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NPS Expansion: 1930s







New Deal



NPS 1933-39




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

Chapter Five: New Initiatives in the Fields of History, Historic Preservation and Historical Park Development and Interpretation
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C. Historical Program at Colonial National Monument

One of the first historical programs to be established in the parks was at Colonial National Monument. The impetus for such a program was the sesquicentennial observance of Lord Charles Cornwallis' surrender to the Americans at Yorktown in October 1781 . Although the historical program was well underway before Chatelain assumed his office, he nevertheless would play a significant role in its future development along with the local park historians.

By June 1931 William M. Robinson, Jr., an engineer from Georgia who had written several historical works on the Confederate navy, had been hired as superintendent. Two professionally-trained "ranger historians," characterized as a new breed of Park Service employee, had been employed to commence a program of documentary research and planning that was a necessary prerequisite for the preservation, restoration, and interpretation of the earthworks and historic structures at Yorktown and solving the restoration problems at Jamestown. The two historians, B. Floyd Flickinger, a teacher at William and Mary, and Elbert Cox, a graduate student at the University of Virginia, found themselves almost completely without guidance at first because they represented a new discipline. [8]

During the next five years the historical program at Colonial was developed under the general guidance of Chatelain. The major objective of the historical program became the hope that Colonial would "serve as a link to bind the past to the present and be a guide and an inspiration for the future." This was to be accomplished

by means of the areas of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, the historic remains in these areas, and such restorations and reconstructions as may be added, to unfold the story of the establishment of the first permanent English settlement in 1607, of the development of Colonial life in Tidewater Virginia, and the flowering of its political and cultural greatness in the 18th century, and of the culmination of the Colonial period with the achievement of American independence at Yorktown in 1781.

Summing up a presentation on the historical methods that had been used in the Colonial historical program, B. Floyd Flickinger observed in January 1936:

If no other activities were ever contemplated or attempted, our first obligation, in accepting the custody of an historic site, is preservation. However, our program considers preservation as only a means to an end. The second phase is physical development, which seeks a rehabilitation of the site or area by means of restorations and reconstructions. The third and most important phase is interpretation, and preservation and development are valuable in proportion to their contribution to this phase.

The first and fundamental step in organizing the historical program in an area is the determination of a comprehensive and accurate history of the area, and then the selection, in order of importance, of the different parts of the whole story, so that there may be a basis for the selection of objects for physical development which will include an adequate minimum plan. Provision must then be made for a complete program of general research concerning the whole story of the area, and also for special study and research on particular objects and problems. [9]

Chapter Five continues with...
Morristown National Historical Park


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

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