The Early Years: 1850-1900

Pillars line the front of a long, two-story white house.
Mount Vernon, first preserved in 1858.

Theodor Horydczak, Library of Congress


First historic property preserved.

The Ladies of Mount Vernon help to save President George Washington's property in Virginia as one of the first private efforts in the United States to preserve a nationally significant historic property.

Other early preservation milestones include efforts to save Independence Hall in 1816 (acquired by the city), Gettysburg battlefield commemoration beginning in 1864, and the creation of one of the first state historic sites (General Washington's Headquarters in Newburgh, NY) in 1850.


First conservation book published.

pine trees line a river at the base of a dramatic rock face.
Frederick Law Olmsted advocated for the preservation of Yosemite in 1865. Here, El Capitan is seen from the Merced River in what is now Yosemite National Park, California.

Photographer C.C. Pierce, ca. 1900. University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society, Creative Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

George Perkins Marsh publishes Man and Nature. Marsh advocates the idea that human behavior affects the appearance and overall health of the landscape. This work is viewed as the foundation of the modern conservation movement.


Report issued on Yosemite conservation.

In one of the first writings of its type, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted describes the necessity of providing people contact with wilderness while managing human impacts on the environment.

The Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove


First national park established.

President Ulysses S. Grant signs legislation establishing the first national park, Yellowstone.

Four men on skis cross an open area of snow in 1897.
Yellowstone became the world's first national park in 1872. Here, Morrison, Sitham, Holte, and Lindsley ski on a trip to Fall River in 1897.

NPS Photo/Yellowstone National Park, Catalog #18778. Photo and caption via park Flickr.

Brick and crushed stone pathways neatly divide low flower beds.
A garden in Colonial Williamsburg designed in the Colonial Revival style.

Photo by Harvey Barrison, (Massapequa, NY), via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons [CC BY-SA 2.0]


Colonial Revival Garden Movement begins.

The US Centennial marks the beginning of the Colonial Revival Movement in the United States reflecting popular regard for garden design of the US Colonial period.

The movement is widely attributed to the outgrowth of interest in Colonial scenes presented at the Philadelphia Centennial International Exposition.


First reforestation efforts in the United States.
A hill of glowing foliage is reflected in a still pond.
A forest managed by conservation practices at Marsh Billings National Historical Park.

NPS Photo

Frederick Billings devotes himself to the conservation of his Woodstock, Vermont property, working with George Aitken, to create a model conservation property through forest management practices.


First state park established.

Niagara Falls in New York becomes the nation's first state park.


First scenery preservation efforts.

Landscape architect Charles Eliot (1859-1897) authors a letter entitled "The Waverly Oaks." Published in Garden and Forest, this letter calls for the establishment of an organization to support preservation of scenery in the vicinity of the Massachusetts State House.

His efforts result in the establishment of the Trustees of Public Reservations (now The Trustees of Reservations) in the spring of 1891 by the Massachusetts Legislature. It is the oldest regional land trust in the world.


First Civil War battlefields preserved.

Congress passes enabling legislation to create Antietam National Battlefield Site and Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

Veterans and families wear suits and dresses as they pose around a monument, beside a flag.
William Tipton photo of veterans and families at the dedication of the 11th Connecticut monument at Antietam, October 11, 1894. Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland.

From "Excursion to Antietam and Dedication of Monuments of the 8th, 11th, 14th, and 16th Regiments of Connecticut Volunteers, October 1894," NPS/Antietam National Battlefield Archives


Adirondack Park was established.

Seven years after the creation of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, a bill passed in the state legislature that established Adirondack Park "for the free use of all the people." It protected this New York wilderness from the burning and lumbering that had become an increasing concern after 1850.


First national historic preservation organization founded.

The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society was founded. Although the name suggests a national scope, it focused primarily on New York State parks and historic sites.

Last updated: July 26, 2017