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Book Cover
A Brief History Of The National Park Service




National Park Idea

Early Growth

NPS Created






Plans and Design





Historic Conservation

Land Planning

State Cooperation


Work Camps

Recreation Study




Antiquities Act

Organic Act

Historic Sites Act

Recreational-Area Programs Act




Making the areas of the national park and monument system available for public use has always presented problems in the proper design of structures and facilities. The earliest efforts in this direction demonstrated clearly the necessity for professional engineering services in planning developments in the park.

The first real engineering undertaking in any park was, in fact, the famous Hayden Geological Survey Expedition into the Yellowstone in the '70's, made primarily for the purpose of collecting accurate geological and geographical data on the region. During the early years after establishment of Yellowstone National Park, no funds were available for development and there was little or no need for engineering services. When Congress finally appropriated money for road construction in the park in the '80's, engineering was placed under the U. S. Corps of Engineers. In 1883 Captain D. C. Kingman of the Corps became the first officer to be detailed for such work in Yellowstone, and thus was the first national park engineer.

The first engineering structure in a national park was, undoubtedly, a log and timber bridge constructed over the Yellowstone River just below Tower Falls and not far from the present bridge across the stream. It was built by private interests who also constructed a road through the park to the Cooke City mining district just outside the park boundaries at the northeast corner. This structure was named Baronett Bridge and was built about 1870 or shortly thereafter. It became of historical interest when used by General O. O. Howard's command when he was pursuing the Nez Perce Indians under Chief Joseph through the park in 1877.

Early engineering activities in the national parks consisted almost entirely of the construction of roads, bridges and trails. After the National Park Service was established, the needs for water and sewer systems, power plants, communication service, and other essentials were developed. The early operators, or concessionaires in the parks, were required to construct and maintain their own utilities in connection with the operation of hotels, camps and other types of accommodations.

Road building was continued in Yellowstone and afterward in other national parks under the U. S. Corps of Engineers and immediate supervision of successive engineers until about 1917. Most prominent of the Army engineers of that era was General Hiram M. Chittenden who was assigned to Yellowstone National Park after the close of the Spanish-American War in 1899 and remained for a number of years. He accomplished the most in Yellowstone road building and also became the author of "The Yellowstone National Park," an historical and descriptive volume which is one of the best sources of authentic information on the history and phenomena of the Yellowstone. Through his efforts Congress appropriated upwards of a million dollars during the three years 1902 to 1905 for reconstruction of roads in Yellowstone to provide an excellent system of horse stage roads. A new road was built from the Canyon around to Mammoth Hot Springs by way of Dunraven Pass and Tower Falls to provide a loop making it unnecessary for tourists to travel any portion of the route a second time. This system of roads sufficed for horse stage travel and later for auto bus and automobile travel until the early '20's when small yearly appropriations became available for reconstructing some of the most dangerous sections and widening other sections to permit two-way travel.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Photographed by William H. Jackson.

As new areas were brought into the system from time to time in the '90's and after the turn of the century, the engineering activities were placed generally in the charge of the U. S. Corps of Engineers. There was, apparently, little correlation of methods and standards between the engineers in the various parks. After the National Park Service was created and took over administration of the system, the Corps of Engineers continued in charge of engineering work until April 1917 when George E. Goodwin was appointed the first civilian engineer of the Service, with the title of civil engineer. He made his first headquarters in Portland, Oregon, with an assistant in each of the larger parks. In 1921 Mr. Goodwin was made chief engineer, in general charge of all engineering in the national parks. After Congress passed the Roads and Trails Act of 1924 and appropriated funds for the building of roads, trails and bridges in national parks, the chief engineer's organization was considerably expanded in personnel for making surveys and plans, and for supervising construction activities. In July 1925, however, Mr. Goodwin retired from the Service and all major road building activities were turned over to the Bureau of Public Roads. Bert H. Burrell was appointed acting chief engineer pending this transfer and a decision on the future of the chief engineer's office.

The Portland office was discontinued in the spring of 1926, some of the personnel being released and others being transferred to park engineering positions. The acting chief engineer, with a few employees, moved to Yellowstone to await developments.

In the summer of 1927, Frank A. Kittredge was appointed chief engineer, and in September of that year the office and small organization were moved from Yellowstone to San Francisco to occupy joint space with the Landscape Division, since renamed the Branch of Plans and Design. The activities and personnel of the Branch of Engineering were rapidly increased to keep pace with the growing needs for engineering services in practically all the national parks and monuments. Except for four of the larger parks—Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon and Yosemite, where permanent park engineers were located—the chief engineer's organization had charge of the design and construction of all engineering activities except major roads. In the next few years they designed and constructed many important engineering structures such as the Kaibab Trail Bridge over the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, the Carlsbad Caverns elevators, and the Yellowstone hydroelectric plant. The four permanent park engineers operated technically under the supervision of the chief engineer, and engineering personnel was assigned to all park areas as needed for making general and topographical surveys and for supervising all construction activities except major roads, and generally supervising the maintenance of park roads.

Prior to 1930, the only national park in the east was Acadia, in Maine. Very little engineering service from the central organization was given this area, and such as was given was furnished by the chief engineer in San Francisco or the Bureau of Public Roads. In view of the prospect of establishment of additional eastern areas (with bills pending for establishment of George Washington's Birthplace National Monument, Colonial National Monument and the acquisition of land for an establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and Mammoth Cave National Park, which were authorized in 1926) Oliver G. Taylor was transferred in May 1950 from Yosemite National Park, where he had been resident engineer for ten years, to a field position in the Washington office.

Engineering work in eastern areas gradually increased until 1933 when there was a great increase in the number of eastern areas due to the transfer of public buildings and parks, national military parks and monuments and other areas from various Federal agencies to the National Park Service. This caused a tremendous increase in engineering responsibilities. These duties were first placed under Mr. Taylor as assistant chief engineer and later as deputy chief engineer, operating independently of the chief engineer's office in the west and reporting directly to the Director. The entire engineering organization of public buildings and parks came over to the National Park Service, but no engineering personnel was transferred with the military parks and monuments. It therefore became necessary to take on much additional engineering assistance.

In August 1937, when the Service was reorganized on a regional basis, the office of the chief engineer was transferred from San Francisco to Washington where it assumed charge of all engineering work in the national park and monument system. At that time Mr. Kittredge was appointed regional director of Region IV, with headquarters in San Francisco, and Mr. Taylor was appointed chief engineer.

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