On-line Book
cover to Admin History
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
National Park Service Arrowhead

M. Historic Sites Survey: 1935-1941

One of the most significant programs to be organized by the National Park Service as a result of the Historic Sites Act was the Historic Sites Survey. The vast number of requests for federal assistance, which numbered more than 500 by early 1937, combined with the provisions of the act itself, made a comprehensive national survey of historic sites an essential first step toward the achievement of a national program of historic preservation.

On December 8, 1936, the National Park Service issued "A Statement of Policy" that would serve as a guide in organizing and implementing the survey. According to the statement, the purpose of the survey was "to acquire an adequate system of sites, without encumbering the system with sites of insufficient importance, and without assuming more maintenance responsibility than can be met." In this matter the Service would adhere "to the principle whereby the criterion for determining the acquisition of a site is the unquestionable major significance of the site in national history." [80]

That same day Director Cammerer approved a memorandum setting forth the initial policies and procedures to be followed in conducting the survey. According to the memorandum, the Historic Sites Survey was "probably the most important single project now before the Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings, and in its ultimate effects one of the most significant projects of the National Park Service." The reasons for such an assertion were:

Of transcendent importance is the fact that upon the basis of this survey, the National Park Service will select the historical and archeological areas recommended for Federal protection. The number of such areas, their character, their geographic distribution, their relation to the park system, and the financial responsibilities involved, will all constitute major problems of the survey. Since sites recommended for Federal protection will presumably be protected for all time to come, they must be selected with the utmost care and only after all the pertinent facts are available.

The records of the survey, if properly conducted, should also constitute a body of data of considerable scientific value. . . .

The memorandum also outlined the scope and methodology to be used in carrying out the survey. It was to represent a nationwide geographic distribution, include a well-rounded variety of historic sites, and cover each of the principal periods in the course of American history. Four steps were to be followed in implementing the survey: (1) an inventory or index catalogue of the important historical and archeological sites was to be prepared; (2) field investigations and research studies for the more promising areas were to be conducted; (3) areas were to be classified according to their national or non-national significance; and (4) development of a national plan for the preservation of important historical and archeological sites was to be carried out in cooperation with various national agencies and state planning boards. [81]

At its fourth annual meeting on March 25-26, 1937, the Advisory Board approved the general policies and procedures for the Historic Sites Survey as adopted by the National Park Service. To facilitate the classification process the board recommended that the historical and archeological sites be classified with reference to special themes covering the chief periods of American prehistory and history. Through this method, which was adopted by the Park Service, historical or archeological sites would be placed under one of these themes for comparison with other sites illustrating the same subject. The best example or examples would then be chosen for protection and inclusion, where otherwise not well maintained or preserved, within the National Park System. Sites of lesser importance would be recommended for state or local protection and development. Where possible these would be handled through the ECW state park program of the National Park Service in order that their development through state means might fit in with the system of national areas belonging to the same theme. Accordingly, there were twenty-three historical themes under which historic sites were to be classified and twelve cultural groupings under which archeological sites were to be classified. The historical themes were:

A. Colonial Period of American History
    I. European Background and Discovery.
    II. Spanish Exploration and Settlement.
    III. Russian Colonization.
    IV. The Establishment of the French Colonies.
    V. The Dutch and Swedish Settlements.
    VI. English Exploration and Colonization.
    VII. The Development of the English Colonies to 1763.

B. Period from 1783-1830
    VIII. The Preliminaries of the Revolution.
    IX. The War for American Independence.
    X. Domestic Affairs from 1789-1830.
    XI. Foreign Affairs from 1789-1830.
    XII. The Advance of the Frontier.
    XIII. Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture.
    XIV. Architecture and Literature.

C. Pattern of American History, 1830-1936
    XV. Relations of the White Man with the Indians.
    XVI. Westward Expansion and the Extension of National Boundaries.
    XVII. Means of Travel and Communication.
    XVIII. Exploitation of Natural Resources.
    XIX. Industrial Development.
    XX. Political Events and Leaders.
    XXI. Military Events and Leaders.
    XXII. Human Relations.
    XXIII. The Arts and Sciences.

The archeological cultural groupings were:

    I. Southwestern National Monuments.
    II. Upper Mississippi Valley Cultures.
    III. Middle Mississippi Valley Cultures.
    IV. Lower Mississippi Valley Cultures.
    V. Southeastern Cultures.
    VI. Tennessee Valley Cultures.
    VII. Ohio Valley Cultures.
    VIII. Northeastern Cultures.
    IX. Northern Plains Cultures.
    X. The Arctic Cultures.
    XI. Gulf Coast and Peninsula Cultures.
    XII. Sites not included in preceding groups. [82]

As preparation for the Historic Sites Survey began the list of twenty-three historical themes was reduced to fifteen, and the archeological cultural groupings were similarly reorganized and reduced in number. [83] By 1941, when wartime budget restrictions began to curtail the survey, reports or preliminary studies had been prepared on the following historical themes: 17th and 18th century French and Spanish sites; colonial Dutch and Swedish sites; 17th century English sites; western expansion of the frontier to 1830; and western expansion of the frontier, 1830-1900. Work also had begun on two thematic studies: 18th century English sites and American Revolutionary War sites. Some 564 historical sites and 334 archeological sites had been inventoried and 16 sites had been recommended by the Advisory Board and approved by the Secretary of the Interior as units of the National Park System.

Reports on archeological sites had been prepared on the following themes: Early Man in North America; Prehistoric Sedentary Agriculture Groups; and Historic Sedentary Agricultural Groups. The survey of archeological sites had been carried out in cooperation with Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, Louisiana State, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia universities--one of the leading projects being the Middle Mississippi Valley Archeological Survey comprising sections of eastern Arkansas and western Mississippi. [84]

After the survey was halted by the war, it remained moribund until late 1957 when it was resumed by the National Park Service. By 1965 approximately 3,500 sites and buildings had been studied and evaluated by the survey. [85]

Chapter Five continues with...
New Historical and Archeological Areas Added to National Park System: 1933-1941


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

National Park Service's ParkNet Home