What is a “national monument” established by the President?
A “national monument” established by the President protects “objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government” (54 U.S.C. § 320301, known as the Antiquities Act). If the national monument is administered by the National Park Service (NPS), as many national monuments are, it is subject to the same laws and policies as govern other units of the National Park System. Thus, an NPS national monument established by the President is a protected area similar to a national park, administered for the protection and enjoyment of its resources and values.
How does an area become a national monument?
To be established by the President, the area must meet the criteria of the Antiquities Act (54 U.S.C § 320301), including having objects of historic or scientific interest located on land already owned or controlled by the Federal government. The views of the public are carefully considered in the process. National monuments can also be created by Congress under their own enabling statutes, rather than the Antiquities Act. National monuments can be administered by Federal agencies other than NPS. The Presidential proclamation or Congressionally-enacted statute creating the national monument typically indicates which Federal agency will administer it.
What constitutes the Reconstruction Era National Monument?
The Reconstruction Era began during the Civil War and lasted until the dawn of Jim Crow racial segregation in the 1890s. It remains one of the most complicated and poorly understood periods in American History. During Reconstruction, four million African Americans, newly freed from bondage, sought to integrate themselves into free society, into the educational, economic, and political life of the country. This began in November 1861 in Beaufort County, S.C., after Union forces won the Battle at Port Royal Sound and brought the ‘Lowcountry’ along the South Carolina coast under Union control. More than 10,000 slaves remained there when their owners fled the lucrative cotton and rice plantations. The then-Lincoln Administration decided to initiate the ‘Port Royal Experiment’ in Beaufort County to help the former slaves become self-sufficient.
The Reconstruction Era National Monument includes four sites in Beaufort County:
- Darrah Hall and Brick Baptist Church, within Penn School National Historic Landmark District on St. Helena Island, that includes the site of one of the country’s first schools for freed slaves and a church built by slaves in 1855 and then turned over to the former slaves in 1862.
- The Camp Saxton Site, on U.S. Navy property in Port Royal, where some of the first African Americans joined the U.S. Army, and the site where elaborate ceremonies were held on New Year’s Day 1863 to announce and celebrate the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation.
- The Old Beaufort Firehouse, an historic building located in the midst of historic downtown Beaufort within walking distance of dozens more historic Reconstruction properties.
What happens now that the area has been designated a national monument?
The National Park Service is beginning to work on the development of a management plan, to ensure that the new national monument preserves the site’s resources and provides for an outstanding visitor experience. The National Park Service’s planning for the new park will be done with full public involvement and in coordination with the City of Beaufort, the Town of Port Royal, Beaufort County, Brick Baptist Church, Penn Center, Inc., U.S. Navy, and other stakeholders. Open houses and public engagement meetings will be held to discuss the management plan and invite the public to share ideas for the future of the monument.
What has to happen before this new national monument will open to the visiting public?
The Old Beaufort Firehouse and Darrah Hall are not currently open to the public. Once repairs and restoration activities at these sites are complete, these resources would likely open to the public for access, education, and interpretation. Camp Saxton, located on U.S. Navy property at Naval Supply Facility Beaufort, is also not currently open to the public. During the management planning process, the NPS and U.S. Navy will work together to identify potential opportunities for visitor access to the site or perhaps through adjacent land off Navy property. The Brick Baptist Church on St. Helena Island is a privately-held, active church that is not open to the public.