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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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O. Historical and Archeological Research: 1935-1941

The Historic Sites Act provided for a comprehensive research program "to obtain true and accurate historical and archaeological facts and information" relative to the nation's historical and archeological sites. Under Dr. Chatelain's tutelage the Park Service developed an energetic and far-reaching research program, so energetic Harold Ickes informed Director Cammerer on June 11, 1936, that the Park Service was going too far afield in the matter of research. Accordingly, the director had Chatelain draw up a document describing the overall purview of the Park Service research program. On July 7 the document entitled "Statement Regarding the Activities in Historical Research of the Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings" was submitted to the secretary. [90]

Asserting that the research activities of the branch were "an extremely important part of the work of the National Park Service," the statement noted that between January 1, 1935, and June 1, 1936, the research staff working with materials in the Library of Congress and in other federal departments had prepared more than 300 reports. Of these 57 percent were prepared at the request of Congressional committees or individual Congressmen or because of the need to obtain data to render judgments upon bills pending before Congress which would affect the National Park Service. Some 38 percent of the reports were made in response to inquiries from field personnel or from other Park Service branches in Washington, while some 5 percent were prepared to answer requests from state agencies or historical and patriotic agencies.

Chatelain went on to note that the research program was based "on a true conception of the needs of the Park Service and a carefully planned program of meeting the day by day problems that come into the Service." The studies were necessary "if the high professional standards" of the Service were to be followed in the historical areas. The historical problems of these areas were "necessary problems" which must be met if the National Park Service were to meet the obligation placed upon it by law "to recommend action on sites proposed for national administration, and to develop those which are required."

In handling these problems, Chatelain contended, historical research in Washington saved both time and money because of the research resources at the Library of Congress and the archives of the various federal departments. With such material at hand, a "small efficient research staff in Washington" could provide the essential historical information necessary to the handling of a large percentage of historical problems presented to the National Park Service" without expensive travel to the field, and without using the time consumed in field investigations." Moreover, the "true justification" for a

comprehensive investigation of historic places lies in the fact that only by studying and reporting on them is it possible to secure the complete picture that is an essential preliminary to classifying sites according to their importance. And not until this classification is made will it be possible to carry out fully the purposes for which the Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings was created. Survey and classification is a fundamental responsibility placed upon the National Park Service by the recent historic sites legislation.

The reports made as a result of inquiries from the field and other branches of the Park Service . . . are indispensable to the authentic development of the sites under Federal Administration. Accurate restoration of historic buildings is often made possible only by data uncovered in the Library of Congress and other governmental agencies. . . .

Chatelain argued that the National Park Service could not safely rely upon the accuracy of information provided by state and local agency historians. To meet the obligation placed upon the Park Service by the Historic Sites Act, the Park Service historians must "verify the historical truth" for themselves and "secure the information which meets our own particular problems." In conclusion he noted:

. . . To maintain true professional standards, to handle the work involved promptly, efficiently and at as low a cost as possible, and through that means to cultivate true historical standards and a genuine and widespread interest in preserving the important remains of our national past is the fundamental justification of the work of the Research Division. . . . [91]

As the National Park Service became increasingly involved in the development of historical areas, there was a corresponding need to define the relationship between research and development. The Regional Historians' Conference held on June 6-10, 1938, recommended that the National Park Service adopt a draft research and development policy for historic sites that it drew up. Accordingly, Director Cammerer approved such a policy statement on June 20, 1938. The document stated that a "basic function of the National Park Service is the preservation and interpretation of historic sites." To perform that function effectively, it was ''necessary that the relationship of historical and archeological research to development programs of such areas be clearly understood." Such a research and development policy was needed to provide a framework within which the Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings "could provide technical research assistance to the administrative officers in charge of historic sites and to the branches directly concerned with planning and development." The essential points of the policy read:

It is a fundamental principle that research should precede actual developmental work. When it accompanies the execution of a project the demands of the moment are likely to force hasty and inadequate investigation and thus enhance the liability to error. Furthermore, planning itself can be intelligently undertaken only in the light of all the data revealed by research.

. . . To secure complete and accurate information and interpret it correctly, requires trained and experienced personnel. Reliance should not be placed on data compiled by untrained or inexperienced persons, nor should historical or archeological research be assigned to any nonprofessional personnel except with the approval of the Branch of Historic Sites. . . .

The Service should be capable of instantly proving the authenticity of its work. Accordingly, the policy is adopted of fully documenting the plans for each interpretative or developmental feature involving historic or prehistoric remains with a view to placing the Service in such a position of security that it can fully justify, at any time, any preservation, reconstruction or restoration project on areas under its jurisdiction. The research data shall, at the time of park development, be inserted on the project application as project justification or as a technical report justifying and fully documenting the work that is to be performed. . . .

. . . In addition to such documented studies for specific restoration or development projects, similar data files and similar documented studies should be made on such allied subjects as ordnance, ceramics and furnishings, when they are involved in park development.

Collaboration of all technicians engaged in research on the character, features, and history of a given site, is essential if the best results are to be obtained. Not only should archeologists and historians studying the same site work closely together, but the data compiled by them should be regularly checked with the results of historical-architectural studies and museum research.

The use of modern and standardized methods of gathering and recording historical and archeological data for use in planning is a basic requisite for effectuating any sound program of development for a historic site. Unless the best methods known are adhered to and a sufficient trained personnel is available to permit their thorough application, developmental plans should be halted or postponed. [92]

An example of an historical park program where research was tied closely to development was the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. On July 21, 1938, Ronald F. Lee, Chief, Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings, drew up the outline of a historical research program that would meet the needs of preservation, restoration, interpretation, planning, and development for the canal. The work program, which would require the services of two historians, included:

1 . To conduct historical research in original documents and in the field to determine as accurately as surviving evidence permits, the exact character of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, its route, and river and road connections, plans of structures, aqueducts, locks, wharves, plans of equipment including canal boats, character of its traffic, and its historic uses, to permit authentic preservation and restoration.

2. To prepare an historical base map of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal showing historic location of canal, locks, dams, and its necessary structures such as warehouses, lock-keepers' houses, etc. , and the relationship of the canal to adjoining historic sites and settlements, such as early Georgetown, Harper's Ferry and Cumberland.

3. To collect, and classify for historical purposes copies of photographs and prints showing the canal in active use for purposes of authentic preservation, and to collect, identify, and label artifacts and other objects discovered during the period of development.

4. To translate the historical data accumulated into maps, reports, and other forms suitable for use by architects and engineers preparing detailed construction and development plans.

5. To prepare a plan, and to inaugurate a program for the interpretation of the historic features of the canal to the using public through markers, preservation and restoration, museum exhibits, and other means and devices as study may indicate is necessary.

6. To aid in liaison work with the other technical branches in the Service in the planning and development of the area. [93]

Chapter Five continues with...
Development of Restoration and Preservation Policies: 1935-1941


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

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