Hubbell Trading Post
Administrative History
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Douglas McChristian was the only superintendent of Hubbell Trading Post to arrive with prior experience as a superintendent. He came to Ganado after six years as the superintendent of Fort Davis National Historic Site. Staffing was his immediate problem. His maintenance foreman, Lawrence Woody, arrived the same day he did, and Woody had no experience as a foreman. They both had to learn about Hubbell Trading Post's chronic maintenance problems while Woody also learned his job. The clerk-typist position was vacant. The chief ranger announced that he would soon resign from the Park Service. While McChristian tried to learn about the trading post as fast as possible, his wife, Mary, pitched in to answer the phone, do the fling, sort out the mail, and work the information desk in the Visitor Center. While Doug raced through each day trying to plug developing leaks in the operation, he did have various plans on file to help tell him what Hubbell Trading Post was all about. They were old and recent documents that had been worked up over the years to tell what had happened at the historic site, what projects were in the works, what other projects might be planned: master plans, statements for management, resource management plans, studies, research projects. With all of that information on hand and with all of his experience, he was able to hold the place together. [1]

None of the other superintendents who have served at Hubbell Trading Post came with prior experience as a superintendent, and, according to the 1988 Resources Management Plan, the site "...has had a relatively high turnover in the top management position during its twenty years as a Park Service unit." (Doug McChristian stayed but one year.) The 1988 Resources Management Plan states, too, that: "This area has almost always served as a 'training park' for new Superintendents." [2] Which is probably an unfortunate statement to have in the plan, it may give rise to the notion, or perpetuate the idea, that Hubbell Trading Post is an easy place to train new superintendents. That is, Hubbell Trading Post is small, relatively unimportant, so if so-and-so makes a mistake, maybe nobody will notice. Several of the ex-superintendents took exception to the idea that the trading post is a good basic training camp for NPS superintendents. Although one can learn a great deal there, many of the lessons learned may not be particularly useful elsewhere. The site is a unique operation within the Park Service, and the issues to be faced are easily as complex as those one might come up against in a much larger park. Doug McChristian did say that he became more sensitive to issues involving American Indians, so his experience there helped him when he got to Custer Battlefield National Monument (now designated Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument).

So far, the average stay for a superintendent at the trading post is about two and a half years. Testimony from many ex-employees there would indicate that it may take all of two years before the local Navajo acknowledge, more or less, your presence. Many Navajo are conservative, and they might be thinking that you're just not going to be around long enough to make getting to know you a worthwhile project.

The trading post business is of course one of a kind in the National Park System. Luckily, the Trader/Manager has been there for many years. And as one ex-superintendent said, "Nobody comes to Hubbell Trading Post to see the "superintendent". [3] That may be so, but the superintendent's position there is an important one, even if it is less glamorous than the trader's job, which is managing a $2,000,000 business. Besides a lucrative business, the superintendent has on the site many historic structures of-now-almost incalculable value, as well as a valuable museum collection. On top of all of that, he or she may be in almost daily contact with Navajo officials in reference to any number of mutual problems. To be able to face all of these issues with confidence, a brand new superintendent could use a good PLAN. For example, it took one superintendent quite a while to learn why a real trading post is doing business on a national historic site. [4]

The National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 requires that every park, site, or monument have a General Management Plan. In any case, it would be next to impossible to convince Congress to release money to an area unless there were planning documents to show that the NPS was thinking hard about what they were going to do there. And if the NPS is going to continue to put rookie superintendents into Hubbell Trading Post, a good up-to-date plan can serve partly as a training manual.

What, then, is the NPS doing at Hubbell Trading Post?

Management Objectives [5]

1. Protect the natural and cultural remains from loss through programs of stabilization and maintenance, protection, and as necessary, restrictions covering the allowable types and degrees of visitor and other uses of the site.

2. Perpetuate the concept of a "living" trading post that continually responds to the current needs of local Navajos and visitors while maintaining quality of merchandise and preserving the historic appearance and atmosphere.

3. To enable visitors to gain insight into the park's unique cultural significance through a varied and balanced interpretive program that focuses on intercultural exchanges which have occurred and will occur among the Indians, traders, and visitors.

4. Promote the National Park Service mission of natural and historical resource conservation by cooperating with other Federal agencies, the Navajo Tribe, the State of Arizona and the Ganado Community.

The Kitchen Conference [6]

At first Hubbell Trading Post was going to look as it did in the early 1900s. Then it would be restored to appear as it had in about 1920. And finally it was decided that the post would be preserved as it was found in 1967. The philosophy of how to handle the trading post has gone from one of restoration to stabilization and preservation. The controversy came to a head in the mid-1970s during the so called kitchen conference.

The meeting took place in the kitchen of the Hubbell home. The NPS was about to launch a restoration program at the trading post that would have consumed thousands of dollars ("Bicentennial bucks were coming down the pike.") [7] People from Santa Fe were there, as well as Tom Vaughan, the superintendent. The decision had been made that the buildings were going to be restored to look as they had in about 1920. This date seems to have been chosen because it is more or less in the middle of the real heyday of the trading post culture.

But as they discussed the proposals, they became increasingly uneasy about what they were going to do to the place. For one thing, there were important elements to some of the buildings that had been added after 1920. In the wareroom, for example, they would have to entirely rebuild front wall, remove the parapet wall, remove the rolled-paper roof, and remove fragments of the original roof before a brand new old-looking roof could be added. There were other problems. Windows would have to be replaced, doors changed. And after all of that work, they would still have buildings around the post-the Guest Hogan, for example-that were built long after 1920.

As part of this restoration project, they were even proposing to return the ground level around the trading post to what it had been in 1920. They had already done some archeological work to determine what the grade had been. But if they went ahead and restored the former level of the ground around the post, the wind would soon undo all of their effort by blowing in some more sand. Wouldn't it? The more they thought about restoring the former grade level, the sillier the idea seemed. And, if everything at the post was supposed to be synchronized to 1920, Dorothy Hubbell's life there with Roman would be extinguished. And one could easily argue that the 1957-1967 period was as important as any other at the trading post.

The kitchen conference ended with the decision that they would do little of the proposed restoration, that from that day on Hubbell Trading Post would be stabilized and preserved, but not much restoration would be considered. They decided at that conference that what was meant by "living history," as far as Hubbell Trading Post was concerned, was that the life of the place would continue on in its own natural course, not be redirected-or misdirected-by the National Park Service.

This was a hard decision to make in spite of the fact that the historic period at Hubbell Trading Post had ended so recently. It was a hard decision to make because it flew in the face of almost everything that was being done at the time at other historic sites. Trying to deal with Park Service policies that were being made for other historic sites, where everything was preserved and protected, and probably synchronized to a year or an era, and then having to consider the future of Hubbell Trading Post, whose role and destiny would be determined by what the future might bring, required two different modes of thinking.

The necessity for this dual approach has no doubt led to some confusion among the ranks of the Park Service personnel who have worked at Hubbell Trading Post. To be able to function correctly there it is necessary for one to understand that the place is not frozen in time. It surely does look that way, but "...formal 'museum-type' interpretation at the site is limited to the barest essentials needed for historical context and orientation." The quote is from the 1967 Interpretive Prospectus.

Being an administrator at Hubbell Trading Post would appear to be an opportunity for some creative work. One interesting approach was expressed by Al Grieve, the ex-trader there. Whenever a problem or an opportunity presented itself, he would get together with Juin Crosse, then the superintendent, and they would try to decide what old Don Lorenzo might have done if he were there and presented with a similar problem or opportunity. [8]

A layman who is studying the plans may be struck by the notion that the NPS could be missing an opportunity for doing some creative work at the trading post. Hold the line on the appearance of the buildings, to be sure; but as far as working the land, or the appearance of any plantings around the buildings is concerned, the administrators of the site could have a fairly free hand. After all, surely the trading post looked slightly different every year and from season to season. In any case, what was possible then may not be possible now. A landscaper could probably come up with some ideas for time-saving plantings, or a landscaping that would use little water and time. Instead of trying to proceed with one foot stuck in an uncertain past, it may be a better idea; since the trading post is supposed to be an evolving institution, to consider what might be practical and possible for today. Because of the living, evolving trading post concept of the original mandate, this is surely one of the few places within the Park System where an administrator is not necessarily stuck in the past.

Planning Documents for Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

As has already been noted, virtually all of the planning documents now on file at Hubbell Trading Post are out of date. That does not mean, however, that they are of no value. Future administrators of the site should learn much from them about the history of the site since the National Park Service took over in 1967. The first Master Plan was started in 1966, even before the NPS assumed control of the site.

Master Plan for Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, 1966

Obviously this document was created even before the laundromat burned out; one of the stated objectives on page 8 is to: "Remove Silver Coin Laundromat, now located in the Wareroom Extension."

The fold-out maps are interesting in that they show the extent of land that Hubbell had donated for a Navajo day school (now the Visitor Center).

One of the stated objectives was to: "Avoid turning the site into a 'dead' museum..."

The Resource Management, page 8, is interesting because one can see what management originally hoped to do with the post. Much has been done; there is one item from that list that remains to be accomplished: "Restore agricultural activities and atmosphere, possibly by issuing special use permits to Navajo farmers." But a careful reading will show that the original Master Plan was well thought out and that management at the site has proceeded generally in that direction.

Master Plan, 1972

Apparently the Master Plan was not actually approved until 1972 after it had gone through some revisions.

The main change that has occurred over the years is the approach of the NPS to the handling of the site. Where it was once going to restore the post to look as it had in an earlier day, the NPS will now simply hold the line at 1967. Except for these changes in the philosophy of how to use the historic site, these original Master Plans remain interesting documents. Readers just have to shake themselves free of the idea that they have to recreate historic scenes. The buildings and their contents speak for themselves, and as Stewart Udall said, are "redolent of the 19th century." [9]

Statement for Management, December, 1975

This twelve-page document is mainly a description of the site. The management objectives, starting on page 10, are thought to reflect fairly accurately even current thinking on how to use the site and its resources. It was just about this time--1975--that management abandoned some restoration projects and decided that preservation and stabilization would be a more practical approach to the site.

Resource Management Plan, 1979

"The Resources Management Plan is a strategic planning document and a key factor in proper management of resources." [10]

The Resources Management Plan for 1979 outlines ideas about several hoped-for research projects in order " acquire basic data for intelligent management purposes...." [11] The National Park Service accepts ".., the Hubbell Trading Post of today as an end product of ninety years of development by one family." [12] They would retain the buildings as they had acquired them in 1967. However, to do that, it was thought that some research in certain areas should go ahead. For example, a guide for the preservation of historic structures should be implemented; research into the post 1930s period of the trading post was recommended in order that the Roman and Dorothy Hubbell era might be better understood; and even the preparation of an administrative history was suggested because: "In less than a decade there have been five superintendents and the intents and purposes of 1967 have become obscure." [13]

Other studies were recommended, some of them now completed (the farmlands study, the dendrochronological report).

Assessment of Alternatives for Development Concept Plans, March, 1979

This document put forward several alternative development strategies, or packages, for consideration. That is, where should the picnic area and the parking areas be located. The plans are easily absorbed by reviewing foldout maps near the end of the text. Apparently little from the plans was implemented. A couple of old buildings were removed from the Visitor Center area, otherwise the historic site remains essentially as it was before so much effort went into the development concept plan.

Development Concept Plan, August, 1980

Public Law 89-148 authorized up to $952,000 to be appropriated for the acquisition and development of Hubbell Trading Post, and the Park and Recreation Act of 1978 increased that authorization by another $25,000. As of January 1, 1979, there was $103,680 remaining. This Development Concept Plan proposed some items that would support the need to raise the authorization. The proposals were developed by an "interdisciplinary" NPS planning team.

It is evident from the map at the end of the plan that not everything proposed has been accomplished. One idea, such as a large visitor parking area east of the Visitor Center, has probably been dispensed with. The park offices are now in the school building along with "visitor contact functions." Many of the problems discussed in the plan have since been solved. The maps remain useful.

Resources Management Plan, 1981

This is a short plan that outlines some areas for proposed studies: historic buildings studies for preservation and interpretation; farmland study (done) and restoration; Hubbell history research to determine extent of business operations; preservation and conservation of museum collection; erosion control study (done).

Some of the items in the resources management plans seem to be perennials. However, it is better to repeat the desire and the reason for such a study rather than to forget about it altogether. Changing management should be kept abreast of what studies are in progress, which have been completed, and they can continue to ponder the necessity for any pending plans.

Resources Management Plan and Environmental Assessment, Approved January, 1983

Resources Management Plans are five year plans, and this one wanted to focus attention on preserving cultural resources and conducting basic research. Much of the proposed work was done during the ensuing five years: Preservation work went ahead on the corrals and shed complex, and some of the farm machinery was sent out for rehabilitation work. The farmlands study was completed; the ethnohistory and the business histories have yet to be written.

The 1983 Resources Management Plan is a 67-page document with information that would still be useful to management, although much of the information to be found in it is in other chapters of this work. To see what may have been accomplished between 1983 and 1988, a comparison of the two resources management plans is suggested.

Statement for Management, 1986

Prepared by Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, the statement for management tells us that all units of the NPS must have one. Major issues are identified, management objectives stated. The statement is mainly informational and remains reasonably current. (An earlier, undated Statement for Management was reviewed, one with an extremely interesting bibliography. It was probably from the 1970s. The Statement for Management for 1986 contains no bibliography.)

Resources Management Plan, 1988

The emphasis during the next few years would be to continue pushing for more research, and some basic problems are stated. Most of the problems, such as the care and storage of the museum collection, remain the same today. Historic furnishings reports are needed for HB-1, HB-2, and HB-5; a history of Hubbell's business activities is needed, and a carrying capacity study is wanted.


The 1975 Resources Management Plan said that the intents and purposes of 1967, as far as how to handle Hubbell Trading Post was concerned, had become obscure. Since then, another five superintendents have come to serve at Hubbell Trading Post, all but one of them inexperienced in the position. Since 1975, however, it would seem that management has to a great extent returned to the let-the-place-evolve point of view that was originally intended for the site. There have been changes as different NPS people moved through the trading post, but not everybody has truly understood how to handle the site. As Tom Vaughan said in 1976: "We still don't really know how to cope with history that's still alive and kicking." [14]

Future administrators of the site should know that they don't always have to search the past for guidance. They can't run riot with personal whimsy, but they should realize that there are a lot of aspects of the trading post that are not frozen at some point in 1967 or before. Therein lies the challenge of this historic site, The trading post was not intended to be a dead museum. ("...they took the 'living' out of it and made it a museum.") [15] Hubbell Trading post is one place in the National Park System where an administrator has a chance for at least a little controlled creativity.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006