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Historic Sites
Economic Aspects


Federal Lands
State and Interstate


Division of Responsibility


Educational Opportunities

Recreational Use of Land in the United States

The relationship of historic sites to a general report on recreation becomes clear when it is realized that at present there are 600 or more historic and archeological sites merged more or less completely into existing Federal, State, local, and private recreational systems. Public holdings embrace sites covering all periods of American development, and contain extensive archeological remains, including many in the Southwest. Among the more notable historic sites are colonial homes, Revolutionary battlefields, sites associated with the lives of Washington, Lincoln, and other famous men, battlefields of the Civil War, besides reminders of our more recent history. In the various State park systems, and grouped as public holdings, are approximately 200 historical and archeological sites, scattered through 30 States. Of varying sizes and types, these areas include Indian remains, sites of battles with Indians, early French and Spanish forts and missions, colonial houses and forts, battlefields of the American Revolution, many early log structures, pioneer sites, and other remains connected with the westward development of the country, homes of individuals famous in American history, and other memorials.

Besides the public holdings, summarized above, there are numerous historical and archeological sites of genuine and widespread recreational interest owned by semi-public or private historical organizations and societies, or by individuals, but open to the public. These holdings include a great many historic houses, besides Indian mound sites, farm plantations, and even complete villages, dotting the country from Maine to California. Most of these have been developed in the past 40 years, and the greater proportion in the past 15. Drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, these Federal, State, and local holdings form an important element of national recreational resources and the national recreational program.

Besides the problem of planning for the best use of existing park facilities, development of land and water use on a broadly planned scale raises the question of preserving historic and archeological sites which are at present unprotected.

In the midst of the great changes now affecting our national social and economic structure, it is easy to destroy undeveloped historic and archeological sites without giving full consideration to their importance. Industrialization, urbanization, movements of population, regional planning, electrification, housing programs these can easily crush, in their onward way, the fragile, and irreplaceable symbols which tie us to the past, and which we may later wish we had preserved. In the development of a great river valley, in its electrification, in the migrations necessitated by demand for a balance between agriculture and industry, there is a tendency, more local than national, to demand the destruction of old buildings and ancient remains, in order "to clear the way for the future." Old log cabins, a dilapidated southern plantation home, an Indian mound, as characteristic in their way as an old castle along the Rhine, may appear to the persons directly charged with carrying out a broad social plan to stand in the way of progress. But actually such buildings may be an invaluable national asset, as real as a hundred square miles of forest, and more completely irreplaceable when lost. Such structures provide us with a feeling of continuity in our development, they recall to our minds our most valuable traditions, such as pioneer courage or the generous social impulses of the South; they give us faith in our ancestry; and they provide us with visible symbols of the long, steady progression of our civilization.

In a general program which looks toward widespread physical changes in land and water use, attention should be given to the protection and preservation of important historical and archeological remains during the process.

With regard to matters of population, it should be noted that there is a relatively close correlation between the distribution of historic sites and the distribution of population. This fact possesses a double significance. The growth of population, with the resulting urbanization and industrialization, is likely to result in an undiscriminating destruction of everything old, unless legislation is enacted, as in European countries, to prevent it. Secondly, since historic sites are often already close to large bodies of population, they are in a position to furnish a natural and inspiring form of recreation amid education without involving the necessity of leaving the population areas.

There is likewise a close relationship between geography and history, the former having in one sense laid a natural basis for the great main line of American development. The location of our historic cities, the population in our fertile valleys, the sites of the battles on American soil are to be explained largely in terms of geography. The great natural highways and avenues of communication throughout America are likewise often the historic routes—the Cumberland Gap roads, and the Hudson Valley and Ohio Valley routes, for example. In American development, historic and geographic elements have become intermingled.

Historic sites fill an essential social need, and it follows from this that a program regarding them is a public responsibility. Our American historic sites are among the most important tangible symbols of our unity as a Nation. From California to Maine and from Texas to Michigan we have a common cultural and social interest in our background, in the events that made our Nation, in the great experiences of the Revolution and the Civil War. Symbolized in such places as Yorktown, Gettysburg, and Abraham Lincoln's birthplace, this common national history forms perhaps our strongest single social bond. Furthermore, historic sites help to nourish our national traditions out of which much of culture comes. The pioneering outlook of the West, the social generosity of the South, the civic strength of New England, are among the most important social resources of America. To allow the historic buildings and sites which embody these traditions to fall away from neglect is to nullify the physical evidences of the best productive labors of our forefathers. Especially to people in great cities, where crowding populations and industrial ugliness are strong, contact with the survivals of an earlier America brings "an invaluable corrective to their mental and imaginative outlook." To insure the accomplishment of this by some agency, public or private, is an essential duty of government.

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Last Modified: Fri, Sep. 5, 2003 10:32:22 am PDT

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