America's National Monuments
The Politics of Preservation
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Chapter 10:
History and the National Monuments

When Stephen T. Mather set the Park Service as the guardian of the ceremonial landscapes, he unwittingly impressed a one-dimensional role upon his agency. Mather had developed the system and left an indelible imprint upon it, but his personal experience limited his view of what was important. A Californian by birth and education, he had treasured the scenic magnificence of the western parks and when he laid the basis for national parks like Great Smokey Mountains in the East, he had created them in the western image. The parks included high elevations and the most spectacular scenery the agency could find, but they presented only one aspect of American tradition: their expansiveness showed the milieu that pitted humanity against its environment. Well-promoted the parks doubled as recreational areas, but Americans eventually sought other facets of their heritage. By the 1920s, the American republic had a history of its own, revealed in places far more important than the Verendrye National Monument. It became more worthy of federal attention as the cultural distance between twentieth-century America and its westward frontier grew. As the United States emerged on the international scene, national sentiment supported federal preservation as a means to explore more than the interaction between humanity and the physical environment.

Prior to 1930, agency officials yearned for a significant historic presence under the jurisdiction of the Park Service. Colonial and Wakefield revolutionized the view the agency held of its responsibilities and gave agency officials a precedent not only for adding such places, but for sizable capital investment as well. The two areas became popular with travelers, and gratified by the response of the public, Albright and his staff sought more historic places.

The presence of the Park Service in historic preservation altered the role of the agency. According to Albright, the agency "doubled [its] efforts" to acquire important historical areas. [14] After the emergence of the educational division, which was staffed by museum and academic professionals, the agency began to see that the scenic beauty of the national parks had limited potential for interpretive programs. The addition of places like Williamsburg and the George Washington Birthplace National Monument allowed the agency to expand into interpreting the story of the American republic in a way that scenic parks never could.

In part, the growing emphasis upon history helped put the Park Service beyond the reach of the Forest Service. The majority of historic places were located on small tracts east of the Mississippi River, where the Forest Service had only a limited presence. Whereas the disposition of federal land in the West had forced the two agencies into competition, even the broadest vision of the responsibilities of the Forest Service did not include interest in historic areas. As the Park Service entered historic preservation, the Forest Service generally paid little attention. Finally, the Park Service found a way to circumvent whatever opposition to its plans the Forest Service may have had.

Even more telling, historic places were an avenue of interpretation that Frank Pinkley had not explored. As the highest echelons of the agency sought to curtail his role during the 1930s and as his work became less unique, Pinkley found others in the agency filling roles previously reserved for him. Because historic places offered meaningful opportunities for interpretation, the educational division seized upon American history in an effort to counter Pinkley's constant complaints. Harold C. Bryant and his staff used the gap in interpreting historic places to their own advantage to increase the importance of the Division of Education.

The educational division sought to establish a rationale for a systematic presentation of the historic past. The Park Service administered random episodes of American history, a perspective that Verne Chatelain, the man Albright hired as historian for the Division of Education, found inadequate. In 1931 he articulated the premise that historic areas had to be presented "not [as] a research program but [as] an educational program in the broader sense." Chatelain refined his thoughts over the following year and, with Roger Toll, the superintendent of Yellowstone who was headed for the highest level in the agency until his death in a automobile accident near Big Bend National Park in February 1936, reported that the agency needed to approach its areas from an integrative perspective. It was "unsound, uneconomical, and detrimental to a historical system and policy to study each individual area without reference to the entire scheme of things." [15]

Chatelain's proposals offered the agency a new perspective for interpretive programs. He suggested locating each episode within the larger picture of the American past. The idea, a comprehensive approach to interpreting the past, was new. Even Pinkley's efforts had been largely episodic. As a result, Chatelain's proposal had the added benefit of decreasing the significance of Pinkley's contributions to the interpretation policy of the agency.

Chatelain first tried to implement his concept at Colonial National Monument. After the creation of the monument, he guided the development of a historical program that the agency hoped would "serve as a link to bind the past to the present and be a guide and an inspiration for the future." The linkage between Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown neatly encapsulated what the agency and the public regarded as the important facets of the first two centuries of Anglo-American inhabitation of the eastern seaboard. As the Park Service developed its interpretation at Colonial under two young historians, B. Floyd Flickinger and Elbert Cox, the presentation of the monument became part of a move to link the foundations of the American republic. [16]

Chatelain continued to push the idea of synthesizing the message of historic areas within the system. "Unless there is a real philosophy of history," he told Arthur E. Demaray in April 1933, "it will be easy enough to spend our time in academic discussions . . . and never seriously tackle the bigger task." The larger "patterns of history" were what Chatelain sought, and rather than search for the story of each battlefield and house, Chatelain advocated exploring the larger questions and subsequently relating individual areas to broad themes. [17]

He also echoed earlier Park Service notions about adding areas of national significance to the system. As Cammerer noted in the Meriwether Lewis case, the federal government had to be careful what it chose to preserve lest every small town organization offer its local landmarks. Chatelain settled upon three types of areas that he felt belonged in the federal network. The places that offered an outline of the major themes of American history were important, as were the ones with strong connections to the lives of famous Americans and the locations of dramatic episodes in the American history. [18] To preclude inundation by insistent locals, he suggested that the agency ignore potential areas that did not meet his criteria. By 1933 Chatelain had established the roots of a system and solid reasoning for the continued growth of agency interest in historic areas.

But it was Executive Order 6166, which went into effect on 10 August 1933, that truly put the National Park Service into the business of historic preservation. Roosevelt's order to reorganize the federal government transferred the national monuments previously administered by the Forest Service and the War Department, as well as the battlefield parks and cemeteries and the public parks in Washington, D.C., to the Park Service. The centralization of the administration of the monuments was the result of three decades of lobbying by park advocates, and after 1916, by NPS personnel. This hard-won "inheritance" made the National Park Service an entity with a national constituency and multiple responsibilities. It also made the agency not only arbiters of the natural and prehistoric heritage of the nation, but the guardian of its federally preserved history as well.

In effect, Horace Albright's interests dovetailed with those of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harold Ickes. Roosevelt wanted to reorganize government bureaucracies; from its inception in 1916, the Park Service had sought control of all the national monuments. The perspectives of Albright and Ickes interlocked closely in ideas about the value of historical experience. Their shared view also led to the development of educational programs for the newly acquired historic national monuments under the auspices of federal emergency relief programs such as the CCC and the WPA.

With this inheritance, the Park Service became the sole agency responsible for federal efforts at preservation. The reorganization presented the NPS with fifty-seven new historical areas to manage along with eleven additional natural areas, many of which required immediate administrative supervision and visitation programs. Fortunately, New Deal programs made funding available, but capital development was only one step toward a comprehensive system. With the added responsibility of historical parks of various kinds, something many old-line Park Service people felt was a burden, the Park Service needed a more flexible infrastructure. [19] Reorganizing the NPS was the first task that confronted Cammerer when he took over the directorship of the agency from Albright on 10 August 1933.

From its inception, the Park Service had relied heavily upon the personalities of its leadership. Mather and Albright ran every facet of the agency. But Cammerer was not as dynamic as his predecessors; although he spent many years carrying out the agenda that Mather and Albright designed, he played only a small role in shaping its priorities. With 137 park areas to administer, he needed to delegate responsibility, particularly for places of lesser importance. Pinkley had long ago taken care of the administration of the archaeological sites. Cammerer was left with responsibility for integrating the new areas into the established system.

As Frank Pinkley astutely predicted in 1929, the national monument category blurred as a result of the transfer. Although Pinkley succeeded in convincing many that the term national monument could be equated with archaeological preservation, Executive Order 6166 destroyed the clarity of his distinction. The Park Service now administered all kinds of historic places with an array of names; some were called national monuments, and of these, some were archaeological and others historical. The monuments were no longer alone in the system with the national parks. The agency also administered numerous other categories, such as national battlefields, national memorials, and national military parks. Park Service nomenclature had only begun to become confusing.

The obligations of the Park Service changed so dramatically as a result of the acquisition of these new parks that even the broad outline of the domain of the agency became murky. A generalization about natural or historic areas ceased to cover the range of areas under those headings, and the accentuation of the diversity of park areas presented new management problems. Mountaintop parks, representative-area national monuments, Civil War battlefields, Mormon forts, and archaeological sites did not offer a unified cultural message. The simple interaction between the director and the superintendents that characterized Mather's tenure became impossible with 137 areas, and Cammerer and his staff had to determine how to manage the broadened responsibilities of the newly expanded Park Service.

One response was the development of a more sophisticated system of administration. The Park Service moved toward integrated management, a process that began in 1937 as the agency divided itself into five geographic groupings of park areas. [20] The realignment created an intermediate level of administration between park superintendents and the office of the director. The regions, as the agency called these new entities, addressed the concerns of all the areas—historical, natural, archaeological, and recreational—within their jurisdiction.

Regionalization formalized the developing structure of the agency. After 1937 the informal hierarchy that had existed under Mather became a codified process. With the exception of Pinkley, who simply ignored the intermediaries at the Region III Office in Santa Fe, superintendents approached the Washington, D.C., office through their region. The new system sacrificed a degree of the personal contact between high-level officials and field personnel that characterized the Mather administration and, to a lesser extent, the Albright years. Despite protests to the contrary, the Park Service gave up some of its camaraderie in order to operate more efficiently.

Integrating its new historic areas into the system posed a major burden for the Park Service. Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields in the East required intensive management if they were to fulfill their promise, but before the agency could implement its interpretation programs, it had to transform these historic places into Park Service areas. Agency personnel had to bring each area up to Park Service standards. Often the policies of the previous administrators—the Forest Service and the War Department—conflicted with the plans of the Park Service. Particularly objectionable to the NPS was the War Department policy of leasing historic places to private groups. Bryant and his staff regarded the activities of private organizations as inferior and unprofessional. From Bryant's perspective, the agency had to implement its programs so that the public would identify the new acquisitions with the Park Service.

The reorganization of Fort Marion became a crucible and a test case for the Park Service. The fort had a built-in constituency; the climate in St. Augustine made the fort a popular stop for people visiting Florida in the winter. This project offered Bryant the opportunity to show what the difference was between Park Service interpretation and the efforts of local groups. If the agency could wrest control of the area away from the locals, implement its history policy, and make the fort into an important place for tourists, Fort Marion would offer the educational division great advantages.

Fortunately for the Park Service, conflict among local people in St. Augustine predated the transfer of Fort Marion to the Park Service in 1933. As early as 1930, local residents contacted Albright to complain about the tactics of the St. Augustine Historical Society. When the Park Service assumed jurisdiction, serious tension between the historical society and two other local groups—the City of St. Augustine and the local Veterans of Foreign Wars—already existed. Both wanted to acquire the contract that the historical society held. In 1933 the society was firmly entrenched; its lease had more than a year to run. Herbert Kahler, whom Verne Chatelain recruited out of the University of Minnesota history department graduate program to serve as an historical foreman on the CCC project at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Battlefield, became the Park Service representative in St. Augustine. It was his job to determine whether the lease should be renewed. [21]

What Kahler found was not impressive. Although only authorized to collect donations, the historical society guides were "hold[ing] the basket, so there is not much 'free will' about the offering." The guides told him that they had to be aggressive because visitors did not like to pay to inspect government property, but after watching the guides in action, Kahler was skeptical. The story the guides told consisted of "antiquarian details," Kahler reported, and they offered little in the way of interpretation. The usual tour took about fifteen to twenty minutes, and Kahler believed that its level was below the standards of the NPS. The public did not complain about the fees the NPS charged at its western parks, and Kahler suspected that people just did not want to pay for poor service. He thought that the existing guide service did little to maintain the interest of visitors and ought to be changed. [22]

There were other problems at Fort Marion, and Kahler believed the Park Service should not renew the existing lease. A museum containing "heterogeneous materials," including Spanish-American War relics and other items that had little to do with the history of the fort, particularly disturbed him. Following the procedures of the agency, he suggested its elimination. The City of St. Augustine, the historical society, and the local Veterans of Foreign Wars continued to quarrel over the monument, "primarily for its commercial value," Kahler observed. "I recommend that it be taken out of local hands." [23]

The Floridians feared that they would lose control of the fort and began to muster supporters, but the Park Service had no intention of changing its policy. The historical society enlisted Congressman W. J. Sears of Florida in its cause, and in January 1935 he approached the Park Service. The most direct person on the central office staff, Arthur E. Demaray, explained the position of the Park Service. He told Sears that it was a mistake to leave the historical society in control of the fort. Demaray believed that permanent administration by any local organization would create animosity among the factions, and that Park Service management of the fort was the only professional solution. "The practice of 'farming out' national historical parks and monuments," Demaray insisted, had to stop. [24]

As Cammerer considered the proposal, agency staffers made their opposition to the historical society clear. Kahler wrote to Cammerer that he believed the historical society to be "in the minority" and revealed that he had convinced Florida senator Park Trammel not to fight on behalf of the St. Augustinians. He urged the director to stick to his decision to terminate the agreement. Kahler's superior, Verne Chatelain, agreed. He thought that other elements in St. Augustine were jealous of the existing arrangement, "which is a money maker for the Society." [25]

The position of the Park Service at Fort Marion was typical of its stance in similar cases. Chatelain and Kahler argued that the agency represented the public good and that the historical society represented private profit. The Park Service disseminated information, whereas the guides of the historical society collected money from unsatisfied visitors. Within an agency that saw its role as serving the public, these officials found considerable sympathy. Cammerer decided that the Park Service should take over the areas as soon as the current lease expired.

In St. Augustine, Kahler began a publicity campaign to win friends for the Park Service, and his public proclamations enhanced the position of the agency. The Park Service had something to offer the community besides its administration, and Kahler made sure local citizens were informed. On 19 February 1935 the local newspaper, the St. Augustine Evening Record, revealed that the Park Service planned a budget allotment for the monument that would cover expenses and salaries. There would be no more "holding the basket." Kahler also said that the PWA intended to grant between $30,000 and $50,000 to restore decaying parts of the fort. [26] This meant jobs for local workers, the prospect of which made the community respond enthusiastically. By taking over a measure of economic responsibility for the people of the area, the Park Service outdistanced local organizations.

Kahler's work made the Park Service the more attractive alternative, and support for the local administration began to diminish. Despite the skepticism of David R. Dunham, the president of the historical society, who did not believe Kahler's press release, Mayor Walter B. Fraser announced that the city supported the Park Service. Local support for the historical society then evaporated. With the end of its lease approaching, members of the historical society became desperate and spread "fantastic tales" about the Park Service. To maintain the credibility of the NPS, Kahler countered with press releases. With the always persuasive Demaray handling the queries of the Florida congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and with Kahler pursuing the interests of the agency in St. Augustine, by the spring of 1935, federal administration of Fort Marion was imminent. [27]

Kahler was an effective advocate for agency interests in Florida and the Southeast. He had arrived in the middle of this conflict and managed to turn it to the advantage of the agency. Although technically a CCC employee until June 1935, Kahler was already indispensable to the Park Service. On 1 June 1935 the agency added him to its permanent payroll as the junior park historian for Fort Marion, and he continued to inspect southeastern parks like Fort Pulaski, Fort Jefferson, Fort Frederica, and Ocmulgee National Monuments for the agency. [28]

Cammerer, Demaray, and Chatelain looked favorably on Kahler's work, and he shouldered increased responsibility for national monuments in the Southeast. With a visible need to develop decentralized authority as a result of the reorganization of 1933, and the central office promoted Kahler to acting superintendent of the southeastern monuments group on 16 December 1935. Kahler had "shown courage and initiative in his work and discretion in the execution of his plan. His unfailing tact [had] done wonders to remove many troublesome problems at St. Augustine." [29] He filled an important vacancy at the regional level. His new role paralleled that of Frank Pinkley's in the Southwest.

With only one organization to pattern themselves upon, the Park Service adapted Pinkley's southwestern structure to the Southeast. The southeastern monuments consisted of Fort Marion and Fort Matanzas near St. Augustine, Fort Pulaski, Fort Frederica, and Ocmulgee in Georgia, Castle Pinckney in Charleston, South Carolina, and Fort Jefferson in Florida. In structure, it was a geographic grouping similar to Pinkley's group. Organized similarly, with a superintendent at the top and custodians who reported to him, the southeastern national monuments group even put out its own monthly report magazine.

There were major differences between the two organizations and their leaders. The southeastern group was never as controversial as Pinkley's. Kahler joined the agency as its institutional structure was flourishing. He never had the autonomy that Pinkley enjoyed during the 1920s, nor did he ever become embroiled in the kinds of issues for which Pinkley was famous. Kahler's southeastern monuments generally covered historic themes and, from an interpretive perspective, were more coherent than Pinkley's areas. Only Ocmulgee, an archaeological mound near Macon, Georgia, did not relate to the European presence in the New World. Kahler also had a wider range of tourist figures to contend with. At one end of the spectrum, Castle Pinckney was closed to the public. At the other end, from June 1934 to June 1935, the last full year before the Park Service took it over, guides escorted 134,049 visitors through Fort Marion, a figure that equalled almost half of what all Frank Pinkley's monuments received in a year. [30] This level of visitation, particularly with the required guide service, created numerous headaches for Kahler.

The changes that the Park Service instituted at Fort Marion were typical of its development of historic places during the 1930s. The story of Fort Marion was closely related to textbook history, making Kahler's job easy. It revealed an early stage of European civilization in the New World, and the battles between the Spanish and English colonists added spice to its story. In a major tourist location, with extensive year-round visitation, Fort Marion was accessible, rich in history, and mild in climate. After wresting it from private concerns, the historical division of the Park Service, with help from CCC employees and a WPA allotment, administered the monument with complete educational programs, concessions, and other amenities more closely associated with the national parks. Areas like it were showplaces for the specialists that came to dominate the interpretive policy of the agency during the 1930s.

Fort Marion had broad appeal to a nation increasingly concerned with the development of its own traditions. It conveyed an image of a "usable" past, available to affirm American desires. Americans no longer had to look to Europe and the ancient world to see their cultural roots. The North American continent had a human past worthy of consideration. By the time the National Park Service moved to the forefront of historic preservation, Americans saw the European past on this continent as evidence of the advancement of civilization as they understood it.

The developments of the 1930s put the agency in the field of historic preservation in a manner that no federal agency had previously attempted. Fort Marion and the other areas acquired from the military, along with the Colonial and George Washington Birthplace national monuments, offered the best opportunities for the Park Service to make an impact with the interpretation of historical events. Interpreting the written record of the European past was easier than understanding the artifacts and structures of the pre-Columbian Southwest. The reorganization of 1933 gave the agency the chance to expand its horizons, and dynamic agency personnel did not allow the opportunity to slip away.

The reorganization of 1933 also transformed the NPS in other, more subtle ways. Besides giving the agency a national constituency and making it the primary agency concerned with preservation in the United States, the reorganization contributed to the move toward regionalization in the agency. The new historic areas forced the agency to reconsider the role of areas that did not belong to the national park category. Such places acquired a new significance as the NPS became the public arbiter of American values. As the Park Service interpreted historic places—these transformed by dynamic New Deal policies—agency officials took responsibility for conveying the continuity of European experience in the Americas.


America's National Monuments: The Politics of Preservation
©1989, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
©1994, University Press of Kansas
All rights reserved by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

rothman/chap10a.htm — 04-Feb-2005

Copyright © 1989 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Material from this edition published by the University Press of Kansas by arrangement with the University of Illinois Press and may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and the University of Illinois Press.