Building the National Parks: Historic Landscape Design and Construction


Linda Flint McClelland

This is an image of book entitled Building the National Parks by Linda Flint McClelland. [Image of constructed cabin with bare roof in the National Park]More than fifty years ago the Civilian Conservation Corps ended, and with it concluded a grand era of park-building marked by naturalistic principles, craftsmanship, and native materials. Rooted in the writings of Andrew Jackson Downing and the nineteenth-century urban parks of Frederick Law Olmsted and others, naturalistic park design flourished in the twentieth century in the United States under the stewardship of the National Park Service. With the founding of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, national parks were charged with the paradoxical dual mission to make the nation's finest natural wonders accessible to the general public while preserving them unimpaired for the enjoyment and appreciation of future generations.

At the urging of conservation-minded individuals and organizations including the American Civic Association and American Society of Landscape Architects, Congress established a National Park Service to administer the national parks in 1916. Shortly thereafter in 1918, an official policy called upon national park designers to locate and construct roads, trails, and other facilities in ways that harmonized with the natural setting and ensured that the natural wonders and scenery remained unimpaired. In subsequent decades, park designers--landscape architects, architects, and engineers--forged a rich legacy of scenic roads and trails, picturesque park villages, campgrounds and picnic areas, scenic overlooks, and majestic views.

Building the National Parks is a comprehensive history of the policy, principles, and practices of landscape design through which the natural parks of the National Park System became accessible to ever-increasing numbers of visitors. Written primarily from the perspective of landscape architecture, the book traces the evolution of the naturalistic ethic for park design in the United States from Downing and Olmsted to early twentieth-century practitioners Henry Hubbard and Frank Waugh and finally to the designers of national and state parks.

Early chapters chronicle the contributions that the park service's first landscape engineers--Charles P. Punchard, Daniel R. Hull, and Thomas C. Vint--made to a distinctive style and standards of design for roads, trails, and park villages based on naturalistic principles and native materials. The book highlights events such as the 1926 cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Public Roads that enabled national park designers to build state-of-the-art roads while preserving park scenery and harmonizing built features with the natural setting of each park. It closely examines the major design trends that were in place by the 1930s, including a process of master planning that guided park development, principles of rustic architecture that ensured harmonious construction and design, and practices of landscape naturalization whereby native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers were preserved or planted to erase the scars of construction and create the illusion that nature was undisturbed.

Several chapters examine the New Deal era, 1933 to 1942, when the park system greatly expanded, and planning and construction in national parks proceeded on an unprecedented scale through programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Public Works Administration. During this decade of progress, the National Park Service also directed the work of the CCC in state and local parks and helped forge a state and federal partnership for outdoor recreation. Examining national park design and construction since 1940, a final chapter covers the World War II era, the modernism of Mission 66, and the shift in emphasis from scenery preservation to environmental protection during the Environmental Era.

Building the National Parks, a publication of the National Register of Historic Places, is an updated edition of Presenting Nature: The Historic Landscape Design of the National Park Service, 1916 to 1942, which was published by the Government Printing Office in 1994. It provides a national context for identifying, evaluating, and registering the vast number of historic park landscapes influenced by the design ethic developed and practiced by the National Park Service in the early twentieth century. This group of significant properties includes not only the developed areas of national parks but also the many state and local parks developed by the CCC from 1933 to 1942 under the direction of landscape architects, architects, and engineers of the National Park Service. Properties relating to this context may be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, under the multiple property listing, Historic Park Landscapes in National and State Parks (October 1995).

Commentary by scholars on Building the National Parks published by John Hopkins University Press.

"McClelland traces the history of America's era of naturalistic park design and discovers an important legacy of National Park Service landscape architecture. Building the National Parks provides an outstanding guide to these historically significance designed landscapes and a foundation for their preservation."--Nora J.Mitchell, Director, Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, National Park Service

"Buildings in National Parks before 1916 tended toward the monumental, and park landscapes suffered abuse under foot and tire of those flocking to these natural and architectural monuments. Upon creation of the National Park Service in that World War-year, Stephen Mather and a cadre of landscape engineers, architects and naturalists rather quickly defined a better acommodation of visitors in the National Parks. In the 1930s, NPS spread this 'park-minded' gospel to state and local parks as well. Building the National Parks brings the personalities behind these innovations to light and traces their words, experiments and triumphs in environmental sensitivity."--James Wright Steely, National Register Programs, Texas Historical Commission.

Building the National Parks is available in hardbound (ISBN 0- 8018-5582-9) and paperback (ISBN 0-8018-5583-7) from the Johns Hopkins University Press, 2715 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21218-4363; 1-800-537-5487;

return to Useful Book about the NPS

Privacy & Disclaimer

Last Modified: Fri, Jan 24 2003 10:52:46 pm PST

National Park Service's ParkNet Home