America's National Monuments
The Politics of Preservation
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Chapter 4:
The First Monuments

The controversy over Muir Woods juxtaposed two visions of public good. Newlands represented the utilitarian perspective, advocating the development of private land to create public services. Kent believed that the preservation of the redwoods provided a legacy for future generations. Both positions had merit, and in a way, the establishment of the national monument forced an accommodation. Neither side got exactly what it wanted, but both preserved their long-range objectives. The redwoods were saved, and Newlands built his reservoir elsewhere.

The divergent points of view that clashed over Muir Woods foreshadowed the fragmentation of the alliance of preservationists and conservationists in the dispute over the famous Hetch-Hetchy Valley reservoir. Although conservationists and preservationists had a natural affinity, in reality the two philosophies often produced contradictory programs for the same tracts of land. The terms of Progressive-era politics had dictated the resolution of the situation at Muir Woods. The North Coast Water Company was a private business that sought to condemn Kent's land for the public good, but lost. Public entities stood a better chance of success when it came to building reservoirs out of public or private land. In 1913 Woodrow Wilson signed into law a bill that allowed the inundation of the Hetch-Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to create a reservoir for the city of San Francisco. In contrast to the Muir Woods case, the claim of the city was undeniable. There were no better options, and suspicions of private aggrandizement did not taint the arguments of the city of San Francisco. Ironically, Kent became a major proponent of the Hetch-Hetchy dam, and the controversy severed his friendship with preservationist John Muir.

Born out of competing values, Muir Woods also differed from its predecessors in other ways. It was the first national monument created close to a major population center, and the first that did not contain features that were somehow unique. Unlike earlier national monuments, its location as much as its stands of redwoods determined its significance. "There are, of course, many finer stands of Redwood in California," Olmstead wrote in justifying the acceptance of Kent's gift, "but there are none owned by the United States nor are there any which might be acquired except at great expense. Moreover, (and here is the chief argument for acceptance of the land) there is no other Redwood grove in the world so remarkably accessible to so many people. Here is a typical redwood canyon in absolutely primeval condition, . . . it would be a living National Monument, than which nothing could be more typically American." [14]

In 1910 Muir Woods was an anomaly among national monuments. Proximity to San Francisco made Muir Woods worthy of preservation, and it became a popular picnic ground for day hikers from the nearby city. As a result of the traffic, Muir Woods became the first of the monuments to have a resident custodian, whose primary duty was picking up after picnickers. Muir Woods' problems resembled those of Central Park rather than those of the other monuments.

Had it been larger, Muir Woods might have been a candidate for national park status. It contained features similar to those in some of the national parks. But its small size was an obstacle to park status, and the urgency surrounding its proclamation and the ease with which it could be proclaimed a national monument pushed Muir Woods into the new category. With developmental pressure encroaching on one of the last tracts of wilderness in the San Francisco Bay area, the Antiquities Act provided the quickest way to guarantee the safety of the woodlands.

A similar impetus played a significant role in establishing the Grand Canyon as a national monument. Development in the area began in the early 1880s, and Sen. Benjamin Harrison of Indiana first proposed the region as a national park in 1882. Nothing came of the effort, and during the 1880s John Hance, who later became famous as a guide in the region, and P. D. Berry filed homestead claims on locations within the canyon. After he became president, Harrison proclaimed the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve in 1893, the first act to protect the region from private encroachment. Establishment of the forest reserve prevented further homesteading, although mineral claims were still permitted within its boundaries. [15]

By the late 1890s tourists began to visit the Grand Canyon, and amenities became necessary. In 1899 the only way for visitors to reach the canyon was by stage line or private transportation from Flagstaff and Ashfork. "Crude hotel camps" offered the only accommodations. [16] To alleviate the problem and to cash in on increased business, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF) began construction of a railroad spur from its terminal in Williams to the very rim of the Grand Canyon. The company planned a massive hotel, called El Tovar, to stand alongside their new station.

The Grand Canyon continued to attract public attention and its popularity grew. In May 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt deified the Grand Canyon during his only visit. He told an audience on the canyon rim that he preferred no "building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel . . . to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the Canyon. You can not improve it. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all those who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see." [17] The power of the great gorge impressed Roosevelt. He saw before him the unscarred handiwork of nature and appreciated its awesomeness. Roosevelt sensed the importance of a place that could inspire such emotions. This was a place worthy of the American experience.

To Roosevelt, the Grand Canyon seemed part of the formation of the identity of the nation. From his perspectives, the first sight of the continent itself could have been no less awe-inspiring than an initial view of the Grand Canyon. A reflection of the hardy spirit that Americans believed created the republic, the Grand Canyon was in a category by itself—too precious for commercial development. Its preservation in a pristine state would be a significant public good in its own right. It would be evidence of the power of the Progressive faith in regulated human achievement. When Roosevelt was told that the AT&SF decided to keep its hotel away from the rim of the canyon, he saw the decision as evidence of enlightened management and expressed pleasure at the restraint of the company.

But in the end, the AT&SF ignored Roosevelt's wishes. Business boomed at the Grand Canyon, and within a year of Roosevelt's visit, the El Tovar opened, "built upon the very edge of the canyon, its location afford[ing] the most intimate views of the great gorge." [18] Despite Roosevelt's use of the "bully pulpit," the AT&SF was bound only by statute. This private company was able to proceed because no law prevented its officials from building where they chose. The Grand Canyon became the first forest reserve to have a railroad terminus and a commercial lodge.

Yet the El Tovar offered something important at the Grand Canyon. According to the AT&SF and its staff of paid publicists, the construction of the railroad spur encouraged tourists, who began to visit the canyon in droves, and the El Tovar "came out of crying necessity." Managed by the Fred Harvey Company, the hotel was a tasteful, expensive place. Its colors were muted, to "harmonize perfectly with the gray green of its unique surroundings . . . its lines in harmony with the simplicity" around it." [19] El Tovar offered all the amenities of first-rate hotels elsewhere, mitigating the lack of facilities near the Grand Canyon. Yet the arrival of visitors and their accoutrements intruded upon the solitude of the Grand Canyon. The area boomed so rapidly that less than five years later Roosevelt felt compelled to limit its growth.

In 1907 pressure to develop the Grand Canyon area intensified. Under the terms of the forest reserve, Ralph Henry Cameron, a local politician who later became a United States senator from Arizona, staked out mining claims at some of the most advantageous tourist locations. His domain included the Bright Angel trail, the main route from the south rim to the bottom of the canyon. But Roosevelt's establishment of a game reserve in early 1906 prohibited the future filing of mining claims. Undaunted, Cameron continued to file illegal mining claims, and under the guise of a firm called the Grand Canyon Scenic Railway Company, he and his associates tried to secure a right-of-way to build an electric railway for sightseeing tours along the rim of the canyon. [20]

When conservationists discovered Cameron's plans, they mustered their influence. After being "bombarded by some man, who insisted that there was a trolley line about to be constructed around the Grand Canyon, which would not add to its natural attractiveness," longtime park advocate and civic leader Horace McFarland went to Gifford Pinchot and "made a loud noise in his ear." Pinchot informed Roosevelt, who was appalled by the prospect. He converted the game preserve into a national monument under the administration of the Forest Service. Monument status protected the Grand Canyon from random legal encroachment, and the Forest Service, placed in charge of the monument because it was created from national forest land, staunchly opposed exploitive private enterprise. [21]

Piecemeal efforts at preservation like that at the Grand Canyon were characteristic early in the twentieth century. The establishment of a national monument was not part of any grand plan to protect America's wonders. Instead, expediency in the face of pressure dictated the course of preservation. Initially, the government lacked mechanisms for permanent reservation, and it upgraded the status of the Grand Canyon in response to a variety of threats. The forest reserve prohibited all private entries except for mining claims. The game reserve prevented mining claims, but did not offer formal protection from exploitive development. The establishment of the monument under the Forest Service curtailed private development; Pinchot and the Forest Service took a dim view of capital development on public land. Although monument status did not exclude commercial development, acquiring permission to build within the boundaries of the reservation became much more difficult. The eventual reclassification of the Grand Canyon as a national park was inevitable as the need for comprehensive visitor-oriented management became obvious.

An unforeseen result of the formation of the Grand Canyon National Monument was that this action appeared to put the government in the position of favoring one organization offering tourist services over another. Without any public discussion or bidding process, federal authorities arbitrarily limited competition. This gesture was characteristic of the managerial elite applying its values to the society around it. The AT&SF was a successful business, and its board of directors came from the same social class as most high-level government officials. They shared perceptions of the world. Cameron and his friends did not belong to the same network. Cameron was a political boss who ruled Coconino County, Arizona. In part, the impulse for reform sprung from the desire to limit the activities of this breed of political animal and its equivalent in business. In the cultural climate of 1908, such preferences seemed justified. An established national entity took precedence over a local one perceived to be exploitive, and the good of the public outweighed the rights of any individual. Cameron retained his many mining claims, and he and his associates believed that they were unfairly prohibited from development. Later Cameron created havoc with his lawsuits for a number of years, until a federal judge finally dismissed his contentions.

The Grand Canyon showed that Roosevelt and the GLO perceived the Antiquities Act from different perspectives. Prior to the establishment of the Grand Canyon, GLO proclamations established comparatively small monuments, beginning with a minimum size of 160 acres, one quarter of a section. GLO officials were conscious of the "smallest area compatible with the proper care and management" clause in the Antiquities Act, and concerned with a potential backlash, they limited their suggestions. [22] In comparison, the 806,400-acre Grand Canyon National Monument was the largest of the monuments. When an ominous situation threatened something that he valued, Roosevelt did what he thought was right even when his efforts smacked of flaunting executive authority. In 1907 he circumvented western efforts to limit his power to establish national forest lands by reserving more than seven million acres of forest before Congress passed legislation restricting his power. [23] By 1908 the only option for permanent reservation of public land that Roosevelt had left was the Antiquities Act. With one stroke of his pen at the Grand Canyon, he revived western fears of federal intervention.

Roosevelt's proclamation of the Mount Olympus National Monument further upset advocates of decentralization. In his last forty eight hours in office, the president proclaimed 615,000 acres of the Olympic peninsula in Washington state as a national monument. Created at the behest of Congressman William E. Humphrey of Washington, the new national monument set aside much of the most rugged terrain on the western side of the Puget Sound and protected it from mining and timber interests. [24] Again, federal initiative and commercial development in the West seemed at odds.

The establishment of the Mount Olympus National Monument was a half-hearted conservation measure. It contained few of the restrictions that characterized the Grand Canyon and earlier monuments. During the 1880s, hunters and trappers broached the Olympic peninsula, and by the early twentieth century, excessive hunting had decimated its population of Olympic, also called Roosevelt, elk. [25] Intent on protecting the few animals that remained, Congressman Humphrey appealed to the hunter in the president, and Roosevelt made one final gesture for conservation. The proclamation also utilized the scientific justification for establishing a national monument, but it did not prohibit the development of resources within the boundaries of the monument. Nonetheless, mining and timber interests felt unduly restrained.

Commercial interests did not construe the reservation of a quarter section of archaeological ruins as a threat to development, but many thought that the Grand Canyon and Mount Olympus monuments were excessive gestures that restricted large tracts of valuable land for dubious reasons. Mining companies agitated for the immediate repeal of the proclamation at Mount Olympus, and in 1915 President Woodrow Wilson reduced its size by half. The Antiquities Act was a good way to initiate preservation, but it was not a guarantee of permanence.

Under any interpretation of the Antiquities Act other than Roosevelt's own, the Mount Olympus National Monument would have remained a part of the Olympic National Forest. With Congress out of session and little time left in his administration, the creation of a congressionally approved designation was out of the question. Mount Olympus National Monument was Roosevelt's going-away present to himself. He used the best available means to accomplish his ends, democratic or otherwise. That he stretched the Antiquities Act in a number of ways bothered him little. The law was a tool with which to achieve results.

Within three years of its passage, the Antiquities Act became much more than a way to preserve antiquities. The sentiments of the Progressive-era and Theodore Roosevelt's activist vision of presidential responsibilities led to the creation of national monuments large and small that contained an array of features. Roosevelt set precedents that gave GLO and, later, National Park Service officials considerable freedom in the way that they applied the law.

The real catalyst for Roosevelt's interpretation of the Antiquities Act was his broad application of the "object of scientific interest" clause. This ambiguous definition gave him vast latitude, and without precedents to establish limits, Roosevelt created his own version of the boundaries of the monument category, ostensibly preserved as examples of scientific principles in action, Devils Tower, the Petrified Forest, Muir Woods, the Grand Canyon, and others were proclaimed as "scientific" national monuments. Yet despite the obvious scientific merit of some of the monuments, scientific use did not figure in the reasons behind their establishment.

Nowhere were these ambiguities as obvious as at the Grand Canyon. The president himself was awestruck by the sight of the gorge, and the AT&SF built a railroad and a monumental hotel on the rim of the canyon because nearly everyone who stood there felt the same way. Because he wanted to preserve the character of the Grand Canyon from the intrusion of the cable car, Roosevelt put limits on all growth there, not because it was "an object of unusual scientific interest, being the greatest eroded canyon within the United States." [26] The Grand Canyon certainly had scientific importance, but to Americans in 1908, its scenic and cultural attributes far surpassed its scientific value. Its establishment created a proper way to present this vast natural affirmation of American culture to visitors. Scientists bent on research were not battling over the canyon; hotelkeepers and tour guides were.

On the other hand, there was good reason to establish Devils Tower as a scientific national monument. It was a unique natural wonder, dwarfing its only competitor, an unnamed protrusion four miles away. As Thomas Carter pointed out in 1892, this geologic abnormality had conservation value as well as historical appeal. Yet after its establishment, the scientific significance of Devils Tower was overshadowed by its scenic appeal as the GLO groped to find a purpose for the existence of the monuments. At the first National Parks Conference, held at Yellowstone National Park in September 1911, Frank Bond, chief clerk of the GLO and the person responsible for the national monuments in the care of the Department of the Interior, proposed that "an iron stairway, winding if necessary, and securely anchored to the face of the vertical wall, should be constructed to the top of the rock." [27] The value of a stairway up the side of an 800-foot-high monolith was clearly not scientific. Bond tried to promote tourist interest in the spectacular view from atop Devils Tower.

Often the GLO or Forest Service took an interest in an area under consideration for national monument status because of its scenic merits, but the legal justification rested on its being established as a scientific monument. Commenting on the proposed Fremont (Wheeler) National Monument in 1908, Forest Supervisor F. C. Spencer wrote: "It is not probable that there is any immediate danger of devastation or vandalism to this bit of scenic beauty, but, with the settling up of the country, the place will be visited by many tourists, which will make its acquisition a source of profit for some individual or company." Spencer recommended a national monument "to prevent such acquisition and its attendant mercenary use." Despite Spencer's forward statement about the values of the area, the document that reached Theodore Roosevelt's desk established a monument "of unusual scientific interest." [28]

Even a case like this aroused little controversy. The purported location where the Fremont expedition of 1848 met disaster, this series of limestone spires in southern Colorado was too remote and not economically valuable enough for anyone to contest its establishment. At Spencer's suggestion, the government reserved the tract to prevent future exploitation. The Wheeler National Monument was created in advance of widespread public interest to prevent undue profiteering after the public discovered it.

The term scientific in the Antiquities Act rapidly came to function as a code word under which scenic areas could acquire legal protection. This meaning was quite different from the intention of the anthropologists and archaeologists who had advocated passage of the Act. In practice, many of the areas proclaimed in the "scientific" monuments category served as little national parks before the establishment of the National Park Service. Government officials who believed in the ethics of Progressive America recognized the scenic value of many areas and incorporated them into an embryonic national park system. Regardless of the sentiments of Congress, executive action reserved such places for the future.

By the end of the Roosevelt administration in 1909, the national monuments were so diverse that they defied categorization. There were almost as many "scientific" reasons for the establishment of a monument as there were national monuments. The Antiquities Act placed few limits upon potential national monuments, and a variety of locations came to the attention of the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service. In different situations, the Antiquities Act could be, and was, interpreted loosely. The only link among members of the category was that after the GLO took care of its temporary withdrawals, many of the remaining areas that entered the system were threatened by what was perceived to be inappropriate development. By 1909 any clear sense of the intentions of the framers of the Act had disappeared.


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/chap4a.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.