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Historical Context


Reading 1
Reading 2



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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: For Future Generations

Dr. Croghan’s Will and Plans for a National Park
The death of the last heir of Dr. Croghan in 1926 coincided with a movement to establish more national parks east of the Mississippi River, closer to the country’s more populated areas. Mammoth Cave seemed an obvious candidate for park status and had support within the state. The project to make it into a park proved difficult, however, because unlike the vast lands included in western parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, the area around Mammoth Cave had become populated with small farms and local businesses. More than 600 families called the would-be park home, and many of these families had been among the area’s first settlers. Many of them did not want to leave their land and opposed the establishment of a park.

At the same time, many knowledgeable people feared that if Mammoth Cave were sold at public auction it could be divided up and might quickly be destroyed. They believed that the only way to ensure protection of the cave for future generations was to have it declared a national park. Congress agreed. President Calvin Coolidge signed the legislation creating Mammoth Cave National Park on May 25, 1926. The act made the creation of the park dependent on the donation of the land to the federal government. The act recognized the role to be played by the Mammoth Cave National Park Association, which was formed in 1924 by area citizens interested in promoting Mammoth Cave as a national park.

Statewide leaders from Kentucky supported the efforts because attracting more visitors to Kentucky benefited the state’s economy. In 1928 the state legislature created the Kentucky National Park Commission to help acquire the land. It took until 1941 for sufficient land to be purchased and donated to the National Park Service for the area to be designated a national park.

The struggle to acquire the land was at times a sad and bitter process. Most of the landowners were farmers who were barely making a living. After the Great Depression struck, many of these poor people were forced to think about leaving their farms to earn money elsewhere. This would mean abandoning property that had been in their family for generations. For a few, pride of ownership and family heritage were so strong that they would rather live in poverty than move.

The National Park Service’s vision for Mammoth Cave National Park was in conflict with those feelings. As with other national parks at the time, Mammoth Cave would be protected as a large natural area without signs of human use, such as buildings. The commission used laws to force people to sell their land, which would become Mammoth Cave National Park. Some of those owners were happy to be able to sell the unproductive farmland to the government; a few even donated some of their acreage. Others fought the commission to hold onto the place they knew as home.

Over time, the commission obtained deed to the land and razed farmhouses, barns, schools, and other buildings. Exceptions were made only for some church property. Even though the congregations would no longer live nearby, the church grounds continued to be important to many people. For example, there are more than 70 cemeteries within park borders, many of which are still open for the burials of people who have relatives already buried there.

Joppa Church and its cemetery is one of only three remaining church buildings with adjoining cemeteries located in the park. In 1990 Mrs. Lydia Minyard, a local citizen, was asked to describe her feelings about the Joppa Church--the one she had attended all her life. She said that when she approached the old church she felt like she was "a few steps closer to heaven." She added that her husband and little boy were buried in the church cemetery and she looked forward to the day when she would join them. In the spring of 1993, Mrs. Minyard was laid to rest in the family plot only a short distance from the church of which she spoke so fondly.

Like the American Indians who originally inhabited the land, the descendants of the European settlers who arrived in the Green River Valley in the 1790s also were displaced from land that had belonged to their families for a long time. As a national park, the land now belongs to all Americans and must be protected for their benefit and enjoyment for all time.

Just like the decisions made in the past about the management of Mammoth Cave National Park, decisions made today about land and resources in our own communities will affect not only the resources themselves, but also their ability to enrich the quality of life we derive from them.

Questions for Reading 3

1. Why did people want Mammoth Cave to become a national park?

2. Why was it important to obtain single ownership of the Mammoth Cave area? How would you feel if you had to leave your home so that a park could be created?

3. How was the land acquired?

4. What buildings were left in the region after the park was established? Why were those building spared when others were not?

Reading 3 was compiled from Kelly A. Lally, "Joppa Baptist Church and Cemetery" (Edmonson County, Kentucky) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1989; Cecil E. Goode, World Wonder Saved: How Mammoth Cave Became a National Park (Mammoth Cave, Ky.: The Mammoth Cave National Park Association, 1986); and Lynwood Montell, Oral History Tapes, Mammoth Cave National Park, 1994.


Comments or Questions

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