America's National Monuments
The Politics of Preservation
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Chapter 10:
History and the National Monuments

THE REORGANIZATION OF THE FEDERAL BUREAUCRACY IN 1933, an other important change that came to fruition under Franklin D. Roosevelt, benefited the Park Service. Throughout the 1920s, Congress sought ways to streamline the federal system, but no workable plan emerged. In the heady climate after his inauguration Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6166 to make the federal government more manageable. Among its provisions was a clause that transferred the responsibility for preservation within the federal government to the Park Service. As of 9 August 1933, all the national monuments that the Department of War and the United States Forest Service held, along with an array of other areas, became the obligation of the Park Service.

The reorganization of 1933 made the Park Service a national entity with responsibility for much more than scenery. During the 1920s, the administration of the agency had been relatively simple. Mather and Albright had discussed the problems of each park with its superintendent. But the reorganization added nearly seventy areas to the park system, and the agency had difficulty adapting to its new condition. Many of the areas had titles that were new to the Park Service. One result was that distinctions among areas other than national parks blurred, and the term national monument became more ambiguous than ever before. Just as Frank Pinkley had warned, after 1933 the Park Service administered national battlefield parks, national memorials, and a host of other areas that often differed more in "nomenclature than substance." [1]

The reorganization of 1933 did more than simply increase the number of areas in the park system. Included among the acquisitions were many places that were significant to the story of the American republic. Prior to the 1930s, American history had been a peripheral concern of the agency. Early in the decade, Horace Albright had propelled historic preservation within the agency forward, and the reorganization of 1933 catapulted the Park Service to the forefront of historic preservation in the United States. The need to interpret the historic past for the public changed the responsibilities of the agency. After 1933, the park system contained not only western mountain-top parks and archaeological monuments, but also a wide array of historical sites. After being keepers of the ceremonial landscapes during the 1920s, the Park Service had become guardians of a cultural heritage.

This changed not only the character of the national monuments, but the way in which agency administrators in Washington, D.C., regarded them. The peripheral areas of the decade before became central to fulfilling the articulated objective of the agency: building a constituency among the American middle class. As a result of the influx of New Deal money, the Park Service administered the monuments, historic parks, and their peers in a comprehensive fashion, integrating them into the system set up to manage the national parks. The significance of the monuments and the array of other Park Service areas increased as the agency began to inject the story of the history of the American republic into its interpretation policy.

By 1930 the National Park Service had clearly defined its role in the federal bureaucracy, and it could no longer accept Pinkley's narrow view of the monument category. Under Stephen T. Mather, the debates about the purpose of the park system had temporarily subsided. He made the park system a popular attraction for the American middle class. Mather's promotional campaigns also had patriotic undertones, and his emphasis on catering to visitors halted the debate over research use of the national monuments. The national parks were able to arouse interest in American achievement, broadening the constituency of the parks, and a previously elite system had gradually come to belong to the American public. The money and human resources of the New Deal enabled the Park Service to provide even more comprehensive service to its visitors.

But archaeology was not a primary interest of the American public before 1933 and it did not become one in the following decades. As long as the national monuments remained closely associated with archaeology and the public regarded the natural features of the category as inferior to those of the national parks, the monuments remained peripheral to the interests of all but a small group of aficionados. Pinkley was able to attract visitors to areas under his care, but his emphasis upon archaeology limited the appeal of these monuments. In the long run, visitors who were fascinated during their visits to archaeological sites did not maintain the kind of interest that the patriotic themes of places such as Gettysburg inspired.

At this time Americans were becoming more interested in making traditions of their traditions rather than looking to a European past. As the constituency of the agency grew, Americans wanted to see their heritage in publicly preserved places. Areas associated with the Civil War and the American Revolution served this purpose more fully than did places like Chaco Canyon. American mythology was less complicated and more inspiring for the average American than trying to make sense of a prehistoric presence on the continent. Commemorating the history of the American republic was one way for Americans to convey what they felt about their country, and the preservation of historic places offered a more accurate reflection of the mainstream values of the nation.

By democratizing the parks, Mather had laid the basis for this change in the emphasis of the agency. Early Park Service programs had focused upon the emotional impact of western scenery, but to expand its audience, the Park Service had begun to appeal to the intellect of an increasingly general audience. The three national parks authorized in the East during the 1920s—Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, and Mammoth Cave—widened the audience of the agency, but offered no substantive change in the message that the Park Service presented. These three parks were eastern imitations of the ideal western national park, carved from a selection process that defined eastern park areas in the terms of the scenery of the West. Nor did the monuments that existed before 1933 offer a substantive message of cultural affirmation. Archaeological areas required prior knowledge on the part of visitors and often mystified uninitiated travelers. The emotional impact of the parks did not inspire sufficient intellectual curiosity in visitors. To change its role in presenting preservation, the Park Service needed places that the average American could understand.

Before 1933 the tripartite system of administration that the Antiquities Act had established kept the jurisdiction of areas associated with American history from the Park Service. Much of this early Anglo-American history had occurred on land that the military controlled, including battlefields and cemeteries from the Revolutionary War and Civil War and the series of forts throughout the West. The War Department focused its efforts at preservation upon battlefields and cemeteries. This commemoration was part of the obligation of the military, a component of its function as the upholder of patriotic feeling. [2] Except in unusual cases, the military did not comprehend the existence of public interest in its areas. Instead, its officials preserved the battlefields for veterans and for the descendants of those who had fought and died upon them.

Like the Park Service, the War Department had largely ignored its early national monuments. When compared to the military cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, or battlefields at places like Gettysburg or Antietam, Big Hole Battlefield in Montana and the Cabrillo National Monument outside San Diego appeared to be of little consequence. These two national monuments were small, remote places that did not remind Americans of the meaning of patriotism in the manner of Bull Run or Saratoga. With no sense that such places had cultural importance, the military left them unattended. [3]

As late as the end of the 1920s, the Cabrillo National Monument remained unmarked. Frank Tuthill, a Chicago industrialist who made a practice of looking for obscure national monuments, wrote to the Park Service in 1928 to complain that his efforts to find the Cabrillo National Monument were "fruitless. I went to the officer in charge of [the adjacent] Fort Rosecrans, who knew nothing about the monument. He referred me to the lighthouse keeper, who also knew nothing about it." Tuthill left, unsure if he had been in the right spot. Park Service officials informed him that they believed that the lighthouse was the correct location, but they were no more certain than he. [4] Despite the proclamation that established Cabrillo National Monument, its existence offered little to those intrigued by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his legacy.

The War Department had regarded national monument status as an arbitrary inconsequential distinction, a perspective that the Park Service challenged during the 1920s. In 1915 the secretary of war had interpreted the rules and regulations of the Antiquities Act as granting him the power to proclaim national monuments; as a consequence he issued War Department Bulletin No. 27, establishing fifty national monuments from military land. The collection included many old forts, as well as the archaeological mounds of Mound City, Ohio, and an array of other areas. Years later, when Park Service officials discovered military publications that referred to the secretarial monuments, they were puzzled. In 1923 Arno B. Cammerer cleared up the confusion when he asked the War Department about the authority behind the proclamations. Military officials realized that they had overstepped their bounds, and after reviewing the "monuments," they requested the authentication of five of the areas designated by the secretary of war. On 15 October 1924, the Statue of Liberty, Fort Marion, Fort Matanzas, Castle Pinckney in South Carolina, and Fort Pulaski in Georgia were all added to the monument category. In accordance with the system Edgar L. Hewett devised in 1906, the administration of the new historic national monuments fell to the War Department. [5]

There were obvious reasons for the error by the secretary of war. In 1915 the Park Service did not exist and the national monuments had no specific purpose. If the War Department wanted to add some of its property to the monument category, there was no one to object. Between 1915 and 1923, the Park Service was founded and asserted itself, and a clear definition of its categories and at least minimal standards of entry became critical to the future of the agency. Most of the fifty national monuments that the secretary of war had established did not fit the image that the Park Service had of its areas. Because the two agencies shared the administration of the monument category, areas that did not fit Park Service standards threatened the self-image of that agency. Such places denigrated the mission that Mather and Albright were trying to establish for the Park Service. By 1923 Frank Pinkley had begun to make the monuments identifiable, and despite later contention, the Park Service supported his efforts. When Cammerer queried the War Department about its monuments, he affirmed Pinkley's work in defining the category. The recategorization solidified Pinkley's definition of visitation as the purpose of the national monuments. Four of the five monuments proclaimed in 1924 had considerable appeal to the public.

Even after the reclassification of its monuments, the War Department had continued to emphasize the preservation of historic battlefields and cemeteries. The military paid little attention to the tourist potential of its new areas, instead finding local organizations to manage places for which it had no practical use. The War Department had leased Fort Marion [now called Castillo de San Marcos] in St. Augustine, Florida, to the St. Augustine Historical Society, which guided visitors through the fort. Castle Pinckney, a fortress in Charleston harbor, became a storage facility. The view of the War Department clearly differed from that of the NPS.

The premier military national monument was the Statue of Liberty. Since the 1880s, the garrison at the adjacent Fort Wood had administered the statue as part of the installation, and when Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the Statue of Liberty a national monument in 1924, military policy had not altered at all. Grime from industrial New Jersey coated the surface of the statue, and it looked like the rest of the fort. From the perspective of the military, the Signal Corps radio station, which handled all the radio messages for the Second Corps Area Headquarters on nearby Governor's Island, was more important than the Statue of Liberty. [6]

The Statue of Liberty was an exception among the areas that the War Department administered. It was an important cultural validator, part of the iconography of democracy. Considered a monument to the values of the nation long before it attained official national monument status, the Statue of Liberty was full of patriotic symbolism. It was truly a national monument, in a way that the public could appreciate. The message it conveyed was important to immigrant and native Americans alike. For many, it conjured up an image of the best ideas of the republic. Because of its symbolism and its location, near millions of potential visitors, the Statue of Liberty had resounding social significance.

But because of this importance, the military faced administrative problems at the Statue of Liberty. Many different organizations had tried to capitalize upon its symbolism, some of which were almost comic attempts to infuse causes with patriotic fervor. In 1926 the War Veterans Light Wines and Beer League attempted to use the statue as a backdrop to protest the fact that they had not been permitted to testify in front of a Senate subcommittee on prohibition. Three members of the organization had climbed to the crown and draped two sixty-foot black streamers from the windows to protest that their liberty had been unduly denied. [7]

A potent symbol of the American heritage, the Statue of Liberty National Monument required a type of care that the military was not prepared to offer, and the War Department soon realized that it had more than a military barracks on its hands. The Statue of Liberty was a responsibility that fell beyond the concerns of day-to-day military administration. In 1925 a military committee recommended the appointment of a civilian superintendent, and on 16 November 1925 William A. Simpson became the first superintendent of the national monument. Simpson's appointment mirrored the Park Service practice of placing supervisory personnel at important areas, and this was tacit acknowledgement that the Statue of Liberty was different from other military national monuments. Mostly, the War Department wanted Simpson to curtail the mayhem that had frequently involved the statue as a backdrop.

Simpson's problems at the Statue of Liberty paralleled those of Andrew Lund at Muir Woods and Frank Pinkley in the Southwest. All had more interested visitors than they could handle. Like Pinkley, Simpson received inadequate support from his department, and the War Department never defined a policy for the administration of the statue. Simpson saw himself as a caretaker, protecting the site from the antics of the public, similar to the way that Pinkley perceived Forest Service management of its national monuments. Unlike forest rangers, Simpson was in residence and could do something about upkeep and protection on a daily basis. But under the administration of the War Department, maintenance did not include explaining the significance of the Statue of Liberty.

Most of the War Department monuments paled in comparison to the statue, and like the Park Service, the War Department became befuddled as the number of monuments increased. In 1925 the military acquired three new monuments: the Meriwether Lewis National Monument near Hohenwald, Tennessee; Fort McHenry in Chesapeake Bay; and Father Millet Cross in upstate New York. The War Department understood the importance of Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key composed the Star-Spangled Banner, but places like Father Millet Cross and the Lewis grave site were not easily assimilated. Peripheral to the concerns of the War Department, these new areas did not inspire veterans or patriots.

The establishment of the Meriwether Lewis National Monument illustrated the problems that the tripartite administration of the national monuments posed. By 1925 the Park Service knew what kind of areas it wanted in the park system, and park areas east of the Mississippi River were high on its list. An acquisition in Tennessee like the Lewis grave site seemed to fit the strategy of the agency. But the proposal did not fit in with the image the agency had of its responsibilities. Fortunately for advocates of the proclamation of the area, the War Department was less concerned with the kinds of places that landed among its national monuments. All the classic conditions for the creation of a national monument existed at the Lewis grave site; it was a place of at least minor significance, on inexpensive land, and there were interested local citizens. Eager area residents and a reticent National Park Service thrust the area upon the War Department.

Local initiative began the process of establishing the monument. Early in 1924, Tennessee state archaeologist P. E. Cox began correspondence with the Park Service about the grave and the old inn where Lewis died in 1809. "The land surrounding this place is very cheap," Cox wrote Arno B. Cammerer, "being in an isolated location," and he wanted to assess the prospects of creating a national monument or park. But Arno B. Cammerer informed Cox that the Park Service was not interested in acquiring historic graves. "There is not, so far as I know, any grave of any noted American in the custody of the United States," Cammerer told the archaeologist. "I do not think the plan would be looked upon with favor because once the precedent was made, the United States would have thousands of graves offered to it for preservation." Nor did Cammerer think that Congress would fund the upkeep of the grave. The Park Service had little need for additional national monuments, and the Lewis grave seemed beyond the range of agency responsibilities. [8]

But Cox persisted. After much correspondence, the Park Service had not altered its stance, and Cox turned elsewhere. In October 1924 he and other interested state officials came to Washington, D.C., and on the eve of the general election, President Calvin Coolidge received them and listened approvingly as they told of their plans. With this considerable power behind him, Cox once again contacted the Park Service. "I was, after the interview with the President," he wrote Stephen T. Mather, "directed . . . to take the matter up with you as it had already been referred to your Department." [9]

Despite the mandate from the White House, the Park Service diverted Cox. Cammerer took him to see the acting secretary of war, Colonel B. Franklin Cheatham, who already had large numbers of graves in his care. The men explained the matter to the colonel, and he responded with interest. Cheatham suggested that Cox send him a deed to the property. Cox obliged, and on 6 February 1925 the grave site became a national monument under the jurisdiction of the Department of War.

The establishment of the Meriwether Lewis National Monument revealed the differences in the way the Park Service and the War Department saw the monuments. In keeping with Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work's policy to slow the establishment of new national monuments, the Park Service did its best to discourage the proclamation of the Meriwether Lewis grave site. The Park Service had assumed the administration of all previously donated sites, but Cammerer saw a qualitative distinction between these and the Lewis grave site. He foisted the Meriwether Lewis National Monument upon the War Department, which had no objection to acquiring another episodic piece of the American past.

The proposal for the Meriwether Lewis National Monument had forced the Park Service to compare its standards and its long-term objectives. Even inconsequential historic places would give the Park Service an avenue to approach the middle-class constituency that Mather sought to cultivate. Places that conveyed a small piece of the heritage of the American republic communicated much more to the average American than even the most intellectually accessible archaeological site. In addition, the Lewis grave was east of the Mississippi River, an area of vital importance to the Park Service. But in this case, the Lewis grave was deemed an insufficient prize, and the agency refused to amend its standards to further its long-term goals. In 1924 the NPS did not see historic grave sites as a part of its responsibility, nor would it today. As a result, the agency passed up an opportunity to increase its holdings in historic areas.

The War Department administered the Lewis grave in the same manner as its other unimportant areas. The educational fieldwork that was the hallmark of Pinkley's southwestern areas did not exist. There were no facilities for visitors, and when people visited the Lewis grave site, they left knowing little more than when they came. Although officially protected, management of the Lewis grave site differed little from that of remote western monuments such as Big Hole Battlefield or Shoshone Cavern.

From the point of view of the Park Service in 1925, the Lewis grave was not a worthwhile acquisition. Despite its location in the East, it presented a different message than the main thrust of NPS efforts in the 1920s. Under Mather, eastern park areas were scaled-down versions of western ones. The military administration of historic places preceded the founding of NPS, but Horace Albright had aspirations in that direction. In the first annual report of the agency in 1917, Albright had indicated that the Park Service ought to someday acquire the historic areas of the War Department, but during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Mather's conception of a network of monumental national parks interspersed with conveniently located national monuments took precedence over such acquisitions. [10]

This stance was the result of events that took place at the time that the Park Service was established. In the 1910s and the early 1920s, the fledgling agency was busy developing supporters in Congress against rivals like the Forest Service. Mather struggled to develop the priorities of the agency, and like archaeological sites, historic places were largely peripheral to his concerns. As the agency looked to solidify its position in the federal bureaucracy and to expand its horizons, the packaging of the park system hastened the recognition of its historic responsibility. As Pinkley noted when he wrote to Frank Oastler of the committee for the study of education in the national parks in 1929, the day would come when the NPS would assume control of historical areas. Despite the implications of its rejection of Meriwether Lewis grave, by the beginning of 1930, that day was approaching.

Under the Mather regime, the impetus to acquire historic places grew, but its focus was primarily regional. Expedience or local initiative usually resulted in the creation of historic monuments, and some monuments, such as the Verendrye National Monument in North Dakota, which was a trivial monument that had been established to placate insistent locals, had little historic integrity. Even the best of the historic areas of the Park Service, places like Pipe Spring and Sitka national monuments, did not offer the American mainstream reinforcement of its ideals. Although the efforts of Mormon settlers at Pipe Spring or Russian traders and soldiers at Sitka reflected the opportunity to forge an individual destiny in a new and foreboding continent, such places seemed like idiosyncratic incidents within on the patriotic canvas, the heritage of the unusual or the obscure. Regional in character, the early historical areas and their archaeological counterparts served only as auxiliary counterpoints to the development of the national parks.

Scotts Bluff National Monument was typical of the historic monuments of the Park Service before 1930. [11] A bluff overlooking the North Platte River in western Nebraska, the monument represented the journey of thousands of travelers along the trail to Oregon, California, Utah, Colorado, and other western states. It commemorated an important cultural impulse of the American mainstream, the idea of a manifest destiny that propelled the nineteenth century pioneers, but it did so in an oblique fashion. To the unimaginative, it revealed little of its historic moment. Cloaked in obscurity except to those who went looking for it, Scotts Bluff had a message, but its meaning was easy to overlook. Its ideological value was for people who had internalized American cultural norms thoroughly enough to imagine what they were supposed to see. Like the archaeological monuments, comprehending the significance of Scotts Bluff required indoctrination and prior knowledge.

Because the Park Service did not develop interpretation procedures until the end of the 1920s, the lack of explanatory mechanisms also made understanding Scotts Bluff difficult. Although Americans identified strongly with the westward migration, the monument gave visitors little tangible evidence of that movement. Scotts Bluff was a place of the imagination. It did not appear in grammar or high school textbooks, nor did it inspire bursts of patriotic fervor. Devoid of markers or buildings, it amounted to a view from a hilltop, and it left the responsibility for forging an understanding to the visitors who could look out over the plains and see in their minds the world of the pioneers, populated by buffalo, Indians, covered wagons, and mountain men.

Horace Albright dreamed of adding important historic sites to the responsibilities of the agency, and in the late 1920s, he reshaped the direction of historic preservation in the Park Service. By the time he inherited the directorship from Mather in 1929, the Park Service had major holdings in the West and the authorization for an embryonic park system east of the Mississippi River. Many of the best scenic areas on federal land were already included in the system. But like other federal agencies, the health of the Park Service depended on its continued growth and particularly on its ability to outdistance rivals like the Forest Service. Albright saw that the best avenue for growth was in the acquisition and development of places that told the story of the development of the American republic. As the United States became an increasingly urban, industrial nation, an articulation of its roots became more important, and Albright realized that selling the history of the United States to the public gave the Park Service a new obligation that no other federal agency had yet claimed.

As Albright took charge of the agency, historic preservation acquired new significance. But budget constraints and the position of the War Department limited his options, and Albright had to wait for the right opportunity. He watched "excitedly" as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., an important patron of the agency, financed the restoration of Williamsburg and donated much of the area to the agency. [12] Almost simultaneously, one of George Washington's direct descendants, Josephine W. Rust, began a campaign to reconstruct the house where Washington had been born. Although she raised almost $50,000 from private sources, Mrs. Rust met with little success in the federal government until the end of 1929, when she talked to Horace Albright. He immediately "warmed to the idea," and soon the George Washington Birthplace National Monument was established, followed closely by the Colonial National Monument. In the NPS report for that year, Albright announced the "entrance of [the Park Service] into the field of preservation in a more comprehensive way." [13]

The George Washington Birthplace and the Colonial national monuments represented a new mode of historic preservation within the federal system. The Park Service finally had jurisdiction over places that had significance for the development of the nation. The two monuments were the first restored historic sites in the park system, and as recreated evocations of a past, they revealed new possibilities to agency administrators. The George Washington Birthplace and the Colonial national monuments clearly differed from places like Scotts Bluff and Verendrye. Wakefield was the birthplace of the Father of Our Nation, a far cry in iconographical significance from a bluff overlooking the Platte River or cliff ruins in the Southwest. Americans recognized George Washington and his achievements, and most people revered places and events associated with his life. Despite an in accurate reconstruction of the boyhood home at Wakefield, the monument there offered the public a usable past. Colonial National Monument also presented visible re-creations of textbook history with which Americans were familiar. The two restored monuments offered people tangible evidence of the heritage most Americans claimed as their own.


America's National Monuments: The Politics of Preservation
©1989, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
©1994, University Press of Kansas
All rights reserved by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

rothman/chap10.htm — 04-Feb-2005

Copyright © 1989 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Material from this edition published by the University Press of Kansas by arrangement with the University of Illinois Press and may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and the University of Illinois Press.