What is a National Monument?

A Civil War cannon.
Camp Nelson National Monument protects objects of historic interest from the area's use as a Union camp and supply depot during the Civil War.

NPS photo.

What is a “national monument” established by the President?

A “national monument” established by the President protects “objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government” (54 U.S.C. § 320301, known as the Antiquities Act). If the national monument is administered by the National Park Service (NPS), as many national monuments are, it is subject to the same laws and policies as govern other units of the National Park System. Thus, an NPS national monument established by the President is a protected area similar to a national park, administered for the protection and enjoyment of its resources and values.

How does an area become a national monument?

To be established by the President, the area must meet the criteria of the Antiquities Act (54 U.S.C § 320301), including having objects of historic or scientific interest located on land already owned or controlled by the Federal government. The views of the public are carefully considered in the process. National monuments can also be created by Congress under their own enabling statutes, rather than the Antiquities Act. National monuments can be administered by Federal agencies other than NPS. The Presidential proclamation or Congressionally-enacted statute creating the national monument typically indicates which Federal agency will administer it.

What constitutes Camp Nelson National Monument?

Camp Nelson National Monument protects and interprets three discontiguous locations in Jessamine County, consisting of approximately 380-acres of the core historic Civil War-era Camp Nelson site, roughly 20 miles southwest of Lexington, Kentucky. These locations include the main encampment area and sites associated with the Home for Colored Refugees.

Many Union supply depots were situated in or near large urban areas such as Louisville, Chattanooga, New Orleans, and Chicago, and their associated landscape and remaining archeological resources have been destroyed by post-Civil War development. Because of its rural location and grass roots preservation efforts within Jessamine County, Camp Nelson is considered one of the best-preserved Civil War-era depots, hospitals, recruiting centers, and refugee camp sites in the nation.

The national monument is comprised of pastures, open fields, and wood lots similar to the site’s pre- and post-war appearance. Camp Nelson’s well-preserved landscape includes numerous features from the Civil War era; they include earthen fortifications, entrenchments, building foundations, historic road remnants, and springs. The Oliver Perry House/“White House” is the only surviving extant structure associated with Camp Nelson’s Civil War history. This 1855 Greek Revival house was commandeered by the Union army for use as the Quartermaster and Commissary officers’ quarters and eventually returned to the Perry family after the war.

Operated in partnership with Jessamine County, a visitor center featuring museum exhibits on the history of Camp Nelson as well as a reconstructed army barracks building are located within the National Monument. The Camp Nelson National Monument is also recognized as an official site on the NPS National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Today, the site of Camp Nelson remains one of the best preserved landscapes and archeological sites associated with Civil War-era U.S. Colored Troops recruitment camps and the African American refugee experience. The site speaks to the stories of transformation from enslavement to citizenship and of the extraordinary endurance and courage of the individuals who reshaped their own lives and the course of our nation.

What happens now that the area has been designated a national monument?

The National Park Service is beginning to work on the development of a management plan, to ensure that the new national monument preserves the site’s resources and provides for an outstanding visitor experience. The National Park Service’s planning for the new park will be done with full public involvement and in coordination with Jessamine County, Kentucky and other stakeholders. Open houses and public meetings will be held to discuss the management plan and invite the public to share ideas for the future of the monument.

Last updated: December 16, 2019

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