On-line Book


Table of Contents


I. In the Beginning: 1872 - 1916

II. The Landscape Influence: 1916 - 1918

III. The Formative Decade: 1918 - 1927

IV. Maturity Achived: 1927 - 1932

V. Roosevelt's Emergancy Programs: 1933 - 1935

VI. The Decline: 1935 - 1942


Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Author's Note

National Park Service
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Rustic Architecture:
1916 - 1942


Visitors to our system of national parks and monuments seldom pay much attention to park architecture. This is as it should be, for since its founding over 60 years ago, the National Park Service consistently has sought to provide visitor facilities without visually interrupting the natural or historic scene. Occasionally, however, the park visitor will discover in one of the older parks a structure so highly stylized in its attempt to be non-intrusive that it attracts the immediate attention of those who are accustomed to the simplicity and frequent sterility of contemporary architecture. It may take the form of a pioneer log cabin, or an Indian pueblo, or a New England "salt-box” or it may be built of over-sized, rough-hewn logs and stones. Whatever its style, its obviously intensive use of hand labor and its clear rejection of the regularity and symmetry of the industrial world, mark it as the work of another age, the product of an attitude far removed from our own.

For lack of a better phrase, these varied styles have long been inadequately lumped together under the term "rustic architecture.” But perhaps a voice from the 1930s can explain the problem more clearly:

    “The style of architecture which has been most widely used in our forested National Parks, and other wilderness parks, is generally referred to as "rustic.” It is, or should be, something more than the worn and misused term implies. It is earnestly hoped that a more apt and expressive designation for the style may evolve, but until it appears, "rustic," in spite of its inaccuracy and inadequacy, must be resorted to...."1

A superior term has never appeared, so "rustic" it remains.

This paper is an exploration of the rise and fall of National Park Service rustic architecture. As NPS Historical Architect Merrill Ann Wilson has noted, rustic was a function of its times.

    "This little noticed movement in American architecture was a natural outgrowth of a new romanticism about nature, about our country's western frontiers...The conservation ethic slowly took hold in this atmosphere of romanticism. Part of this ethic fostered the development of a unique architectural style. Perhaps for the first time in the history of American architecture, a building became an accessory to nature... Early pioneer and regional building techniques were revived because it was thought that a structure employing native materials blended best with the environment...No [other] single government agency has to date been responsible for such a revolutionary break in architectural form. "2

This monograph grew out of a survey of historically and architecturally significant structures in the areas of the Western Region of the National Park Service (California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii). The survey required the evaluation of early rustic structures in the Western Region parks. When it became apparent that available historical data was insufficient for the purpose, this study was initiated. The goal was to develop a history of the NPS rustic architecture movement, delineating its development. the influences it drew upon, its relationship to the history of the national parks, and its relationship to American architecture in general. The authors soon discovered that such a study could not be limited to the Western Region parks. Hence this paper attempts to relate rustic architecture to the history of the entire national park system. Because of the uneven availability of records, Yosemite, Sequoia, Crater Lake and Mount Rainier National Parks received heaviest attention. Consideration was also given to some buildings in Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and General Grant (Kings Canyon) National Parks and in several of the southwestern monuments. Unfortunately data on some other older areas, including Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde was unavailable within the limited scope of this project. For the same reason Acadia, the only eastern national park during the critical period (1917-1927) when rustic architecture was developing, also received minimal attention.

It is not the intention of the authors to catalog herein all of the significant rustic structures within the National Park Service. Numerous buildings worthy of preservation are not mentioned. Hopefully, this study will serve as a historical base for such an evaluation. A system-wide survey of significant rustic structures is needed. Often rustic structures are too young (less than fifty years) to receive proper attention under the current criteria of the National Register of Historic Places. Each year a few disappear and a good many more are hopelessly altered by renovation or remodeling done without sensitivity to the original design. In this regard the authors can only concur with Ms. Wilson: "The rustic timber and stone buildings found in our national parks...represent an important irreplaceable architectural resource which should be used and conserved. "3

1. National Park Service, Park Structures and Facilities (Washington, D.C>: Government Printing Office, 1935), 3.
2. Merrill Ann Wilson, "Rustic Architecture: The National Park Style," Trends, (July August September, 1976), 4-5.
3. Ibid., 7.


William C. Tweed, Historian
Laura E. Soulliere, Architectural Historian
Henry G. Law, Architect

National Park Service
Western Regional Office
Division of Culutral Resource Management
February, 1977

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