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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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E. Impact of New Deal Programs and Reorganization of 1933 on National Park Service Historical Program Development

By the time of the reorganization in 1933 the historical program of the National Park Service had been underway for less than two years. Nevertheless, the foundations for a fully-developed historical program had been laid through the pioneering efforts in research, preservation, and interpretation at George Washington Birthplace and Colonial national monuments and Morristown National Historical Park. The reorganization, which quadrupled the number of historical areas in the National Park Service by adding some 57 such units, made the Park Service the leading historical park management agency in the United States virtually overnight. In 1934 Director Cammerer acknowledged the tremendous growth of the Park Service historical program as well as its goals, objectives, and inherent problems:

The ideal Federal program of historic sites preservation thus appears to be in a fair way of realization in this new unity of jurisdiction under the National Park Service. Already a basic philosophy has been evolved by which the different areas in the system are related to each other in definite fashion. Thus from the earliest prehistoric events of American life down to the time when the white man, after over three centuries spent in conquering American soil, conquered also the air, historic sites connected with various steps of this amazing drama of civilization will be preserved and used for the purpose of interpreting this engrossing story to those who visit these areas.

In the same way that the grand scenic areas of the West have been established as national parks and have gained a permanent place of undying affection in the hearts and minds of the American public, now the archeological and historical parks are rising to their rightful place in the genuine appreciation of the people. Not only do these areas typify the progressive story of American history, but also they represent much of the idealism and sacred tradition so dear to this Nation. For that reason their educational and intrinsic value in the Federal program of national parks and monuments is great.

The historical work has grown far beyond normal expectations. . . .

The addition of the Colonial, Washington's Birthplace, and Morristown areas was but a normal growth in the historical field. But the Service was not long left to work with this normal problem. When the Executive order of June 30, 1933, [sic] added to that field national military parks and monuments, national cemeteries, and battlefield sites, the National Park Service was faced with the necessity of laying plans to build its program of interpreting these areas to the public as it had been doing for the other parks in the system.

Naturally, the bringing of so many areas of historical importance into the system placed new demands upon the historical service. The additional problems occasioned by the transfer of the military parks, monuments, and battlefield sites from the War Department created a need for additional personnel with training in history. In meeting this need, as mentioned elsewhere, the various emergency programs were of inestimable value. [19]

The "inestimable value" of the various New Deal emergency relief and funding programs was crucial to the implementation and extension of the embryonic Park Service historical program. The influx of money and personnel that became available to the agency as a result of its involvement in the New Deal public works programs presented great opportunities to the Service in carrying out a program of preservation, restoration, planning, and interpretation of historical areas. [20]

Under the ECW program that was organized during the spring of 1933 the National Park Service was assigned the responsibility of directing the vast program of the CCC in the preservation, development, and interpretation of both National Park System units and state parks having historical and archeological values. Archeological projects undertaken through federal emergency funds were jointly supervised by the Park Service and the Smithsonian Institution. Park Service historical and archeological personnel guided the technical phases of the historical and archeological activities of the CCC and provided state authorities with assistance in developing preservation policies while they further refined the historical policies governing historical areas in the National Park System. Through these efforts, the Service began to play a direct role in historic preservation at both the federal and state levels. [21]

The ECW field organization in the historical parks provided for the position of historical technician in order "that the general viewpoint of the N.P.S. toward the development of historical sites could be represented." The historical technician was the field representative of the Park Service who was "above all familiar with the aims and objectives of the historical program." The ECW handbook noted that such persons were

appointed in areas which have been set aside primarily because of military and other historical considerations; the technician is appointed, therefore, to analyze the historical qualities of the area and to give expert advice to the park superintendent as to the best way of preserving and developing those qualities; he will work directly under the Chief Historian of the N.P.S. and is responsible for carrying forward the general historical policies of the N.P.S. in the areas in which the camps have been established.

In summary, the functions and duties of the historical technician included responsibility for: (1) interpreting the aims and objectives of the Park Service historical program as applied to the work projects: (2) furnishing historical advice on the relative importance of the historical remains on proposed work; (3) furnishing historical information necessary for work projects decided upon; (4) custodianship of historical and archeological artifacts found during the course of emergency conservation work; (5) providing technical expertise on the use of the park by the public; and (6) directing the park educational program. [22]

At the beginning of the ECW program the historical technicians had no other assistance than that rendered by "so-called miscellaneous or cultural foremen." Appointed under the CCC field organization, these foremen, later classified as historical assistants, were primarily young men with training in history or the related social sciences. Of the thirty-five assistants that had been hired by 1934, nearly half had masters' degrees or doctorates in these fields. They were responsible not to the technicians, however, but to the work superintendents.

The task of recruiting, training, and educating qualified historical technicians for the ECW program fell to Chatelain. In later years he observed:

My primary problem [as chief historian] was to take a man trained in history and make a real Park Service man out of him. Some men trained in history never fit that bill successfully, even men well-equipped in the field of history, simply because they couldn't translate themselves into Park Service men, thinking Park Service ideas. Some men were good in the books, but they couldn't deal with the public. Some men were good in the books, but they couldn't deal with the physical conditions on the ground. They couldn't move from the one area to the other. I had to create a new kind of technician, I think, and train him. [23]

The problems of recruiting and training historians, coordinating the historical program in the National Park System as well as the ECW State Park program, and establishing uniform historical research and preservation policies fell to Chatelain as a result of the reorganization in 1933. In effect, a branch of historic sites was established with Chatelain as acting assistant director and a small staff paid with emergency funds to oversee the increased historical activities of the National Park Service--a step that would later pave the way for passage of the Historic Sites Act in 1935. Accordingly, he had Elbert Cox assigned to his office in fall 1933 to provide assistance in hiring historians, establishing a centralized research staff at the Library of Congress, and reviewing reports coming in from the field. [24]

Conferences were also organized to aid in the formulation and articulation of a National Park Service philosophy of historic preservation and a policy of administering historical areas. For example, B. Floyd Flickinger chaired a Conference of Historical and Archeological Superintendents in Washington on November 23, 1934. Chatelain, architect Charles E. Peterson, Assistant Director Demaray, and Director Cammerer were on the program to represent the administrative functions that related to the historical areas. At the conference Chatelain pleaded for better-quality restoration work based on thorough research and supervised by trained personnel, urged development of a more thorough historical interpretation program, and defended the idea of historic sites as educational tools, citing the nearness of the new park areas to the metropolitan areas of the East. [25]

Thus by late 1934 many of the barriers that made the movement toward a national policy of historic preservation more difficult had been removed. The reorganization of 1933 had concentrated administration of all federally-owned historical and archeological areas in one agency. The National Park Service employed a staff of professional historians capable of providing the technical knowledge and skill that it needed to carry out its programs. Through the many relief programs large sums and personnel were available to carry out a comprehensive historical program. Through the many assistance programs federal officials had the opportunity to become acquainted with the major problems of the states and localities in the field of historic preservation. [26]

Chapter Five continues with...
Historic American Buildings Survey


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

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