On-line Book

Book Cover
Presenting Nature








Design Ethic Origins

Design Policy & Process

Western Field Office

Park Planning

Decade of Expansion

State Parks

Appendix A

Appendix B


Presenting Nature:
The Historic Landscape Design of the National Park Service, 1916-1942
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Just over fifty years ago, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) ended, and with it eclipsed a grand era of park-building marked by naturalistic principles, craftsmanship, and native materials. Rooted in the American park movement of the nineteenth century, naturalistic park design flourished under the stewardship of the National Park Service in the early twentieth century. Park designers—landscape architects, architects, and engineers—forged a rich legacy of roads and trails that blended with the natural scenery, picturesque park villages, campgrounds and picnic areas, scenic overlooks, and majestic views. Many of these places have fulfilled the National Park Service's dual mission to conserve the natural scenery and to provide for public use, enjoyment, and appreciation. They have continued to serve visitors for several generations. Park managers, public officials, and preservationists are now being called upon to recognize these places, appreciate their historic significance, and protect them as cultural resources.

This study has been developed by the National Register of Historic Places, Interagency Resources Division, National Park Service, primarily to encourage nomination of historic park landscapes of national and state parks to the National Register of Historic Places. The idea for the study came from the growing interest in landscape preservation and the concern that, while significant park buildings and structures were being recognized, the larger landscapes of which they were an integral part were being overlooked. The objective was to develop 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. The largest group of these are areas of national, state, and local parks developed by the CCC under the direction of landscape architects, architects, and engineers of the National Park Service in the 1930s. The initial funding for this study came from a grant from the Horace Albright (now Albright-Wirth) Employee Development Fund of the National Park Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to supporting National Park Service employees and initiatives. The study is written from the perspective of landscape architecture, the profession having primary responsibility for the physical development of the parks from 1916 to 1942. Just after the turn of the century, prominent landscape architects proclaimed their stewardship of significant natural areas, set forth naturalistic theories for park development, and advocated the founding of the National Park Service. Chapter One describes the continuing relationship between the profession and the National Park Service, while Chapter Two traces the roots of a naturalistic ethic of park design from landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing and park builder Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., to twentieth-century practitioners such as Henry Hubbard and Frank Waugh.

As called upon in a 1918 statement of policy, National Park Service officials looked to landscape engineers and landscape architects to locate and design facilities in ways that harmonized with the natural setting and ensured that natural features and scenery remained unimpaired. Chapter Three describes the contributions of the park service's first landscape engineers to the creation of a design ethic for national parks. Chapter Four tells the story of the founding and growth of the Landscape Division of the Western Field Office, which was modeled after a professional design office and guided the development of national parks through a process of master planning and advances in the naturalistic design of roads, trails, overlook, bridges, and buildings. Chapter Five closely examines the planning process through which areas of each park were designated for various types of development or set aside as wilderness to remain undeveloped.

Landscape concerns continued to dominate the development of national parks during the New Deal. Chapter Six covers the period, 1933 to 1942, when the park system greatly expanded, and planning and construction proceeded on an unprecedented scale through programs such as the CCC and Public Works Administration. Chapter Seven examines the role of the National Park Service in the development of state and local parks during the 1930s and the origins of a state and federal partnership for outdoor recreation.

An understanding of the landscape design of the National Park Service provides a basis for evaluating the historic significance of park landscapes in national, state, and, in some cases, local parks. These areas are cultural and natural landscapes containing roads, trails, overlooks, bridges, buildings, parking areas, vistas, plantings, and small elements such as signs and water fountains. Because these places reflect the manifold contributions of several generations of creative national park designers who were committed to the use and preservation of parks, many of these areas meet criteria for the National Register of Historic Places. For this reason, the results of this study have also been incorporated into a multiple property documentation form entitled "Historic Park Landscapes in National and State Parks." This documentation form can be used by park agencies at various levels of government, state preservation offices, local governments, and others to facilitate the National Register listing of parks and park landscapes associated with the context. Our intention is to eliminate the duplicative efforts that result when each park agency and state historic preservation office sets out to evaluate and register properties sharing the same historic context and characteristics.

By defining and describing the characteristics of park landscapes, the study is also intended as a guide to identifying the component resources that were part of the legacy of the National Park Service designers from 1917 to 1942. As a result, the study should be useful to those surveying the cultural resources of national, state, and local parks; those compiling the List of Classified Structures (LCS) and Cultural Landscape Inventory (CLI); and those preparing National Register forms. Furthermore, the documentation and references given in the study on features, such as stonemasonry specifications for guardrails, bridges, and culverts, should be useful to those planning rehabilitation or restoration projects.

We hope that this study will encourage further scholarship on the landscape design of national, state, and local parks. The research methods used herein can be applied to studies of individual parks. The text, footnotes, and bibliography are intended to help researchers find and interpret primary sources, such as master plans, development outlines, historic photographs, plans and drawings, narrative reports of CCC camp superintendents, and reports of the resident landscape architects. These historic documents provide a wealth of detailed, interesting, and relevant information. The study also draws attention to some of the valuable finding aids available to the researcher. Foremost among these are the computerized index and microfilmed files of historic drawings and plans maintained by the Technical Information Center of the Denver Service Center.

This Study is also intended as a model statement of historic context for a theme that can be meaningfully examined from a national perspective and applied to a large number of cultural landscapes. It has been developed according to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation and guidelines developed by the National Register of Historic Places for documenting and registering multiple property groups. It is hoped that this national context will assist national, state, and local park agencies in developing historic contexts for their jurisdictions relating to conservation, park development, recreation, landscape architecture, architecture, and engineering. Our intent is to consolidate the information relating to the national context and thereby eliminate the need to reestablish the chronology of events, the physical and associative characteristics, and historical importance of this group of cultural resources in subsequent, separate reports. As a result this information will streamline the documentation of historic contexts for National Register nominations, historic resource studies, and cultural landscape reports of the National Park Service in keeping with the National Park Service's Cultural Resource Management Guideline ( NPS-28).

The history of the landscape design of the National Park Service in the early twentieth century is diverse and complex, and the National Park Service is actively involved in further contextual research in this field. Currently underway is a National Historic Landmark Theme Study on the landscape architecture designed by the National Park Service between 1917 and 1941. The study will provide a comparative analysis of national, state, and local parks developed with the technical assistance of the park service for the purposes of visitor use, interpretation, and administration and identify those of exceptional value to the nation. This study will be the first to nominate a series of properties for National Historic Landmark designation under the theme of American landscape architecture.

Stewardship remains a challenge today, even more than it was for the National Park Service's founders in 1916. Our knowledge of the causes and effects of human use on the natural landscape has grown considerably in recent decades. The concerns of park design and development have become increasingly complex, as we are faced with issues of highway safety, pollution, and species extinction. Park managers are being asked to achieve an ecological balance and to manage cultural and natural resources effectively. At such a time, it is worthwhile to look backward and trace our progress in presenting and preserving nature's wonders. In so doing, we can appreciate and perhaps recapture the spirit, commitment, and principles that guided park managers and designers earlier in this century. We can better understand and plan for the parks as both natural and cultural places. Above of all, we will be better equipped to make decisions that will succeed in leaving the parks and the wonders they hold unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

We welcome your questions and comments on this study and its application.

John J. Reynolds, FASLA
Deputy Director
National Park Service

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Last Modified: Mon, Oct 31, 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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