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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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D. Morristown National Historical Park

Verne Chatelain also became actively involved in the National Park Service effort to acquire land for a new historical area in Morristown, New Jersey, the site of the Continental Army's winter encampments in 1776-77 and 1779-80. After investigating the site at the request of Horace Albright, he wrote a report in April 1932, recommending the site as a "Federal Historical Reserve" as it possessed every possible qualification for a first-class historical park. The proposed park would include not only the Jockey Hollow encampment site, but also the Ford Mansion, a significant Georgian house that had served as Washington's headquarters and in which was presently located a major collection of Washington manuscripts and books exhibited by the Washington Association of New Jersey. [10]

Albright and Chatelain visited Morristown in November 1932 and a conference was arranged in January 1933 with Washington Association officials, local civic and business leaders, Louis C. Cramton, special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior, and Chatelain, representing Director Albright, in attendance. The draft of a park bill adopted by the conferees included provisions relative to the probable value and educational importance of the Washington Association collections, the eventual construction of a fireproof museum and library to house and display these materials, and new legal status for the concept of a national historical park. Such a park would not come into being by means of a presidential proclamation as did national monuments. Congress itself would set up the terms under which the park would become operative. In so doing, the draft bill gave the proposed park "the rank and dignity equal to the scenic program in the West." [11]

The bill for establishment of Morristown National Historical Park was submitted to both houses of Congress (H.R. 14302; S. 5469) in mid-January 1933. Secretary of the Interior Lyman Wilbur supported the bill as "the most important park project before this department at the present time." [12] Hearings were held by the House Committee on Public Lands on January 24 and 27 with Director Albright providing the principal testimony. On February 3 the committee reported favorably on the bill, and the Senate Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds did likewise on February 8. [13] The House committee observed in its report that the bill proposed "to set aside as a national historical park certain areas at and in the vicinity of Morristown, New Jersey, which have outstanding historic importance because of their association with Gen. George Washington and his campaigns in the Revolutionary War." The report continued:

The maintenance of an area as a national park should occur only where the preservation of the area in question is of national interest because of its outstanding value from a scenic, scientific, or historic point of view, and Congress must be eternally vigilant to prevent admission to this system of areas, whether scenic, scientific, or historic in character which do not measure up to proper national park standards. The same careful judgment which has been applied heretofore as to scenic areas must likewise be applied to-historic areas. It is the belief of the committee that the area proposed in the bill now reported fully measures up to that standard. . . .

Your committee has given careful consideration to the selection of the term "National Historical Park," which is used in designating the area covered by this proposed legislation, and has reached the conclusion that it is advantageous to employ this term in the present case. Somewhat similarly, Congress has already applied to certain areas the name "National Military Park," such as the battlefields of Gettysburg, Chickamauga-Chattanooga, and Shiloh. Waiving the question as to whether these fields could not more properly be called "national historical parks," it is very apparent that in the case of Morristown--where no battle was fought--the designation "historical" is the logical one.

If the Congress should later decide upon a general reclassification of park and monument areas now under the jurisdiction of the United States, the precedent provided by the use of this term in the present case will, your committee believes, be valuable in determining the designation to be given to certain other historic areas now unsatisfactorily named. [14]

The act (Public Law 409), providing for the establishment of Morristown National Historical Park, was signed by President Hoover on March 2, 1933. [15] After the deeds to the lands were accepted by the U.S. Government, the park was formally dedicated on July 4, 1933, with Secretary Ickes giving the principal speech. [16] In his annual report for 1933 Director Cammerer observed:

Morristown fittingly was chosen as the first national historical park, since throughout the dark days of the Revolutionary War it served as the base hospital of the Colonial Army and during the winters of 1776-77 and 1779-80 was the main camp site of the American armies. . . .

It is expected that historical parks in the future will form a definite unit of the National Park and Monument System and the historian forces of this Office now are making a thorough study of outstanding historical events of the Nation, so that a definite program for the establishment of additional parks of this nature may be recommended at a later date. [17]

In later years Chatelain observed that the addition of Morristown had a significant impact on the development of the historical program in the National Park Service. According to him the Morristown historical program

was the point of departure in the development of the . . . separate historical program within the Park program, because the Morristown program gave us a chance, first of all, to develop a new concept . . . the concept of a national historical park and using those great values at Morristown which had so much to do with the story of the American Revolution, we could not only apply the term National Historical Park to this area under the provisions of the Act that Congress passed but we could administratively set up the kind of historical program for the first time that I had begun to feel was necessary. That involved, of course, having these areas first of all, under men trained historically to know what the legitimate objectives of the area ought to be, and then to work toward a realization of those objectives. . . . From the outset at Morristown the people there, as well as I myself, insisted that the direction of the program should be historical, and under trained historians to work clearly toward the realization of legitimate historical values. . . . [18]

Chapter Five continues with...
Impact of New Deal Programs and Reorganization of 1933 on National Park Service Historical Program Development


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

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