Maintaining A Legacy
An Administrative History of George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
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The Park in a Local Context

The National Park system contains two distinct kinds of parks located in urban and semi-urban areas. One category, urban recreational parks designed to offer large numbers of people recreational opportunities, developed during the 1960s and 1970s under the leadership of National Park Service Director George B. Hartzog, Jr. Parks such as Cape Cod National Seashore and Point Reyes National Seashore were typical of early versions of this category; later and more comprehensively urban parks such as Golden Gate National Recreation Area have become characteristic of the genre. [1] These parks had been conceived and developed with the recreational use of a sizeable urban public as a goal. Their constituency was largely local and regional in character.

Other parks with more traditional Park Service themes were also located in urban areas. As the American population grew and more and more people coveted suburban and rural living, many parks acquired de facto urban characteristics. Places such as Bandelier National Monument, with its impressive archeological ruins and its proximity to the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, developed dual functions. While catering to the national traveling public, they also served as city parks for the people of their locale. [2] Despite the organic legislation of such parks, which usually emphasized historic, archeological, natural, or cultural themes, park officials in such places had to adjust their management to account for the input of local constituencies as well as accommodate their needs.

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park embodied all of the characteristics of the latter category. Located within the city of Vincennes but established to commemorate the historic events that occurred there in 1779, the park embodied two additional distinct functions. An important entity in the regional economy, the park offered a centerpiece for tourism in Knox County. Located in the middle of downtown, the park had become an integral part of local public life. The combination of these functions created a park with a complicated mission.

At George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, the Park Service had to fulfill the needs of the community, of visitors, and of the local economy as well as maintain Park Service standards, preserve the memorial structure and its environs, and interpret the park for the public. In this situation, Park Service officials operated within tight constraints that often pitted important objectives and equally significant constituencies against one another. Issues such as administration, local relations, and impingements on the character of the park all preceded the arrival of the Park Service and shaped not only management strategy but relations with the community as well.

In this, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park faced an atypical situation. At the majority of park areas, new development outside the park initiated conditions that affected the park in some manner. At the Vincennes park, most of these situations were inherited, predating the arrival of the agency and reflecting local culture and custom as well as conditions that prevailed before 1966. In some cases, challenges to the integrity of the park reflected the aspirations of Vincennes' business or educational communities and their sense of the importance of the historical and cultural features of the town.

As a result, at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park ongoing local relationships dominated the management horizon. The Park Service presence functioned as a component of the cultural resources community, a mainstay of the local tourism industry, and a factor in area business. Agency decision-making had to account for the web of community mores, values, and expectations. This meant that the community served as both a source of solutions to the problems facing the park as well as a catalyst for those same issues. In this urban context, as in many others throughout the nation, the agency found itself with a difficult management mandate to follow.

By the time the Park Service arrived in 1967 to assume responsibility for the memorial, an entire range of management issues with long histories to which the agency presence was only an appendage existed. These issues addressed questions that dated from the inception of the idea of the memorial, focusing on land acquisition to support the historic mise-en-scene, protection of the park from natural elements such as the intermittent flooding of the Wabash River, and the local setting in which the park operated. At George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, the Park Service faced a wholly formed situation upon its arrival; it had to operate within the constraints of preexisting conditions.

One issue that vexed park managers from the outset was the railroad spur that crossed the park between the memorial and the river, to the immediate west of the rotunda. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad maintained a track through the proposed park that, during the 1920s, served industries to the south. As early as the late 1920s, advocates of the memorial requested the removal of the track. On July 29, 1929, in the Cincinnati, Ohio, offices of the railroad, state and federal commission members and their supporters met with railroad officials to discuss moving its location. Representatives of the railroad "showed a sympathetic attitude" toward the project and expressed their willingness to help, but they could not commit to removal of the track. [3]

As in much of the early planning for the memorial, D. Frank Culbertson played an instrumental role in efforts to acquire the land under the railroad track. The meeting in 1929 was the result of nearly three years of his work. He first contacted the railroad at its Baltimore headquarters in 1926, but the plan for the memorial did not persuade the company. [4] Three years later, when Culbertson headed the delegation to the Cincinnati meeting, he expected success. Although he did not secure a firm promise, Culbertson and his supporters had reason to be optimistic.

The stock market crash of 1929 did much to dash that optimism. Like most other American businesses, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad suffered losses in conjunction with the economic downturn. Changing the location of their track, a seemingly minor expense before the decline in national economic fortunes, took on the appearance of an unnecessary outlay for a company strapped by adverse circumstances. The company remained sympathetic, but failed to fulfill what Culbertson had interpreted as a promise in 1929. [5]

By 1935, the economic conditions in the nation had changed, and a new opportunity to remove the railroad tracks appeared. The Central States Gas Company once operated an artificial gas plant south of the newly constructed memorial that supplied the city of Vincennes. It had been a major reason for constructing the railroad tracks. By 1935, the coke works had become obsolete, as the advent of natural gas as a fuel in the first decade of the twentieth century ended the demand for the inferior artificial gas. The company sold the property to the memorial commission in 1936. The demolition of the plant removed the primary reason for maintaining the railroad spur. In 1935, negotiations with the railroad resulted in a promise from its president, Daniel Willard, to remove the tracks. [6]

By the middle of 1937, the process again had slowed. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had not yet fulfilled what Culbertson and the rest of the commission regarded as its promise to relinquish the track bed. Culbertson envisioned a boulevard beginning within the memorial grounds and following the track bed along the river north through town. This was an attractive proposition for the town, and it suggested the possibility of linking Grouseland, William Henry Harrison's home, with the memorial. But the plan depended on the actions of the railroad, and the Baltimore and Ohio did not seem predisposed to step aside. By the time the final mandate of the sesquicentennial commission expired in 1939, no further progress had been achieved. [7]

Local legend held that a transfer of the track to the memorial commission was stymied by an act of fate. According to an oft-repeated story, Culbertson had reached agreement with an unnamed vice-president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, who promised to arrange the transfer and pay for landscaping to cover the scar from the removed rail bed. But before he could fulfill his promise the man died of a heart attack. His successor opposed the arrangement and either did not believe Culbertson when he explained the agreement to the new official or decided against its implementation. The railroad track through the park remained in service. [8]

The Indiana Department of Conservation did not pursue the removal of the railroad track with any evident vigor. The maintenance of the memorial building was an enormous task, and the state agency lacked the resources to stay abreast even of the seepage problem. Represented only by caretakers, the department did not have on-site personnel with the standing to negotiate for the track. From 1940 until the Park Service arrived more than one-quarter century later, the railroad remained a dormant issue.

The first Park Service officials to visit the park in conjunction with the transfer of administration recognized the importance of the acquisition of the railroad spur, but initial efforts at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park were directed at maintenance and interpretation. The first Master Plan noted the existence of the railroad spur, but did not set an aggressive acquisition strategy. During Lagemann's first years at the park, one train daily, pulled by a diesel engine and as many as eight freight cars, would make the trip through the park to the Vincennes Sand and Gravel Company pit located south of town. Although this constituted most of the rail traffic through the park, during the fall, when the wheat harvest peaked, Cargill Inc. used the track within the park as a siding for cars filled with grain. Sometimes the cars reached into the park so far that they were directly parallel with the rotunda. Although the cars generally remained on the siding for no more than one day, Lagemann and visiting Park Service officials regarded their presence as an intrusion. [9]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Park Service made a series of inquiries about acquiring the track. Access to the gravel pit remained its sole active use, and NPS officials believed the gravel pit could be accommodated without using the park as a thoroughfare. In their view, the railroad cars parked on the grounds during harvest season could be transferred to another siding. During the middle of the 1970s, Lagemann conducted a study of alternative rail routes to the gravel pit. A recently abandoned New York Central Railroad track offered an option. This track could be connected to the Baltimore and Ohio track to create a loop that went to the northeast of the pit, away from the park, instead of through the park to the northwest. Although Park Service officials became extremely positive about the plan, it went no further than Lagemann's report. [10]

During 1980, in conjunction with efforts to create a memorial mall that linked the park with Grouseland, recommendations to remove the railroad line surfaced again. Since its arrival in Vincennes, the Park Service had an interest in the mall concept. In 1965, a planning team that visited the park to assess its feasibility as a national park system unit noted that a "combined area" that included the memorial and other historic places in the community could be established by extending the memorial mall. The 1980 Vincennes Memorial Mall sprang from that idea, for agency officials recognized that access to Grouseland and other historic places in the community enhanced the significance of the national park. The proposal emanated from the cooperation between the community and the Park Service in the heady atmosphere that followed the construction of the visitor center. City officials took the lead. As early as October 1976, Park Service officials met with local leaders to explore the possibility of creating a mall, but the role of the Park Service in the development was limited to planning assistance. [11] By the end of 1978, a full-scale planning process undertaken by the Park Service to provide the city with a mall, developed in accordance with NPS standards and eventually to be added to the park, was in progress. Yet the Park Service remained subject to strictures. As late as October 1979, while the Park Service prepared a study of the concept, Regional Director J. L. Dunning carefully pointed out that without Congressional authorization, the Park Service could not contribute funds to the effort, even though the agency recognized many advantages of the mall proposal. "The Park Service supports your efforts in seeing that the mall becomes a reality," Dunning informed Dr. Isaac K. Beckes, president of Vincennes University, located at the north end of the proposed mall, but even though the Park Service would handle the planning, the impetus for the project would have to come from the university or the community. [12]

Aspects of the plan posed difficulties for some of the major industries in Vincennes. Vincennes Steel Corporation, which was located several blocks north of the proposed mall area, depended upon the railroad to supply it with raw material and carry products to its customers. As the proposal developed, Andrew Day, executive officer of the company, came to Lagemann to express his concerns. If the plant could not receive rail service, its relocation would cost $25,000,000. Lagemann sympathized, expressed Day's worries to the regional director, and sought to mitigate the impact in the planning process. [13] Such concerns made planning the mall an intricate process.

The plan that the Park Service presented to the public on July 29, 1980, was impressive. The proposed park included all of the major historical features in Vincennes, from St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church to the Old French House, the Indiana Territory Capitol, and a proposed reconstruction of Jefferson Academy, the forerunner of Vincennes University, which the university wanted to use to interpret early education throughout the Indiana Territory. [14] The plan covered the length of the riverfront from the existing park to Grouseland, bringing in other features by bending away from the river. With many interpretive facilities and programs, a "greenscape suitable for walking or learning," the proposed mall served both educational and recreational functions. It would be a fulcrum for the downtown, possibly preventing the kind of urban decay that had become common among small cities. As it was proposed, the memorial mall would more than fulfill D. Frank Culbertson's fifty-year-old dream of a "boulevard."

But the mall project clearly hinged upon the removal of the track through the entire section. Failure to eliminate railroad traffic "will require an entirely new plan," the planning report attested, "or more likely no plan at all." [15] No matter what Park Service, Vincennes University, or city officials planned, the key to the project was the resolution of the situation with the railroad track. Without its removal, the development of the mall could not proceed.

The proposal rerouted much of the rail traffic through downtown Vincennes. Among the proposed changes was the elimination of the railroad track that passed through the park on the way to the gravel pit. Removal of the track assured that the southern portion of the proposed mall, the existing national historical park, would be free of rail traffic, but rail access to the Vincennes Steel Corporation would be curtailed. The proposal relocated rail service so that rather than running the length of the proposed mall, it crossed the park in one location, just south of Grouseland and the Indiana Territory Capitol, and tied directly into the railroad bridge across the Wabash River. The proposal required that Vincennes University offer land for the new rail connection. In addition, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad line stopped short of the Vincennes Sand and Gravel Company. In the plan, this stretch of track would be extended to provide service to the gravel pit. [16]

With the help of local leaders, the Park Service had crafted a bold step to enhance George Rogers Clark National Historical Park. The mall concept solved many of the problems the agency faced at the park. It gave the Park Service a form of supervisory control over the interpretive scheme of the entire historic resources community of Vincennes, ended the vexing dilemma of the railroad in-holding, and compelled the local owners of important cultural resources into some kind of cooperative arrangement with the Park Service. For the city, the plan offered an outstanding supplement to the existing park, a way to attract visitation from far and near, and finally, creation of a park worthy of the national significance of the story of Fort Sackville's capture and the settling of the Old Northwest. It seemed as if the original ideas for the Clark memorial finally would be fulfilled.

But without acquisition of the north-south railroad track through the existing park and the proposed mall area, the project could not proceed. Negotiations for the track were ongoing, but in the early 1980s, nothing was accomplished. During the Reagan administration, the Department of the Interior espoused different goals than had its predecessors. Under an edict from Secretary of the Interior James Watt, whose priority for the park system was upgrading of existing facilities and capital development, the Park Service found itself unable to acquire new park lands even when Congress allocated funds for such transactions. [17] Although the Vincennes Memorial Mall was as much a local project as one developed by the Park Service, other Reagan-era cuts in support to communities, such as the gradual elimination of the Community Block Development Grant (CBDG) program that many communities used to refurbish blighted and declining areas, doomed the chances of outside funding. The mall proposal fizzled.

Late in the decade, another effort to make the mall concept work gathered momentum. It began in 1987, when the city put forward the idea to convert the west end of Main Street, adjacent to the north end of the park, into a plaza that would overlook the river. It was to include park-like amenities such as a band shell and walkways, designed to create a recreational focus for the downtown area. But other city projects received higher priority, and by 1989, this plan faded. [18]

As the effort to extend the park along the riverfront faded, another project that aimed at expanding park boundaries gained momentum. Fort Knox II, three miles from town, had been the location of the Vincennes garrison between 1803 and 1813. Although little remained of the fort, the Indiana Historical Society acquired the property and sought to evaluate its options. The society nominated the site to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, but it was rejected. Throughout the 1980s, the historical society sought to find a responsible entity to manage the fort site. Toward the end of the decade, they fixed their attention on the Park Service. Members of George Rogers Clark National Historical Park staff had participated in the Fort Knox II committee of the historical society, and in the view of state officials, the Park Service seemed a solid candidate to include the fort in an expanded George Rogers Clark National Historical Park. [19]

For the Park Service, the potential addition of the fort site presented a significant public relations problem. As early as 1960, Park Service historians decided that the fort had state, not national significance. The review of the national register nomination in 1979 reaffirmed that decision. Influential members of the community regarded the fort as worthy of inclusion, and the Indiana Historical Society exerted its influence. Three years later, on March 3, 1982, the fort was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The park received $40,000 for a new area study of Fort Knox II in 1989 through the offices of senators Richard Lugar and J. Danforth Quayle. The Park Service previously had made clear that it did not want the fort, but in Vincennes, with the superintendent and the chief of Interpretation and Resources Management sitting on the Fort Knox II committee, the park could not express vehement opposition. Historical significance, local desire, and political clout were on a collision course. [20]

The new area study supported the existing NPS view that Fort Knox II had only state significance and did not merit inclusion in the national park system. The team, headed by Superintendent Steven Kesselman of Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and including Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Superintendent Norman Hellmers and Superintendent Terry M. DiMattio, held a public meeting in Vincennes on January 25, 1989, to introduce the project, and another on May 3 to discuss alternatives. The team determined that even with new information derived from recent archeological endeavors, the fort lacked national significance. [21]

Local supporters sought to apply pressure through the Indiana congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. Jeffrey Kolb, a partner in the Vincennes law firm of Emison, Doolittle, and Kolb, initiated a campaign to "turn up the heat," and although the Park Service clearly defined its objections, political maneuvering posed a threat to the standards of the agency. [22] This age-old issue reflected the dual position of the Park Service as a political entity responsive to pressure and a professional one determined to uphold its definitions of significance.

Both DiMattio and his successor, Superintendent James Holcomb, who arrived in Vincennes in August 1990, worked to keep the Fort Knox II issue in the realm of the professional instead of the political. Since the historical record showed that little of national significance occurred at the Fort Knox II site, DiMattio suggested that it would simply provide ammunition to those who "pursue[d] a political solution to what should be a professional decision" to indicate that the site might have potential archeological significance. Showing strong fidelity to agency standards, Holcomb assessed the situation and agreed with the dominant NPS viewpoint. The Park Service, Holcomb's words, "politely bowed out." The Indiana Department of Natural Resources later expressed interest in administering the fort, and an agreement was finalized. The state took over the site on September 18, 1994. [23]

In 1990, another effort to develop the riverfront emanated from the Vincennes Area Chamber of Commerce. Utilizing its political influence, the chamber brought a proposal to U.S. Senator Dan Coats to turn eight-tenths of a mile of riverfront land into a pedestrian walkway and greenbelt that would link the Vincennes University complex and Grouseland to the national historical park. The Chamber of Commerce sought Community Focus Fund support for the project, and in its list of cooperating entities included the National Park Service, along with the city of Vincennes and the Indiana State Museum Commission. [24]

From the Park Service perspective, the new idea had problems. It failed to resolve the rail bed issue or add other historic places to the park. Nor did it offer a mall as large and impressive as the one the 1980 plan contemplated; in essence, the Chamber asked the Park Service to assume responsibility for an extended footpath. After viewing the area with Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Belle Kasting, Superintendent James Holcomb reported to Regional Director Don Castleberry that he did not believe the area contained national significance. [25]

The proposal continued to attract attention. In February 1992, the Vincennes Board of Public Works and Safety voted to donate the greenbelt lands to the Park Service, and chamber officials pressed the state congressional delegation for support. The proposal also sparked the interest of the local press, with the Vincennes Sun-Commercial publishing an editorial that supported the donation of the land and encouraged "careful, and favorable, consideration" of the idea by the Park Service. [26]

At the behest of the Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana congressional delegation began to support the idea. Between February and June of 1992, the city of Vincennes began to improve the area slated to be the greenbelt, a development that met with the approval of James Holcomb. In June 1992, Senator Coats introduced a bill for a study of the proposal, another development that met with the approval of the Park Service. But local residents saw the study as an expensive distraction, and Holcomb was forced to defend the idea in a letter to the editor of the Vincennes Sun-Commercial. "The greatest threats to our national parks . . . [are] the frequent proposals of congressmen to create national parks in home districts which are of state and local significance and [do not include] the National Park Service's study program in the proposal process," Holcomb wrote. "I would like to see the Sun-Commercial join the team [of cultural resources supporters] to promote and encourage the development of historic Vincennes. Holcomb had become a supporter of the greenbelt project, but that support was predicated upon the city embracing a dominant role in development. [27]

In 1994, Superintendent Holcomb believed the proposal for the greenbelt was at its strongest. City officials changed their tactics; prior to 1992, they spent their time trying to arrange for donation of the land for the greenbelt to the federal government. Beginning in 1992, the emphasis shifted, and the city began to develop the land on its own. Parts of the paved area, including the defunct Culbertson Boulevard, were prepared to be planted with grass, and a general cleanup of the area was under way. "They're taking steps to improve it themselves," Holcomb noted in 1993. [28]

Holcomb perceived the efforts of the city as an advantage if a federal study indicated that the takeover was a valid concept. "The city will be in a stronger position," Holcomb suggested, for having "demonstrated that they are willing to use their own resources." In 1994, the study bill, which had died at the end of the previous congressional session, was expected to be reintroduced. [29]

The issue of the riverfront land revealed the degree to which the development of Vincennes had become a function of relationships. The attitudes of the 1960s long since had passed; in the competitive climate of the 1990s, when most of America was expected to do more with less, none of the local entities alone had sufficient influence to achieve desired goals. Instead local, state, and federal entities had to work together. This situation forced the acknowledgment of a kind of interdependence that reflected the realities of the time. With coinciding objectives, the various groups could achieve much; without mutual goals, their chances of success diminished.

In fact, that interdependence had historic roots. Since the construction of the memorial, its keepers — sesquicentennial commission, state agency, and National Park Service — all had been part of the community. All were dependent upon the same systems. Most notable of these systems was the array of levees and floodwalls that kept the Wabash River from spilling over its banks during floods and inundating downtown and all its historic and modern places. North of the Lincoln Memorial Bridge was 286 feet of the Vincennes floodwall; within the park the memorial floodwall offered protection; and to the south of the park began the Brevoort Levee. [30]

The intricate system of levees and floodwalls that protected the park and downtown dated from the 1930s. In January 1930, a flood breached the existing levee, first constructed in 1916, and sent water cascading into the town. This reminded the planners of the memorial of the need for flood protection. The floodwall within the park was built as part of the original memorial project. It linked to the existing local levee system, stretching 1,000 feet in length. The twenty-three-foot-high wall was both decorative and functional, built with reinforced concrete and designed to blend in with the memorial structure. Under the auspices of the Flood Control Act of 1936, the levee repaired after the 1930 flood was replaced with a new one reaching higher than 31.2 feet above the river channel. This earthen development, called the Brevoort Levee, was the largest project heretofore undertaken by the Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At its completion, it stretched more than forty miles in length. [31]

By the time the Park Service arrived in Vincennes, maintenance of the floodwall was its major obligation concerning flood prevention. The Brevoort Levee and the floodwall remained under the jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers, with the Park Service assuming responsibility for the portion of the 1,000-foot floodwall above the level of the sidewalk. Once each year, two Corps engineers would inspect the entire wall for flood damage from the preceding year. For the length of Lagemann's tenure, the wall remained solid, requiring only the occasional repair of fissures near its top. Lagemann did discover erosion between the bank of the river and the floodwall. When he arrived in 1967, he noticed a row of cottonwood trees roughly halfway between the wall and the riverbank; by the middle of the 1970s, the roots of the trees were exposed, and if the erosion was allowed to continue, in a matter of years, the floodwall itself would become the riverbank. Although several solutions such as rip-rapping the bank were suggested, the only action taken was to insist that the Illinois and Indiana highway departments, which maintained the Lincoln Memorial Bridge, immediately remove logjams that piled up during floods. This would help regulate the flow of the river. [32]

Contract research commissioned during the 1980s suggested that the floodwall remained viable, although erosion posed an increasing threat. A 1989 study by Patrick Engineering Inc., of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, affirmed that the wall was essentially intact and suggested that as long as its underdrain system, which the company believed to be functional, continued to work, the floodwall would provide an effective barrier against the river. Although isolated non-load bearing locations required some maintenance, the study said, with only minor attention the floodwall could continue to withstand annual flooding. Erosion presented a more formidable problem. The riverbank was eroding at the rate of six inches to one foot each year, meaning that in as little as twenty years, the riverbank might disappear and the river would abut the floodwall. The company recommended the application of Tri-Lock concrete blocks over a woven monofilament filter fabric. These blocks would be placed along the base of the floodwall at a projected cost in the range of $150,000. [33]

From the perspective of the Park Service, the Tri-Lock proved an inappropriate solution. Late in 1989, DiMattio learned that because of the inclusion of the Wabash River in the Nationwide Rivers Inventory, the use of structural methods to control erosion was less desirable than natural methods such as the planting of vegetation. Clearly erosion remained a major problem; the answer to the combination of statute and policy governing management was less clear. [34]

The floodwall faced a major test in January 1991, when the Wabash River flooded at Vincennes. After an extended period of heavy rain, on December 31, 1990, the National Weather Service forecasted a twenty-seven-foot crest to the flood that would peak in Vincennes on January 7, 1991. According to park figures, this meant the water would not reach the top of the floodwall, but would come within three feet of it. The entire community pitched in with consistent sandbagging along the river. As part of the response, the Park Service sandbagged the wall at the top of the ramp leading to the river bottom. The water rose quickly, reaching 22.7 feet by 4 P.M. on January 2, 24.6 feet by the same time the next day, and 25.5 feet by 9 A.M. on January 5. At that time, water had come into the park at the north end where a chain link fence was the only protection. The sandbags at the top of the ramp remained above water, but the rest of the ramp was inundated. [35]

The subsequent seventy-two hours were crucial. Between January 4 and January 6, the river continued to rise, first to 25.8 feet at 4 P.M. on the first day and later to 26.4 feet by 9 A.M. on January 5. Although the floodwall and the sandbags held, if the water continued to rise, wholesale flooding became a possibility. The water reached to within three feet of the top of the sandbags, the walkway in the park north of the bridge was under water, and water seeped through the wall south of the Vigo statue. The water continued to hold at 26.4 feet throughout January 5 and January 6. If it did not rise any higher, the park would not sustain major damage. [36]

By January 7, the crisis ended and the Park Service could assess the impact of the flood. The floodwaters had begun to recede, falling to 25.8 feet by 9 A.M. January 7 and continuing to diminish for subsequent weeks. By January 18, the water had fallen to 17 feet, only three feet above flood stage. Within the park, the damage was negligible. Although water reached within thirty inches of the top of the floodwall, no buildings or basements flooded, and the flooding of sidewalks that did occur was inconsequential. In some places, small amounts of water leaked through cracks in the upper floodwall and created "heavy rain-like deposits" along the sidewalks. Local residents referred to the flood as "bad but not that unusual," and park staff could take pride in knowing that the combination of the facilities, their efforts, and those of the community had minimized potential damage from the flood. [37]

The flood also accentuated the importance of widespread cooperation in Vincennes. It reflected another of the many situations in which different entities within the community working together gave everyone greater capability. When Superintendent James Holcomb remarked that "the park possesses the resources along with community support to contend with similar flooding conditions," he was only restating the most prominent of the general principles of life in Vincennes. [38] At George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, cooperation with the community was the key to success in any kind of local endeavor.

The roots of this cooperation were imbedded in the legislation proclaiming the park. From its inception, staff members at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park were to serve as advisors and supporters of the cultural resources community in Vincennes. The Park Service expected to offer its expertise to the community. Robert Lagemann, who exhibited considerable skill in relations with the various entities in town, served in the foreground of this effort, but despite his consistent efforts at a range of activities, early relationships between the local cultural resources community and the park often were cool.

Part of this stemmed from the obvious resentment that a well-funded, professional management agency staffed with trained specialists could generate, but it also resulted from a lack of understanding of the mission of the Park Service in Vincennes. The authorizing legislation for the park allowed it to offer technical assistance to local cultural resources groups, but gave it no funds for development of resources outside of park boundaries. In a number of instances, local groups felt a proprietary sort of control over their historic sites; they wanted to run them as they saw fit and would have liked to have Park Service resources at their disposal. When the Park Service could not deliver what they wanted, these organizations questioned the efficacy of the federal presence. In many ways, the legislative basis for the relationship created expectations that could not be sustained.

Despite the inherent limitations in the mandate of the Park Service, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park served as an important catalyst for economic development in Vincennes. National park areas were national attractions, differentiated from the sometimes interesting, often bizarre collection of local and state attractions that came to dot American highways. In the 1960s and 1970s, visitors became discriminating out of necessity; only so many could stop at the world's largest ball of twine without wondering why they bothered. The brown signs that indicated national park areas were a form of quality control for the traveling public. The presence of the Park Service assured levels of service, and in general, a caliber of attraction worthy of their attention. Nor did visitors have to worry about excessive prices in the controlled environment of national park areas.

After the arrival of the Park Service, visitation numbers grew in Vincennes. While the memorial attracted about 25,000 people in the peak years of state administration, by the opening of the visitor center in 1976, the total reached nearly 130,000. Many of these were from outside of Vincennes and nearly all spent at least some money in the town. In comparison to the minimal development that resulted from state management, the presence of the national park area initiated an economic boomlet.

The Park Service enhanced the local sense of its importance as its members participated in a range of local organizations, civic groups, and cultural resource activities. Lagemann initiated the tradition in Vincennes, and successive park superintendents continued it. In 1981, Superintendent Roy J. Beasley, Jr., was elected a director of the Vincennes Rotary Club and was named to the Vincennes University Advisory Board on Historic Preservation, while Ranger Dennis Latta served as vice president of the Vincennes Historical and Antiquarian Society. Chief of Interpretation Robert J. Holden was already a local fixture as a result of his biweekly "Muskets, Tomahawks, and Long Rifles" column, carried by twelve regional newspapers. In 1980 and 1981, Holden also assisted the Fort Knox II Committee of the Indiana Historical Society with its efforts to open the fort to the public. In 1984, Superintendent Johnny D. Neal engaged in similar local activities; he consulted with the Knox County Chamber of Commerce and representatives of other historic places in Vincennes about a new historic sites brochure. He also met with a committee to plan the first day of issue activities for the Francis Vigo postage stamp in 1986. [39] Such participation became a hallmark of park staff in Vincennes.

When Superintendent James Holcomb arrived in 1990, the tradition was already established, but he carried it to a new level. "A major part of park management is community relations," Holcomb wrote in his first annual report, and his actions reflected that commitment. In 1990, Park Service involvement in the community included participation in the Kiwanis Club, the Old Northwest Corporation, the Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous, Four Rivers Tourism Association, Historic Southern Indiana, the Vincennes Historical and Antiquarian Society, the Vincennes Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources State Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Plan Advisory Committee. [40] The breadth of staff involvement reflected the importance of strong ties with the local community in Vincennes.

The ties in the community were useful in fending off proposals for nearby unwanted land uses. In 1981, the American National Bank, which had a facility located immediately adjacent to the park on the north side of Vigo Street, sought to secure a right-of-way across the park for their drive-in facilities there. This was the third such effort by the bank since 1964, but the most potent because the request came to the park through the office of Representative Joel Deckard, U.S. congressman from the 8th District. The Park Service refused the request, but in 1982, the bank tried again. A land exchange was proposed, but the bank could not secure the area that the Park Service wanted and the deal failed. In January 1984, Robert J. Holden, in his capacity as acting superintendent, spent the month using his contacts to fend off an attempt to locate a city sanitation department and trash transfer station within one-quarter mile of the park boundary. Utilizing the media, the city council, individuals, and organizations, he was able to sway enough of the public to assure the defeat of the measure in the city council meeting of January 23, 1984 over the objections of the mayor of Vincennes. [41] In situations such as these, NPS ties helped further the mission of the park and preserve its physical integrity.

The kind of activities in which park staff engaged served multiple functions. In these organizations, park officials could offer information and build friendships and alliances that later served to defend the park against the projection of local desires and goals onto NPS programs and projects. It also established a presence for the agency in the minds of civic-minded local residents. Part altruism, recreation, and "horse sense," local involvement became a cornerstone of park activity at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park.

These ties also helped develop the oldest and least successful of Park Service objectives in Vincennes, the cooperative agreements program. The park had originally been developed with the idea that cooperative agreements with entities such as St. Xavier Catholic Church, Grouseland, Vincennes University, which administered the Indiana Territory Capitol and the Stout Print Shop, the Old State Bank, and other local historical properties would further the purposes of the agency, the cultural resources community, and the local economy.

During the first twenty years in Vincennes, the program made little headway. Although the founding legislation of the park had been modeled after that of Nez Perce National Historical Park, where similar conditions existed, local conditions in Vincennes were not conducive to cooperative agreements. Even with the cooperation of Vincennes University and its president, Dr. Isaac K. Beckes, who as early as 1969 advocated having the Park Service interpret the Indiana Territory Capitol and the reconstructed printing press, other local groups were not inclined to cede even technical functions to the Park Service. [42]

These initial efforts were thwarted by feelings in town that the Park Service was an organization of interlopers who had come to Vincennes to take control of its historic places. The chilly relations with the DAR at Grouseland were emblematic of the problem, and the suspicion ran so deep that only the passage of time offered resolution. For more than twenty years, NPS officials from Albert W. Banton to Johnny Neal built bridges with the community that established respect and trust. Finally in 1988, the Park Service reached its first memorandums of understanding with local entities. The agency and St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church agreed to allow the church to maintain a floodlight on park property to illuminate the church steeple. Also during 1988, Vincennes and Park Service officials signed a memorandum of understanding for a welcome sign located next to Vigo Street. In addition, the park and the local police department reached a memorandum of understanding that defined the law enforcement responsibilities of both within park boundaries. These were narrowly defined agreements, small in scale, that generally affirmed existing practice or allowed uses of park land. They were not what park planners envisioned in 1967, but they were a beginning. [43]

During 1988 and 1989, DiMattio began an initiative to develop the kind of cooperative agreements called for in the enabling legislation. He contacted other parks with similar arrangements, researched the history of earlier park efforts to initiate cooperative agreements, and prepared the way for new attempts. In March 1989, he organized a committee of historic site administrators and managers in Vincennes. Meeting quarterly, the group, which included managers from Grouseland, the Old French House, the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, the Indiana Territory State Historic Site, Fort Knox II, the Old State Bank State Historic Site, and the park, shared knowledge and expertise in interpretation, resource preservation and maintenance, and planning and development. The group also coordinated signage for visitors to the community and revised the historic guidebook for the city, worked to advance historic preservation and cultural resources management, and addressed questions of staff training. [44] It was a significant step toward a new level of cooperation throughout the cultural resources community.

DiMattio also took the initiative with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Approaching Dr. Lee S. Theisen, director of the Division of Museums and Historic Sites for the department, DiMattio sought an agreement concerning the territorial capitol and the print shop. DiMattio; Theisen; August "Augie" Schultheis, the director of historic preservation at Vincennes University and the curator of the capitol and the print shop; William Hopper, president of the Vincennes City Council; Richard Henderson, executive director of the Vincennes Area Chamber of Commerce; and Richard Day, a noteworthy local historian and president of the Old Northwest Corporation, met to discuss the advantages of cooperative agreements. DiMattio explained that at other parks, such as San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and Lowell National Historical Park, cooperative arrangements had become "springboards for economic development and the promotion of tourism." Theisen, Henderson, and Hopper were intrigued by the idea. [45]

DiMattio continued to pursue cooperative arrangements with the state. He contacted Theisen and his successor, Richard Gantz, who had become acting director of the Division of Museums and Historic Sites. On October 5, 1989, DiMattio met with Schultheis, Gantz, and Cary Floyd, director of Historic Sites under Gantz. After a discussion in which Floyd and Gantz told DiMattio that they did not envision any opposition to a cooperative agreement, the superintendent volunteered to write a draft agreement that would include the territorial capitol in the park and provide for greater cooperation between the Park Service and the Department of Natural Resources. [46]

The rapid move toward cooperation surprised DiMattio, but it stemmed from the perennial problem of state historic sites: money. DiMattio recognized that some of the interest in cooperation resulted from the omission of funding for historic sites in the state budget; at an earlier meeting, he anticipated that the issue would arise. In the October meeting, Gantz "half jokingly" asked if the Park Service would assume total administration of the capitol. DiMattio responded that he doubted that possibility. Later Gantz suggested an arrangement in which his department provided the funds and the Park Service provided administration. From DiMattio's point of view, this was a stronger possibility, but for the moment, Park Service assistance was likely to be limited to technical matters. [47]

The move to create cooperative agreements continued to gather momentum. DiMattio pursued a similar arrangement with St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, and late in 1990, the prospect of securing some sort of working relationship for the administration of the historic places in Vincennes seemed better than ever before. DiMattio offered a draft agreement to the state early in 1990 and continued his discussions with the church. Later in the year, he added Grouseland to the list of interested parties, but this remained the most complicated of the potential arrangements. By the time DiMattio departed for his new post at Cabrillo National Monument in California in May 1990, he had developed a strong beginning for cooperative agreements in Vincennes. [48]

But securing permanent agreements became more difficult than it appeared in 1990. State officials indicated that they would like to begin the implementation of the agreement covering the territorial capitol and the print shop in 1991, when a new biennial budget cycle began. By late 1992, the draft agreement was still being reviewed. Nor had significant progress been made with either the church or Grouseland. Recognizing that the Park Service had little to gain and much to lose by pushing hard for the agreements, Superintendent James Holcomb determined that the park was "in no hurry to push this process, and will, when and if the opportunity presents itself, establish such agreements." [49]

The irony of the situation stemmed from the question of funding. As the Park Service was compelled to do more with less, it lost the ability to seemingly and magically conjure up resources to close deals for coveted properties. At the same time, state and local historic sites suffered great financial need and turned to the Park Service for support. In the 1960s, when the agency had access to resources to commit to solve local management problems, local entities often sought to maintain their autonomy; when such places needed the resources, the Park Service no longer had them to give.

Yet the cooperative agreements were more evidence of the interdependence of the situation in Vincennes. In this town in southern Indiana, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park was an important part of the local community. Its decisions were affected by the needs of the community as well as by the mandate of the Park Service. In general, the demands on the park were complimentary rather than competitive; by fulfilling agency mandates, the park helped support Vincennes and its people responded. Yet as was the case in many urban park areas, this arrangement sometimes required park managers to engage in a balancing act. Local cooperation, judicious decision-making at the park and the ability to convey its importance to the regional office have always been and will remain prerequisites for success at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park.

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006