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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading

Founders and Frontiersmen
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

THE PHASES OF HISTORY treated in this volume—political and military affairs and westward expansion during the period 1783-1828—are well represented by surviving sites and buildings. Illustrating settlement of the national domain and the development of national institutions during those years, they are located in the Eastern United States—ranging from the Atlantic seaboard through roughly the first tier of States west of the Mississippi. Many are maintained and administered by the Federal Government, through the National Park Service, but a large number have been preserved by State, local, municipal, and private groups.

Only a few major sites and buildings illustrating political affairs are located in the region west of the Appalachians. That region was still largely frontier in character, and the arena of political decision was in the more populous East. Among the more notable sites are those located in the first three Capitals under the Constitution: New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Of particular interest are Federal Hall National Memorial, in New York, and Independence National Historical Park, in Philadelphia, both administered by the National Park Service. Sites and buildings are numerous in Washington, D.C. To provide special assistance to visitors, the National Park Service maintains a Visitor Information Center, located in East Potomac Park at the tip of Hans Point, and a number of information kiosks in the Mall-Memorial area. Three structures that are particularly pertinent to the political affairs during the early Federal period are the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. They are described individually in this volume. Two areas are especially interesting: Pennsylvania Avenue and Lafayette Square.

On September 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the historical significance of Pennsylvania Avenue by approving Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall's designation of it as a national historic site. For more than a century and a half, the segment of Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol has symbolized the majesty and power of the Republic and the triumphs and tragedies of its people. Along this truly national thoroughfare have traveled the newly inaugurated Presidents; the funerals of six Presidents and many national leaders; victory processions signaling the end of four major wars; and parades acclaiming military, civil, and scientific heroes. Along adjacent streets, at the hotels, boardinghouses, and restaurants, statesmen lodged, dined, debated the issues of the day, and planned courses of action that influenced the Nation's destiny. In the theaters, hostelries, and places of amusement, they sought release from the cares of office. In the markets and shops, they bought the necessities of life. And, in the area, assassins' bullets struck down two Presidents, Lincoln and Garfield.

Lafayette Square, originally known as President's Park, also has rich historical associations. On its south side stands the White House, residence of every President but George Washington. In the other buildings and houses that surrounded the square, much history has been made; still standing today are St. John's Episcopal Church, "Church of Presidents"; Decatur House; Dolley Madison House; and the Benjamin Ogle Tayloe House. Across the square itself have passed the Nation's political leaders, statesmen, diplomats, and military leaders. During the summer months, National Park Service historians conduct guided tours of the area, which begin at the Jackson Statue in Lafayette Park. Visitors may also separately tour the White House.

Most of the other remaining sites and buildings of major importance in political affairs of the period, in Washington and elsewhere, are in public or private ownership. In Virginia, home of a large number of the outstanding political leaders, many residences have been preserved, including those of Washington, Jefferson, Marshall, Madison, Monroe, and Mason. Most of these are in rural or semirural areas and have been spared the destruction or extensive alteration that has occurred in more populous and intensively developed regions. The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities has contributed much to preserving and maintaining the State's fine houses.

In other States, especially in the Northeast, the lack of historic private homes is attributable to the explosive spread of modern urbanization that has often swept away relics of the past. Most of the few top-ranking public buildings of the period that remain intact have survived because of continued active use by State and municipal governments. Most notable examples of these are the Massachusetts and Maryland State Houses and New York City Hall. Connecticut's Old State House has survived for much the same reason, although its function as a center of State and city government ceased a number of years ago, by which time its significance as a historic and architectural landmark was very well recognized.

Virtually every decisive military action undertaken by the United States on the frontier against the Indians and in the War of 1812 is preserved at one or more sites. Most of these are located in the trans-Appalachian West, where U.S. military effort was then concentrated. War of 1812 sites in the National Park System include Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Md., Chalmette National Historical Park, La., and Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial National Monument, Ohio.

The States of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan administer several sites and buildings associated with the military conquest of the old Northwest. The battlefields of Fallen Timbers, Ohio, and Tippecanoe, Ind., are in State ownership, as is the group of well-preserved buildings at Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island, Mich. Indiana also maintains the First Territorial Capitol Building of Indiana Territory, at Vincennes, and Ohio has preserved the sites of a number of frontier forts, notably Forts Meigs and Recovery. The Anthony Wayne Parkway Board of Ohio has under taken a comprehensive program to mark and interpret sites and travel routes related to key military campaigns.

Many of the historic places that marked the frontier advance during the period 1783-1828 have disappeared beneath cities and farms. Few of the earliest pioneer structures survive; their construction had few elements of permanence. More common, however, are the substantial dwellings and other buildings that sprang up as the frontier matured. Few towns cannot boast the home of an early settler. Almost without number are the sites of Indian fights and treaties, forts, trading posts, and early industries. Still visible are traces of the trails, roads, and canals that carried the Nation west.

The theme of frontier advance is represented in the National Park System by Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Mo.; Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Ky.-Tenn.-Va.; Natchez Trace Parkway, Ala.-Miss.-Tenn.; and Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, Ala. Chicago Portage National Historic Site, Ill., which also illustrates the westward movement, is in non-Federal ownership. The growth of interest in State and local history, both by private initiative and on every level of public administration, has prevented the mutilation or destruction of many frontier relics. Many of these are eligible for the Registry of National Historic Landmarks.

Unfortunately, there is a darker side. Many of the most significant frontier sites and structures have been irretrievably buried beneath the steel and concrete of cities, obliterated by the plow, consumed by fire, eroded by flood, or laid waste by age and neglect. At the same time, there are some heartening examples of restoration and preservation. One of the most striking examples is the clearing of the site of Fort Pitt at the Forks of the Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pa. A few years ago the site was buried beneath commercial structures and railroad yards. Today, it is being developed as a State park.

Many of the sites and buildings associated with political and military affairs and the westward movement during the years 1783-1828 are described in the following pages. They are arranged alphabetically by State within the following five categories: Units of the National Park System; National Historic Sites in non-Federal ownership; sites eligible for the Registry of National Historic Landmarks; Historic Districts eligible for the Registry; and sites of sufficient importance to merit attention but which are not considered nationally significant when measured and evaluated by the special Landmark criteria.

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Last Updated: 29-Aug-2005