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Shaping the System




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The National Parks:

Shaping the System
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The Reorganization of 1933

On March 3, 1933, President Herbert C. Hoover approved legislation authorizing presidents to reorganize the executive branch of the government. He had no time to take advantage of the new authority, for he would leave office the next day. The beneficiary was his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

parkway in Shenandoah Hoover had arranged to give the government his fishing retreat on the Rapidan River in Virginia for inclusion in Shenandoah National Park. On April 9 Roosevelt motored there to inspect the property for his possible use. Horace Albright accompanied the party and was invited to sit behind the president on the return drive. As they passed through Civil War country, Albright turned the conversation to history and mentioned his desire to acquire the War Department's historical areas. Roosevelt readily agreed and directed him to initiate an executive order for the transfer.

Roosevelt's order—actually two orders signed June 10 and July 28, effective August 10—did what Albright had asked and more. Not only did the National Park Service receive the War Department's parks and monuments, it achieved another longtime objective by getting the national monuments then held by the Forest Service and responsibility for virtually all monuments created thereafter. It also took over the national capital parks, then managed by a separate office in Washington. When the dust settled, the Service's previous holdings had been joined by a dozen predominantly natural areas in eight western states and the District of Columbia and 44 historical areas in the District and 18 states, 13 of them east of the Mississippi.

The reorganization of August 10, 1933, was arguably the most significant event in the evolution of the National Park System. There was now a single system of federal parklands, truly national in scope, embracing historic as well as natural places. The Service's major involvement with historic sites held limitless potential for the system's further growth. Unlike the War Department, the NPS was not constrained to focus on military history but could seek areas representing all aspects of America's past. Management of the parks in the nation's capital would give the NPS high visibility with members of Congress and visitors from around the nation and invite expansion of the system into other urban regions. Although the big western wilderness parks would still dominate, the bureau and its responsibilities would henceforth be far more diverse.

National Capital Parks

The parks of the nation's capital are the oldest elements of today's National Park System, dating from the beginnings of the District of Columbia in 1790-91. On July 16, 1790, President George Washington approved legislation empowering him to appoint three commissioners to lay out the District, "purchase or accept such quantity of land . . . as the President shall deem proper for the use of the United States," and provide suitable buildings for Congress, the president, and government offices. The next year Washington met with the proprietors of lands to be included in the federal city and signed a purchase agreement resulting in the acquisition of 17 reservations. In accordance with Pierre Charles L'Enfant's plan for the city, Reservation 1 became the site of the White House and the President's Park, including Lafayette Park and the Ellipse; Reservation 2 became the site of the Capitol and the Mall; and Reservation 3 became the site of the Washington Monument.

bridge in Rock Creek Park A century later the national capital park system received two major additions. Rock Creek Park, Washington's largest, was authorized by Congress on September 27, 1890—two days after Sequoia and four days before Yosemite. Some of the same legislative language that the California parks inherited from Yellowstone appeared in this act as well. Rock Creek Park was "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States," and regulations were ordered to "provide for the preservation from injury or spoliation of all timber, animals, or curiosities within said park, and their retention in their natural condition, as nearly as possible." Its value as a preserved natural area increased with the growth of its urban environs (although the NPS has magnified its significance since 1975 by listing the park with its California contemporaries as a discrete National Park System unit). Potomac Park, on the other hand, was artificially created on fill dredged from the Potomac River in the 1880s. In 1897 Congress reserved this large reclaimed area for park development, and in the 20th century it became the site of the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials, Constitution Gardens, and the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans memorials, among other features.

The last major addition to the national capital park system before the reorganization was the George Washington Memorial Parkway. A 1928 act of Congress authorized the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, linking the planned Arlington Memorial Bridge and Mount Vernon, to be completed for the bicentennial of Washington's birth in 1932. In 1930 Congress incorporated the highway in a greatly enlarged George Washington Memorial Parkway project, which entailed extensive land acquisition and scenic roadways on both sides of the Potomac River from Mount Vernon upstream to Great Falls. Although never fully completed as planned, the project proceeded far enough by the 1960s to buffer significant stretches of the river with parkland.

The national capital parks were managed by a succession of administrators, beginning with the commissioners appointed by President Washington to establish the federal city. From 1802 to 1867 the city's public buildings and grounds were under a superintendent and then a commissioner of public buildings, who reported to the secretary of the interior after the Interior Department was established in 1849. In 1867 the parks and buildings were turned over to the chief engineer of the Army. His Office of Public Buildings and Grounds ran them until 1925, when it was succeeded by the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital. The latter office, still headed by an army engineer officer but directly under the president, lasted until the 1933 reorganization. Its responsibility for federal buildings as well as parks passed to the National Park Service, which was renamed the Office of National Parks, Buildings, and Reservations in Roosevelt's executive orders. The bureau carried this unwieldy title for less than seven months, regaining its old name in a March 2, 1934, appropriations act; but it did not shed the public buildings function until 1939.

The term National Capital Parks (usually capitalized) has been variously used since the reorganization as a collective designation for the national parklands in and around Washington and as the name of the NPS office managing them. Today National Capital Parks officially denotes only those miscellaneous parklands in the District of Columbia and nearby Maryland not classed as discrete units of the National Park System. The designation thus excludes the major presidential and war memorials and certain other NPS-administered properties in the Washington area. But it is often used informally to encompass them as well.

National Memorials

Washington Monument National memorials in and outside Washington formed the most distinctly different class of areas added in the reorganization. Among them are such great national symbols as the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty. Although these and several other National Park System memorials bear other designations, they qualify as memorials because they were not directly associated with the people or events they commemorate but were built by later generations.

The first federal action toward a national memorial now in the system came in 1783, when the Continental Congress resolved "that an equestrian statue of General Washington be erected where the residence of Congress shall be established." L'Enfant's plan for the city of Washington provided a prominent location for the statue, but Congress provided no funds for it. A private organization, the Washington National Monument Society, acquired the site and began construction of an obelisk in 1848, but its resources proved inadequate. Not until 1876, the centennial of American independence, did the government assume responsibility for completing and maintaining the Washington Monument. Army engineers finished it in accordance with a simplified design, and it was dedicated in 1885.

Statue of Liberty During the centennial France offered the Statue of Liberty as a gift to the United States. Congress authorized acceptance of the statue, provision of a suitable site in New York Harbor, and preservation of the structure "as a monument of art and the continued good will of the great nation which aided us in our struggle for freedom." In effect a memorial to the Franco-American alliance during the Revolution, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886. President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed it a national monument under the War Department, its custodian, in 1924.

In 1911 Congress authorized construction of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington's Potomac Park, aligned with the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The completed masterpiece of architect Henry Bacon and sculptor Daniel Chester French was dedicated in 1922. Another classical memorial to Lincoln, enshrining his supposed birthplace cabin at Hodgenville, Kentucky, had been privately erected in 1907—11 from a design by John Russell Pope, architect of the later Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington. The birthplace property was given to the United States in 1916 and administered by the War Department as Abraham Lincoln National Park. It was ultimately redesignated a national historic site after it came under the National Park Service, but the character of its development makes it in effect a memorial.

George Rogers Clark memorial Other memorials authorized by Congress before 1933 included one to Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in San Diego, proclaimed Cabrillo National Monument under the War Department in 1913; Perry's Victory Memorial, Ohio, in 1919; Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota, in 1925; Kill Devil Hill Monument (later Wright Brothers National Memorial), North Carolina, in 1927; the George Rogers Clark Memorial in Vincennes, Indiana, in 1928; and Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C., in 1932. Cabrillo National Monument and Kill Devil Hill Monument were transferred from the War Department and Theodore Roosevelt Island from the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital in the reorganization, which also gave the NPS fiscal responsibility for the commissions developing the Mount Rushmore and George Rogers Clark memorials. The NPS received Mount Rushmore itself in 1939 and the Clark memorial under a 1966 act of Congress authorizing George Rogers Clark National Historical Park. Several historic sites proposed for this park were never acquired, leaving it essentially a memorial area. The NPS had no responsibility for Perry's Victory Memorial, constructed by another commission, until 1936, when Congress authorized its addition to the National Park System as Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial National Monument. The superfluous national monument suffix was dropped in 1972.

The Lee Mansion in Arlington, Virginia, transferred from the War Department in the reorganization, was ultimately retitled Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, by Congress in 1972. Because the house was directly associated with Lee and has been restored to the period of his occupancy, it would more appropriately be designated a national historic site.

National Battlefields and Cemeteries

memorial at Colonial The first official step to commemorate an American battle where it occurred was taken in 1781. Inspired by the Franco-American victory over the British at Yorktown that October, the Continental Congress authorized "to be erected at York, Virginia, a marble column, adorned with emblems of the alliance between the United States and His Most Christian Majesty; and inscribed with a succinct narrative of the surrender." Funds were then unavailable, and Congress did not follow through until the centennial of the surrender in 1881, when the Yorktown Column was raised as prescribed a century before. It is now a prominent feature of Colonial National Historical Park.

The battlefield monument idea received major impetus in 1823 when Daniel Webster, Edward Everett, and other prominent citizens formed the Bunker Hill Battle Monument Association to save part of Breed's Hill in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and erect a great obelisk on it. Webster delivered a moving oration before a large audience at the cornerstone laying in 1825, the 50th anniversary of the battle. The Bunker Hill Monument demonstrated how commemorative sentiment might be crystallized and was the prototype for many other battlefield monuments. During the centennial years of the Revolution, Congress appropriated funds to supplement local contributions for monuments at Bennington Battlefield, Saratoga, Newburgh, and Oriskany, New York; Kings Mountain, South Carolina; Monmouth, New Jersey; and Groton, Connecticut. Like the Yorktown Column, the Bunker Hill, Kings Mountain, and Saratoga monuments were later included in National Park System areas.

The "mystic chords of memory" elicited by such Revolutionary War monuments in both the North and the South helped draw the two sections together after the Civil War. Confederate veterans from South Carolina and Virginia participated in the Bunker Hill centennial in 1875, the first time former Union and Confederate troops publicly fraternized after the war. The practice of joint reunions later spread to Civil War battlefields, culminating in huge veterans' encampments at Gettysburg in 1888 and Chickamauga in 1889.

Even before the Civil War ended, Pennsylvania had chartered the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association in 1864 to commemorate "the great deeds of valor . . . and the signal events which render these battle-grounds illustrious." A preservation society also began work at Chickamauga, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Prompted by veterans' organizations and others influential in such activities, Congress began in the 1890s to go beyond the battlefield monument concept to full-scale battlefield preservation.

On August 19, 1890, a month before establishing Sequoia National Park, Congress authorized Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Three more national military parks followed before the century's end: Shiloh in 1894, Gettysburg in 1895, and Vicksburg in 1899. The War Department purchased and managed their lands, while participating states, military units, and associations provided monuments at appropriate locations. At Antietam, on the other hand, Congress provided for acquisition of only token lands where monuments and markers might be placed. It and other places where this less expansive policy was adopted were designated national battlefield sites. Antietam and most of the other national battlefield sites were later enlarged and retitled national battlefields.

cemetery at Jean Lafitte The 1907 authorization of the Chalmette Monument and Grounds, commemorating the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, departed from the recent focus on the Civil War. Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, North Carolina, authorized a decade later, encompassed the first Revolutionary War battlefield so preserved. Confronted with many more proposals, Congress in 1926 asked the War Department to survey all the nation's historic battlefields and make recommendations for their preservation or commemoration. The results guided Congress in adding 11 more areas to the War Department's park system before the reorganization: the site of the opening engagement of the French and Indian War at Fort Necessity in Pennsylvania; the Revolutionary War battlefields of Cowpens and Kings Mountain in South Carolina and Moores Creek in North Carolina; and the Civil War sites of Appomattox Court House, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County, and Petersburg in Virginia, Brices Cross Roads and Tupelo in Mississippi, and Fort Donelson and Stones River in Tennessee.

Roosevelt's initial executive order of June 10, 1933, had provided for all the War Department's domestic national cemeteries to come to the NPS along with its battlefield parks. At Horace Albright's urging, this wholesale transfer was amended in the supplementary order of July 28 to include only 11 cemeteries associated with the battlefields or other NPS holdings: Antietam (Sharpsburg) National Cemetery, Maryland; Battleground National Cemetery, Washington, D.C.; Chattanooga National Cemetery, Tennessee (returned to the War Department in 1944); Fort Donelson (Dover) National Cemetery, Tennessee; Fredericksburg National Cemetery, Virginia; Gettysburg National Cemetery, Pennsylvania; Poplar Grove (Petersburg) National Cemetery, Virginia; Shiloh (Pittsburgh Landing) National Cemetery, Tennessee; Stones River (Murfreesboro) National Cemetery, Tennessee; Vicksburg National Cemetery, Mississippi; and Yorktown National Cemetery, Virginia.

cemetery at Gettysburg Most famous among these is Gettysburg National Cemetery. The battle of Gettysburg was scarcely over when Gov. Andrew Y. Curtin of Pennsylvania hastened to the field to help care for the casualties. More than 3,500 Union soldiers had been killed in action; many were hastily interred in improvised graves. At Curtin's request, Gettysburg attorney David Wills purchased 17 acres and engaged William Saunders, an eminent horticulturalist, to lay out the grounds for a cemetery. Fourteen northern states provided the necessary funds. At the dedication on November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address. Gettysburg National Cemetery became the property of the United States in 1872, 23 years before establishment of the adjoining national military park.

Similar events took place on the other great battlefields of the Civil War. Congress recognized the importance of caring for the remains of the Union war dead with general legislation in 1867 enabling the extensive national cemetery system developed by the War Department. As at Gettysburg, each of the battlefield cemeteries was carefully landscaped to achieve an effect of "simple grandeur," and each preceded establishment of its related battlefield park.

The 1867 act also led to preservation of an important battleground of the Indian wars. In 1879 the secretary of war established a national cemetery on the Little Bighorn battlefield in Montana Territory, and in 1886 President Grover Cleveland reserved a square mile of the battlefield for what was then called the National Cemetery of Custer's Battlefield Reservation. The War Department transferred the reservation to the NPS in 1940. Congress retitled it Custer Battlefield National Monument in 1946 and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in 1991. (To retain some titular recognition of Custer, the 1991 act also designated the cemetery within the monument Custer National Cemetery.) Other national cemeteries acquired by the NPS after the reorganization were Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, part of Andrew Johnson National Monument, Tennessee, authorized in 1935; Chalmette National Cemetery, transferred from the War Department for Chalmette National Historical Park, Louisiana, in 1939; and Andersonville National Cemetery, part of Andersonville National Historic Site, Georgia, authorized in 1970.

Until 1975 the national cemeteries acquired in the reorganization were listed as separate units of the National Park System. Since then the cemeteries, while retaining their special identities, have been carried as components of their associated parks.

Other War Department Properties

As national monuments were being reserved under Interior Department jurisdiction, others were proclaimed on War and Agriculture department lands. Ten national monuments were on military reservations before their transfer to the NPS in 1933.

Big Hole Battlefield President William Howard Taft proclaimed the first War Department national monument, Big Hole Battlefield, Montana, in 1910 to protect the site of an 1877 battle between U.S. troops and Nez Perce Indians. Five later monuments resulted from a single proclamation by President Coolidge on October 15, 1924. Fort Marion National Monument, later retitled with its Spanish name Castillo de San Marcos, recognized an old Spanish fort in St. Augustine, Florida. Fort Matanzas National Monument protected an outpost built by the Spanish in 1742 to defend the southern approaches to St. Augustine. Fort Pulaski National Monument contained a brick fort built during the 1830s outside Savannah that had yielded under bombardment by Federal rifled cannon in 1862. The Statue of Liberty, based on Fort Wood in New York Harbor, became a national monument (to which Ellis Island was added in 1965). A small national monument for Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor was later abolished.

Two War Department areas acquired in the reorganization were then titled national parks. Abraham Lincoln National Park has been cited above in connection with memorials. The other was Fort McHenry in Baltimore. A 1925 act of Congress directed the secretary of war "to begin the restoration of Fort McHenry . . . to such a condition as would make it suitable for preservation permanently as a national park and perpetual national memorial shrine as the birthplace of the immortal 'Star-Spangled Banner.' " Abraham Lincoln and Fort McHenry national parks received more appropriate designations after coming to the NPS, although the unique "national monument and historic shrine" label Congress gave the fort in 1939 might have been abridged.

Arlington House Arlington, the estate across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., was inherited by Robert E. Lee's wife from her father, George Washington Parke Custis, in 1857. During the Civil War the Union Army occupied it and the War Department began what became Arlington National Cemetery on its grounds. Lee's national reputation rose in later years, and in 1925 Congress authorized the War Department to restore Arlington House (also termed the Lee Mansion and Custis-Lee Mansion) in his honor. After the mansion's transfer to the NPS it was managed with the national capital parks.

The 1930 act authorizing the George Washington Memorial Parkway directed that Fort Washington, a 19th-century fortification guarding the Potomac approach to the capital, should be added to the parkway holdings when no longer needed for military purposes. The War Department relinquished it to the NPS in 1940. Fort Washington Park has been listed as a separate unit of the National Park System since 1975.

Agriculture Department National Monuments

Twenty-one national monuments were proclaimed on national forest lands under the Department of Agriculture before the 1933 reorganization. The first two were Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone in Lassen Peak National Forest, proclaimed by Theodore Roosevelt on May 6, 1907, to protect evidence of what was then the most recent volcanic activity in the United States. As previously noted, they were transferred to the Interior Department in 1916 as the nuclei of Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Fourteen of Agriculture's other monuments were also established to preserve "scientific objects." Especially noteworthy was Roosevelt's 1908 proclamation of Grand Canyon National Monument, comprising 818,650 acres within Grand Canyon National Forest, to impede commercial development there. Roosevelt's bold action was later sustained by the U.S. Supreme Court, confirming the precedent for other vast monuments like Katmai, Glacier Bay, and Death Valley. The Grand Canyon monument was superseded by Grand Canyon National Park when the latter was established under NPS jurisdiction in 1919. (A second Grand Canyon National Monument, proclaimed in 1932 and assigned to the NPS, was incorporated in the national park in 1975.)

Olympic Rain Forest On March 2, 1909, two days before leaving office, Roosevelt proclaimed another large national monument, Mount Olympus in Olympic National Forest, Washington. Encompassing 615,000 acres, it was intended to protect the Roosevelt elk and important stands of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, Douglas-fir, and Alaska cedar. It formed the nucleus for Olympic National Park in 1938.

The other natural monuments included four caves: Jewel Cave, South Dakota; Oregon Caves, Oregon; Lehman Caves, Nevada; and Timpanogos Cave, Utah. In the National Park System they would join Carlsbad Caverns, Mammoth Cave, and Wind Cave national parks (and two national monuments later abolished: Lewis and Clark Caverns, Montana, and Shoshone Cavern, Wyoming).

ruins at Gila Cliff Dwellings The first of only five archeological monuments in the group was Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico, proclaimed November 16, 1907. It was followed by Tonto and Walnut Canyon in Arizona and then by Bandelier, New Mexico, established within the Santa Fe National Forest in 1916. President Hoover enlarged Bandelier and reassigned it to the NPS in February 1932, a year and a half before the reorganization. The fifth was Old Kasaan National Monument, Alaska, abolished in 1955.

A limited reversion to Agriculture Department administration of national monuments came on December 1, 1978, when President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the Admiralty Island and Misty Fjords national monuments within Tongass National Forest, Alaska, and ordered their retention by the Forest Service. Congress confirmed their status two years later. In 1982 Congress established Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument at the site of the recent eruption in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington, and kept it under the Forest Service. It did the same with Newberry National Volcanic Monument, established in 1990 in Deschutes National Forest, Oregon. The Forest Service has also returned to managing Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument since 1975 under an agreement with the NPS, which retains formal jurisdiction.

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Last Modified: Wed, Jan 10 2001 07:08:48 am PDT

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