New Deal Roadside Landscape Features

Edward Barber's rustic timber balustrade sensitively protected visitors atop the Gooseberry Falls Concourse, 1936.

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Historical Overview + Documentation


More About Rustic Style


(image) Rustic style signs often marked the entrance to rest areas and overlooks.

NPS Rustic Style

While several New Deal programs furnished the manpower to construct Minnesota’s early roadside facilities, it was the National Park Service (NPS) that helped influence their exceptional designs. Along with technical assistance came one of the most enduring legacies of the Park Service, a design philosophy that we now call the NPS Rustic style. This philosophy was based on the concept that a man-made structure is always an intrusion on the natural landscape, but its impact can be limited through the use of native materials such as log or stone, and a hand-crafted appearance.

The Park Service had been experimenting with various styles for a number of years before concluding that the Rustic style was the most appropriate for park design. A NPS publication entitled, “National Park Service Rustic Architecture: 1916-1942,” noted that, "Perhaps for the first time in history a building became an accessory to nature."

In May 1933 the NPS opened a branch office in St. Paul called the Minnesota Central Design Office. The office, headed by architect Edward W. Barber, was responsible for providing assistance to develop the Minnesota State Park system and designing hundreds of state park buildings. The NPS office also helped design some of the highway department's facilities, particularly those sites built by the CCC.

In Minnesota, the use of the Rustic style resulted in an incredible variety of features built with deeply-hued granite, warm limestone, colorful fieldstone, and even logs, depending on locally available materials. Construction was finely-crafted and labor-intensive, methods generally too costly to recreate today. The subtle qualities of the Rustic style tend to mask the sophistication of the designs. The sites were often planted with native species that were long-lived and required little maintenance. The resulting roadside parks seem to emerge from the natural landscape and appear to be one with the land.

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