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NPS Expansion: 1930s







New Deal



NPS 1933-39




Expansion of the National Park Service in the 1930s:
Administrative History

Chapter One: "They have grown up like Topsy"
Administration of American Parks Before 1933
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A. National Parks and Monuments Under the Department of the Interior, 1872-1916

Any history of the National Park Service does not begin with the establishment of the bureau. Rather, it must begin some forty-five years earlier, on March 1, 1872. On that day, President Ulysses S. Grant signed an act that set aside a "tract of land . . . near the head-waters of the Yellowstone River . . . as a public park or pleasuring-Ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." [4]

The creation of Yellowstone National Park was the world's first attempt to preserve a large wilderness area as a national park. The national park idea, as expressed first there, quite rightly may be considered to be one of America's unique contributions to world civilization. [5] Neither the president nor Congress realized what they had done, however, would be emulated all over the world. Nor did the Yellowstone National Park enabling act nor the separate acts that established additional national parks that followed represent a conscious effort to create a national park system. [6]

Between 1872 and August 16, 1916, when a bureau to administer them was finally established, Congress set aside fourteen additional national parks: Mackinac Island (March 3, 1875), Sequoia (September 25, 1890), Yosemite (October 1, 1890), General Grant (October 1, 1890), Mount Rainier (March 22, 1899), Crater Lake (May 22, 1902), Wind Cave (January 9, 1903), Sullys Hill (April 27, 1904), Platt (June 29, 1906), Mesa Verde (June 29, 1905), Glacier (May 11, 1910), Rocky Mountain (January 26, 1913), Hawaii (August 1, 1916), and Lassen Volcanic (August 9, 1916). [7]

In the meantime, a growing number of people, scholars and non-scholars alike, were becoming increasingly concerned over the destruction of the nation's antiquities, and loss, therefore, of a considerable body of knowledge about its past. Of particular concern was the damage inflicted by the "pothunters" on the prehistoric cliff-dwellings, pueblos, and Spanish missions in the Southwest, although sites elsewhere were certainly not immune. [8] In 1906, following a lengthy, if uncoordinated campaign, Representative John F. Lacey of Iowa secured passage of his "Act For the Preservation of American Antiquities." [9]

The Antiquities Act provided for the creation of a new kind of reservation. Thereafter certain objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest could be declared "national monuments." Avoiding the cumbersome legislative process required for the establishment of national parks, the act authorized the president to set aside such sites on the public lands by proclamation. [10]

Of particular importance to this study, the Antiquities Act did not place administrative responsibility of all national monuments in one agency. Rather, jurisdiction over a particular monument would remain with "the Secretary of the department having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are located." [11] As a result, both the Agriculture and War departments as well as Interior would administer monuments until 1933, when Executive Order 6166 transferred all to the Department of the Interior. [12]

In 1911 Frank Bond, chief clerk of the General Land Office, ventured that, differences in process of establishment aside, national parks and monuments were as alike as "two peas in a pod." [13] In practice his observation had a certain validity. Three of the monuments administered by the Interior Department later formed nuclei of national parks. [14] Additionally, several national monuments administered by the Department of Agriculture--Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone, Grand Canyon, and Mount Olympus--became national parks. [15]

Yet, as difficult as it was sometimes to perceive, there was a difference between national parks and national monuments. Through the period under discussion, at least, the difference would be reflected in the administration of the two areas. Generally, the monuments were smaller, although this distinction disappeared when one considered Katmai and Glacier Bay national monuments, which were 2,792,137 and 2,803,137 acres respectively. [16] Although obviously a most subjective thing, the national parks were generally thought to have met some higher standards than did the national monuments--were areas of outstanding scenic grandeur. [17]

Administratively, national monuments were areas deemed to be worthy of preservation, and were set aside as a means of protection from encroachment. A national park, on the other hand, was an area that would be developed to become a "convenient resort for people to enjoy." [18]

On September 24, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation setting aside Devils Tower, a 650-foot-high volcanic shaft on the Wyoming plains, as the first national monument. [19] Between that date and August 25, 1916, Presidents Roosevelt, William H. Taft, and Woodrow Wilson set aside nineteen more sites to be administered by the Department of the Interior.

Seven of those sites were of historical or prehistorical significance: El Morro (December 8, 1906), Montezuma Castle (December 8, 1906), Chaco Canyon (March 11, 1907), Tumacacori (September 15, 1908), Navajo (March 20, 1909), Gran Quivera (November 1, 1909), and Sitka (March 23, 1910). [20]

Twelve others, like Devils Tower, were of scientific significance. With the exception of Sieur de Monts (July 8, 1916) in Maine, they were in the West: Petrified Forest (December 18, 1906), Muir Woods (January 9, 1908), Natural Bridges (April 16, 1908), Lewis and Clark Cavern (May 11, 1908), Mukuntuweap (July 31, 1909), Shoshone Cavern (September 21, 1909), Rainbow Bridge (May 30, 1910), Colorado (May 24, 1911), Papago Saguaro (January 31, 1914), Dinosaur (October 4, 1915), and Capulin Mountain (August 9, 1916). [21]

The twelve national parks and thirteen national monuments that existed before 1910 had, in the words of Secretary of the Interior Walter L. Fisher, "grown up like topsy." [22] Congress had set aside certain areas, and had provided meager funds for their administration. It had not, however, provided for any central administrative machinery, other than assigning that function to the Secretary of the Interior.

The Department of the Interior displayed little more interest in the parks than did Congress. Before 1910, no official or division in Interior was anything more than nominally responsible for the national parks. What little attention was given then came from whomever had extra time, or the inclination to do so. [23]

This meant that there existed, into the second decade of the century, essentially no central administration for the national parks. Nor had there been any effort to spell out a general national administrative policy for the parks before 1915, when Mark Daniels so attempted. [24]

Although the Secretary of the Interior was responsible for the administration of the parks, any actual control existed on paper only. Each of the twelve national parks was a separate administrative unit, run as well, or as poorly, as the politically-appointed superintendent did so. [25] Congress made no general appropriation for the national parks; money was made available to each separate park. The amount received varied, generally, in a direct ratio to the superintendent's political influence. [26] As late as 1916, rangers were appointed by the individual parks, not the department, and could not be transferred from park to park. [27] It was no easier to transfer equipment between parks, nor were approaches to common problems often shared. [28]

In his 1914 testimony on a bill to create a National Park Service, Secretary of the Interior Adolph C. Miller stated that the situation "is not so serious, but it is very bad." [29] Miller was an optimist. Physical developments in the national parks, particularly with respect to sanitation facilities, were hopelessly inadequate for the growing number of park visitors. [30] Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, Mesa Verde, and Glacier national parks received little more than custodial care. [31] The civilian administrators had early proven themselves incapable in Yellowstone, Sequoia, General Grant, and Yosemite, and had been replaced by the Army. [32] Although the army officers performed a creditable job, the arrangement in Yellowstone, at least, resulted in a most confusing administration at the park level:

All appropriations for improvements were expended by an office of the Engineer Corps who was completely independent of the Interior Department or the park superintendent. The management and protection was in the hands of an army officer appointed by the Secretary of War . . . . [33]

Administratively, the national monuments under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior were separate from the national parks. From the passage of the Antiquities Act until the creation of the National Park Service, the General Land Office was responsible for the administration of the national monuments. [34]

Having a clearly defined responsibility in this case did not mean, however, more efficient administration. Congress steadfastly refused to appropriate even the modest sum of $5,000 requested for preservation, administration, and protection of all units. [35] When an appropriation was finally made in 1916, it was only $3,500. [36]

Because no appropriation was forthcoming it was not possible to provide on-site custodial care. The person charged with immediate supervision of Montezuma Castle, Petrified Forest, Tumacacori, and Navajo national monuments, for example, was Grutz W. Helm, whose office was in Los Angeles. [37]

The story that emerges from the records is one of decay, spoliation, and vandalism of the national monuments. It is little wonder that the commissioner requested in 1913 that responsibility for the national monuments be transferred from his bureau back to the department. [38]

In many respects, Tumacacori National Monument was a special case, because the Forest Service actually administered the site at the local level, while ultimate jurisdiction remained in the Department of the Interior. This somewhat complicated matters. The problems of protection there, however, were illustrative of those that existed elsewhere.

While responsible for the area, the Forest Service made no improvements, and the only direct supervision came when forest rangers happened to visit the site in the course of other duties, something that did not happen often. By August 1913, Forest Service personnel indicated that "Tumacacori Mission . . . is suffering misuse and is in a very dilapidated condition." [39] Recognizing that the estimated $5,000 needed to prevent further deterioration would not be available, R.T. Galloway, acting Secretary of Agriculture, requested that the Interior Department provide $100 to enclose a stock-proof fence. [40]

The fence was constructed, but only after the money was transferred from the department to the bureau, then to the Chief of the Los Angeles Land Office Field Division, who, in turn authorized Robert Selkiak, forest supervisor in Tucson, to construct the fence. [41] Selkiak then arranged for construction.

The problems arising from the lack of a central administrative organization did not go unnoticed by the friends of the national parks. As early as 1908, a small group of enthusiasts, led by Horace J. McFarland, president of the American Civic Association, began to lobby for the creation of a separate bureau to administer the parks. [42] Between that date and 1916, some sixteen bills that proposed a new bureau to administer the parks were introduced in Congress. [43]

Within the Interior Department, too, the first steps were taken to centralize administration of the national parks. In 1910 the Secretary of the Interior came forward with a proposal for a park bureau and in 1911, a conference at Yellowstone Park represented the first formal effort at cooperation at the park level. [44]

In the absence of legislation establishing a park bureau, successive Secretaries of the Interior--Walter L. Fisher and Franklin K. Lane--tried to place park administration on a more coherent basis. By the end of 1910, general responsibility over the parks had been assigned to W. B. Acker, an assistant attorney in the secretary's office. [45]

Acker was also responsible for the Bureau of Education, eleemosynary (charitable) institutions in the District of Columbia, territories of Hawaii and Alaska, and the department's investigative staff. [46] Moreover, he had little money to expend, and a small staff at his disposal. He was, however, devoted to the national parks, and his efforts on their behalf represented the first, halting steps toward a centralized administration.

In 1913 Secretary Lane upgraded park supervision and coordination to the assistant secretarial level and appointed Adolph C. Miller, chairman of the Department of Economics at Berkeley, to fill the position. [47]

Miller received instructions to solve the problem of park administration. The next year, he assigned direct administrative responsibility to a General Superintendent and Landscape Engineer of the National Parks, with offices in San Francisco. [48] Mark Daniels, a landscape engineer, filled the position on a part-time basis while continuing in his private practice. When Daniels resigned before the end of the year, Robert C. Marshall of the U.S. Geological Survey became the first full-time administrator of the national parks. Not only was Marshall's position a full-time one, but he also had his office in Washington, D.C. [49]

The appointment of a full-time general superintendent of the national parks with at least a small staff to assist him would prove to be a significant step toward establishing a unitary and coherent administration of the national parks. [50] The most important step taken by the Interior Department in that regard, however, was the hiring of Stephen T. Mather and Horace M. Albright.

Albright arrived first--as a clerk in the office of Assistant Secretary Miller on May 31, 1913. [51] The twenty-five-year-old Albright had already proven himself an able administrator when he was directed to keep Mather, who replaced Miller as assistant secretary in January 1915, "out of trouble." [52]

The quietly efficient and tough-minded Albright perfectly complemented the energetic, extroverted, if sometimes erratic, Stephen Mather. [53] They quickly established a working relationship based on mutual trust and respect that is rare in any organization. Neither expected to remain in government service for more than a year. [54] Fortunately they did not leave as they had anticipated. The subsequent history of the national parks and the National Park Service is inextricably bound up with the careers of these two remarkable men.

Stephen Mather was a self-made millionaire, whose success in the private sector rested as much on his publicity skills as it did on organization ability. It is small wonder, then, that his first inclination as Assistant Secretary of the Interior was to launch a drive to give the national parks greater visibility. Directed by a former journalist, Robert Sterling Yard, the "educational campaign was a smashing success." [55] Not only did park visitation increase dramatically that first year, but the resulting publicity played no little role in the successful effort to create a separate national park bureau. [56]

Chapter One continues with...
National Park Service Administration, 1916-1933


Last Modified: Tues, Mar 14 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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