms. In addition, the park began showing a variety of films on the environment, national parks, natural resources, and related subjects in Patriots Hall on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Reserved exclusively for local residents, this program proved to be quite popular. However, momentum slowed as the approaching Bicentennial shifted attention away from environmental education to historical interpretation in time for the 1976 celebration.
In an effort to combine historical and environmental interpretation, Park Historian Terry Maze prepared a conceptual plan for the Tarheel Trail in 1981. King had first proposed a nature trail in 1939, but the idea was slow to develop until construction of a trail finally took place in 1975. Originally called the Colonial Nature Trail, it consisted of a hard surface of soil cement just over one quarter of a mile looping through the wooded area at the southeast corner of the park. Maze renewed King's idea to use this trail to tell the story of the naval stores industry and its significant role in the history of the region. The wayside exhibit plan was completed in 1979, and three years later, a contract was awarded to Miles Higgins of Wilmington to produce eighteen line drawings for use on the thirteen trail waysides. Installed in 1982, the exhibits were designed by Permaloy Systems of Salt Lake City, Utah.
By the early 1980s, the environmental education focus within the NPS had lost momentum. The notion of historical parks educating the public on environmental issues rather than focusing on history was always controversial within the agency. By the early 1980s, NPS Director Russell E. Dickenson was steering the service's interpretive programs away from environmental education, especially at the historical parks.
New Interpretive Programs and Facilities
While the environmental education emphasis faded, Moores Creek continued outreach efforts for school children. Between 1978 and 1980, the park developed a well-planned program with eighteenth-century games that acquainted students with the hardships of colonial life. By taking advantage of authority to fund the transportation of school children, the park was able to arrange field trips for 750 students in 1980. During the same year, the park prepared a children's brochure and distributed forty-eight hundred copies to local teachers to assist them with preparing for park visits.
Other additions were made to the interpretive program during the 1980s. In 1982, two manikins, one dressed as a Patriot and the other a Loyalist, were put on display in the visitor center museum. The following year, two interpretive signs were installed along the History Trail. One sign was placed next to the Stage Road Monument; the other sign interpreted the partially reconstructed earthworks. In 1986, the interpretive budget suffered a large cut, but the staff still managed to double the number of programs offered. Financed through a cooperative venture with eleven organizations, the staff was able to produce a historical handbook as a sales item that year.
In 1989, the west side of Moores Creek was opened to visitors after construction of a 315-foot boardwalk and eighty-foot bridge. Both projects were recommended in the 1969 master plan and the 1972 DCP Completed in eleven days, the boardwalk was a volunteer project of Fort Bragg's 37th Engineer Brigade, which donated all the labor. Utilizing fee enhancement funds, the park added two wayside exhibits with information about the area's natural history.
With help from the MCBA, off-site rack cards were printed and distributed to welcome centers and tourist attractions within a 158-mile radius of the park. In 1992, a television and video cassette player with closed caption capabilities were purchased to show video programs in the visitor center. Two years later, the park began showing its new video, The Battle of Moores Creek. This program proved to be an excellent orientation to the park and its historical significance.
In 1996, park staff authored two new interpretive brochures, one about naval stores and the other concerning the Halifax Resolves. A new teacher's guide was developed with some assistance from Pender County schools. Replacement of the History Trail wayside exhibits began in 1998 with Paul Singer Design of New York City as the contractor. The plan included eleven new exhibits. A design study was also undertaken in that same year to evaluate structural and architectural changes needed to adaptively reuse the old restroom area as part of the visitor center museum. An architect from the Denver Service Center and an exhibit planner from the Harpers Ferry Center produced a design and production cost estimate.
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