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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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H. Legislative History of Historic Sites Act and National Park Trust Fund Board Act

The Historic Sites Act represented a popular idea at a time of economic crisis when the nation needed a sense of its heritage. The proposed bill, drafted by Poole and Schneider, and its companion bill to create a national park trust fund board, quickly found influential Congressional sponsors. After the bills received a favorable report from the Bureau of the Budget, Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia introduced them in the Senate on February 28, 1935. [45] The bills, which were first referred to the Committee on the Library but later transferred to the Committee on Public Lands and Surveys, were entitled (S. 2073) "An Act to provide for the preservation of historical American sites, buildings, objects, and antiquities of national significance" and (S. 2074) "An Act to create a National Park Trust Fund Board." On March 13 Representative Maury Maverick of Texas introduced the bills (H.R. 6670--Historic Sites Act; H.R. 6734--National Park Trust Fund Board Act) in the House where they were referred to the Committee on Public Lands. While neither legislator had taken part in drafting the bills, they were both interested in historic preservation. Byrd, as a former governor of Virginia, could not ignore the importance of Colonial Williamsburg and the George Washington Birthplace and Colonial national monuments. Maverick, a first-term Congressman, had been a long-time supporter of the San Antonio Conservation Society and more recently had turned his attention to an effort to have the San Jose Mission made a unit of the National Park System. [46]

When the bills were taken up for consideration by the two Congressional committees, the committee chairmen requested further information and clarification from Secretary Ickes. In response to these requests Ickes submitted identical letters to Rene L. DeRouen of Louisiana, chairman of the House Committee on Public Lands, and Robert F. Wagner of New York, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Lands and Surveys, on March 26 and 30 respectively. The legislation, wrote Ickes,

provides that the Secretary of the Interior shall be charged with the duty of effectuating the national policy expressed in the bill. In connection with this, it is important initially that graphic records and other data of historic and archaeologic sites, buildings, and objects should be obtained and a comprehensive study made for the purpose of a proper classification; for example, of those clothed with national significance. The bill also contains provisions to accomplish this, and to authorize the establishment of a reference library and the making of necessary researches in connection with particular sites and properties.

The bill would provide the necessary authority for acquiring, restoring, preserving, and operating historic sites and properties.

The great majority of historic houses, over 400 in number, now operated for the benefit of the public in this country are owned and maintained by States, patriotic associations, and individuals. It is believed that much can be accomplished by mutual cooperation between all agencies interested in this subject and the bill would authorize such cooperation upon the part of the Federal Government; in addition, it provides that cooperative agreements with States and others, may be made for the preservation and operation of historic sites and properties.

In order that historic properties may be properly and accurately interpreted to the public, the bill provides that an educational program and service shall be developed.

In view of the highly technical problems involved in the reconstruction and restoration of many historic properties, the bill contains provisions for obtaining the necessary technical and professional assistance which might otherwise be difficult to obtain.

The bill to create a National Park Trust Fund Board, and for other purposes (H.R. 6734), is a companion bill to H.R. 6670. This bill is substantially identical with the act which created the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, which I am informed has proved to be most valuable in promoting the Library and its work. I believe such an agency will prove to be of equal value to the Park Service. [47]

The House Committee on Public Lands held hearings on H.R. 6670 and H.R. 6734 on April 1, 2, and 5. The first person to speak was Secretary Ickes, who explained that the House committee was about to consider two bills, one to create a National Park Service Trust Fund Board that could expend private donations given to the Park Service, and the other the Historic Sites Act itself. Ickes stated that the essential purpose of the bill was

to lay a broad legal foundation for a national program of preservation and rehabilitation of historic sites and to enable the Secretary of the Interior to carry on in a planned, rational and vigorous manner, an important function which, because of lack of legal authorization, he has hitherto had to exercise in a rather weak and haphazard fashion.

Moreover, he needed the act to provide him with proper professional historical advice and services since Congress had responded so enthusiastically to the cause of history:

In the past few years the American people have displayed a sharply increased awareness of its historic past. This growing interest and pride in both local and national history is a healthy and encouraging phenomenon which is reflected in the ever-increasing number of bills being introduced into both Houses of Congress, providing for the marking, preservation, or restoration of historic sites or structures throughout the country. More than sixty such bills have been introduced during the present session. [48]

Chatelain also had the opportunity to testify at the hearings. After describing the degree to which the nation had no coordinated plan for protecting its historic sites, he noted that local agencies had been unable to handle the job. Hence he strongly supported the idea of cooperation in saving the nation's historical heritage:

As a country, we need to undertake a far-reaching planning program to save our historic sites. We need to plan together, and if this bill has one great object it seems to me that it is in establishing some form of cooperation between the Nation on the one hand, and the various component parts of the Nation--the States, counties, and cities--on the other hand, in a scheme or effort toward historic planning and historic conservation. [49]

Less than one week after the hearings were completed, President Roosevelt indicated his wholehearted support for the Historic Sites Act in letters sent to Chairmen DeRouen and Wagner on April 10, 1935. The president noted:

The preservation of historic sites for the public benefit, together with their proper interpretation, tends to enhance the respect and love of the citizen for the institutions of his country, as well as strengthen his resolution to defend unselfishly the hallowed traditions and high ideals of America.

At the present time when so many priceless historical buildings, sites and remains are in grave danger of destruction through the natural progress of modern industrial conditions, the necessity for this legislation becomes apparent.

In this connection I feel that the Department of the Interior, through the National Park Service, to the jurisdiction of which I assigned this general activity by Executive orders of June 10 and July 28, 1933, should be authorized to carry forward this increased program and to acquire such property as it is decided is necessary to the furtherance of these ends. The general machinery for this work can be developed by the National Park Service with little additional expense. [50]

The House committee reported both bills on May 9, recommending passage subject to several amendments. [51] On June 7 the Senate considered both bills in executive session and reported favorably on both with amendments. [52] Three days later S. 2073 and S. 2074 passed the Senate in amended form, and on June 14 both bills were referred to the House Committee on Public Lands. [53] On June 18 the House committee reported favorably on the amended Senate versions subject to further revision and recommended their passage in lieu of H.R. 6670 and H.R. 6734. [54] The National Park Trust Fund bill (S. 2074) became law on July 10, but passage of the Historic Sites bill (S. 2073) was held up because of the opposition of Representative Bertrand Snell of New York. [55] Angered because Secretary Ickes had earlier rescinded an allocation for a bridge in Ogdensburg, New York, Snell continued his tactics until President Roosevelt personally intervened to restore the bridge appropriation. [56] On August 5 the House amended and passed S. 2073 in lieu of H.R. 6670. [57]

At this point Senator Byrd requested Secretary Ickes opinion as to whether he wished the Senate to agree to the House version of the bill or whether a conference should be called. Ickes replied on August 12:

The legislative history of this bill discloses that it passed the House with four amendments. The principal change effected by these amendments would prohibit the acquisition of any property or the making of cooperative agreements in connection with the preservation of historical sites, which would obligate the general fund of the Treasury, until Congress appropriated money for that purpose. As this bill passed the Senate, it would appear that concessions could not have been granted in historical sites without complying with the law which requires competitive bidding. The House Committee on Public Lands, however, recommended an amendment which would authorize the letting of such concessions without complying with this requirement of the law, but the amendment was defeated and a provision, as follows, substituted in its stead:

"Provided, That such concessions, leases or permits shall be let at competitive bidding, to the person making the highest and best bid."

Ickes recommended that the Senate concur in the House amendments. [58] On August 14 the Senate complied with the Secretary's wishes, and on August 21 Roosevelt signed the bill into law as Public Law 292 (49 Stat.666 ). [59]

Chapter Five continues with...
Significance of the Historic Sites Act and the National Park Trust Fund Board Act


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

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