Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Expanding the Frontier of Preservation and Remembrance

Capturing a Presidential Vision
On April 7, 1933 National Park Service Director Horace Albright received instructions, “to be at the south entrance of the White House at 9 a.m. on Sunday, April 9th” in order to “go with President and Mrs. Roosevelt and others to see Hoover's camp on the headwaters of the Rapidan River in Virginia.”* This was particularly significant for Albright because he had been instrumental in establishing this presidential retreat during Hoover’s administration. He was one of four men who comprised a "discovery group” tasked by President Hoover with locating the "perfect spot for beauty and good fishing." The site recommended by the group and ultimately chosen by Hoover was located within the boundaries of the proposed Shenandoah National Park. This park was itself the fruition of a dream of Albright and inaugural NPS Director Stephen Mather to see the National Park system expand into the east, and the proposed visit to Hoover’s Camp Rapidan by President Roosevelt provided an excellent opportunity for Albright to connect a second president to his vision.

  Albright fishing with then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover in 1927. Hoover's love of the outdoors inspired his creation of a presidential retreat on the Rapidan River, with the help of NPS Director Horace Albright in 1929. NPS Historical Collection.
* Horace M. Albright.  My Trips with Harold Ickes: Reminiscences of a Preservation Pioneer.

Visiting Rapidan Camp in the proposed Shenandoah National Park

Though he enjoyed the spring weather and the view of the Rapidan River from the cabin’s front porch, Roosevelt quickly decided that the site would not be a good option for his presidential retreat.
As Albright relates:  “Arriving at the forested retreat, we immediately encountered the difficulty that would prove insurmountable if Roosevelt were to use this lovely place. When the president got out of the roadster to walk to the main house in the camp complex, he quickly found the ground too uneven and rough for his weak legs, even with braces on them. So the strongest of the Secret Service agents and I simply picked the president up and carried him to the spacious porch of the main house where everyone settled on chairs, steps, or whatever was available.”*

1929 picture showing the presidential “Brown House” at Rapidan Camp shortly after its construction. This picture clearly demonstrates the challenges FDR faced with his polio ravaged legs.  —Library of Congress.

* Horace M. Albright.  My Trips with Harold Ickes: Reminiscences of a Preservation Pioneer.

Conservation comes to Skyline Drive

After enjoying some leisure time at Camp Rapidan President Roosevelt unexpectedly called Albright over and “said that, on the way back to Washington, he wanted me to ride with him.”*

“The president got in the front seat, where there was more room, and they took the braces off of his legs. He put a cigarette in his long cigarette holder, sat back, and realized. I sat behind him on the jump seat, just a few inches from his ear.”**

The convoy departed from the camp and “drove up an old wagon road through the Marine Corps area to the unfinished Skyline Drive. It was a beautiful road, which swung under the peaks but was generally right on the summit backbone of the Blue Ridge with spectacular views both into the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont country.”*

As they traveled along the road Roosevelt was quite impressed with the work and “seemed surprised to learn that the Skyline Drive was being built by impoverished local farmers who were paid with relief funds Hoover had secured from Congress.”*

Only four days before this visit, on April 5th, 1933, Roosevelt had signed Executive Order 6101, officially establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The purpose of the CCC was to do precisely the sort of work that was being undertaken in Shenandoah.  

In fact, this visit to Shenandoah and Skyline Drive helped to inspire the first tangible connection between the CCC and the National Park Service. On May 11, 1933 the first two CCC camps located in national parks were opened at Skyland (N.P.-1) and Big Meadows (N.P.-2) along Skyline Drive. Although the official establishment of Shenandoah National Park would not happen for two more years, this visit helped inspire Roosevelt to use the park as a testing ground and demonstration area for the CCC.

Franklin Roosevelt visiting CCC Camp in Shenandoah National Park, August 1933—NPS Historical Collection.

* Horace M. Albright.  My Trips with Harold Ickes: Reminiscences of a Preservation Pioneer.

**Dayton Duncan & Ken Burns. The National Parks: America’s Best Ideas (New York City, NY: Alfred A Knopf, 2009) pp 268-9

Giving Proper Protection and Interpretation to America’s Treasures

As the convoy traveled along Skyline Drive Roosevelt asked Albright “about the establishment of the National Park Service and its policies relative to the Eastern parks, generally, and Shenandoah and the Skyline Drive, in particular.”* It was a splendid opportunity for Albright to share his vision of widening the scope of the Park Service to be much more inclusive and incorporate sights in the east as well as the west. 

But Albright’s dream went beyond seeking to establish natural national parks in the east. As he describes it:

“I had always wanted to branch out to gather in Eastern historic sites, battlefields, and areas of natural beauty.”*
“I had a dream, I wanted to make real, for years I had wanted to get the many national military parks, battlefields, and monuments transferred out of the War Department and Department of Agriculture into the National Park Service so we could give proper protection and interpretation to these great historic and cultural treasures.
It had become something close to a crusade for me… I was motivated by a fascination with history that I had felt from early childhood.”**

After the convoy departed from Shenandoah and traveled down Lee Highway toward Washington Albright decided that, “the opportunity had come for me to spell out to the president my deep conviction and long-standing dream of a National Park Service that would encompass not only the great scenic and natural features of America, but would preserve and protect her cultural and historic heritage as well.”*

NPS Director Horace Albright in Park Ranger uniform at Yellowstone National Park —Yellowstone NP Collection

*Horace M. Albright.  My Trips with Harold Ickes: Reminiscences of a Preservation Pioneer.

**Dayton Duncan & Ken Burns. The National Parks: America’s Best Ideas (New York City, NY: Alfred A Knopf, 2009) pp 268-9

Fortuitous Trip through Manassas

Even as he thought about his dream of a wider park service Albright was aware that the convoy was approaching the site of the Manassas Confederate Park. He then “initiated the conversation by asking Roosevelt if he remembered that the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) began in this vicinity.”*

Albright began pointing out sites important to the Second Battle of Manassas, utilizing tangible examples such as the Brawner Farmhouse, which had fallen into disrepair, to demonstrate the need for proper preservation.  

Roosevelt listened intently as Albright “went on to discuss various other battlefields and historic parks and my ideas about incorporating them in the Park Service.”

Northeast facade of Brawner Farmhouse, 1921—Library of Congress

*Horace M. Albright.  My Trips with Harold Ickes: Reminiscences of a Preservation Pioneer.

Brawner Farmhouse Today 
Contrast the previous image with a current image of the Brawner Farmhouse today, standing as the center point of NPS interpretation of the Second Battle of Manassas. 

Northeast facade of Brawner Farmhouse showing restoration, 2012—Manassas NBP Collection

Early Preservation at Manassas

The notion of incorporating battlefields into the Park Service was particularly significant for Manassas. While many other battlefields were at least partially preserved by the War Department, Manassas was not. 
The fight to preserve the Manassas Battlefield had been a long one. Only six weeks after the First Battle of Manassas, even as the war was being fought, Confederate soldiers from the 7th and 8th Georgia infantry regiments placed a marble column on Henry Hill to honor their fallen brigade commander, Col. Francis S. Bartow. This memorial proved to be the first of what has now grown into thousands of monuments and memorials across Civil War battlefields.

Though Bartow’s was the first, others, including two much more widely recognized and more frequently visited monuments joined it when the war concluded. 
On June 11, 1865 two monuments constructed by the Fifth Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery were dedicated. Both were obelisks ornamented with shot and shell either similar to or that which was actually found on that battlefield. Both monuments display the inscription "In memory of the patriots who fell at Bull Run (Manassas)." 
Though these and a few other memorials had been placed, little had been done to preserve the battlefield by the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the first battle. Seeing this, George Carr Round worked tirelessly to promote both the anniversary and preservation, and was the lead force in organizing the Manassas National Jubilee of Peace, which was held on 21 July, 1911.  He also lobbied Congress and veterans organizations to preserve the battlefield, especially the land surrounding the Henry House and Brawner Farm.

Monument to the Memory of the Patriots who fell at Bull Run (Manassas) on Henry Hill at the dedication ceremony on June 11, 1865 —National Archives

A Confederate Park moves toward a National Park
Ten years later, in 1921, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) established a Confederate park on Henry Hill, but by 1933 they had run into significant financial troubles and were struggling to maintain the battlefield. Recognizing the reality of his situation, Edmond Wiles, chairman of the Manassas Battlefield Committee, had begun corresponding with NPS Director Horace Albright earlier that same year.
Through this correspondence Albright asked Wiles if the Manassas Battlefield Committee would be willing to turn the battlefield over to the Government for designation as a national monument, laying the groundwork for the establishment of Manassas National Battlefield Park.  

When Roosevelt and Albright visited on April 9, 1933 the state of the field of the Second Battle of Manassas was little improved from the image seen here.

Landscape view from near Lee Highway looking north to Brawner Farmhouse in 1921—Library of Congress

A Real National Park Service

As the conversation continued Albright suggested that not only should battlefields be added to the National Park system for protection, but also “historic buildings and other sites that Americans should know, treasure, and preserve.”*

As Albright finished Roosevelt “asked no more information of me, simply said I was right and that all this should be done immediately!”*

Albright recollects that: “I was thunderstruck and speechless as he laughingly ordered me, ‘Get busy. Suppose you do something tomorrow about this!’”*

Albright put his proposals in writing and the president signed two executive orders which instituted sweeping reorganization that literally transformed the National Park Service overnight. 
Albright describes the moment: “On that one day, the historic heritage of America had been safely placed in our bureau's care, and my dreams had become reality. At last we had a real National Park Service, stretching from one ocean to the other and from Canada to Mexico, covering the whole range of conservation and historic preservation.”*

Modern Map showing all the National Park sites across the nation, September 2011—NPS Harpers Ferry Center
*Horace M. Albright.  My Trips with Harold Ickes: Reminiscences of a Preservation Pioneer.

Embracing America Itself
The reorganization that followed this trip to Shenandoah and through Manassas was, indeed, sweeping. The agency was given responsibility for more than twenty existing military parks and historic battlefields and monuments previously administered by the War Department. These sites included everything from Castillo de San Marcos, preserving one of the oldest vestiges of European (Spanish) presence in the New World, to Yorktown, Virginia, where the decisive victory of the American Revolution had been won; the battlefields of Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, where some of the most important battles in the Civil War were fought, to Appomattox Court House, where the war came to a close.
Additionally the Park Service was now expected to protect and interpret more than a dozen nonmilitary historic sites as well - sites like Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and many of Washington D.C.’s most hallowed locations. These locations included the National Mall, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial, which renders immemorial the man who both held the Union together during the Civil War, and also first gave the national park idea a clear expression in 1864. 
Not only was the system now truly national, but it had moved beyond preserving unique landscapes, to embracing the idea of America itself.

President Franklin Roosevelt at the Dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial as the newest national park site on April 13, 1943—FDR Presidential Library

History and Recreation Went Hand in Hand
Although Manassas was not a part of this initial reorganization, it would soon find its place within the national park system. The first step was transforming the SCV Confederate park into   a federal recreational demonstration area. By 1935 the Roosevelt administration had designated 1,476 acres of the Manassas battlefields as the Bull Run Recreational Demonstration Area. Rather than confining the park to the area formally designated as the Confederate park, the Park Service plan repeatedly emphasized the goal of achieving a "complete visualization" of the two battles and prioritized land acquisition with the ultimate view of obtaining a maximum area of almost 10,000 acres.

In her book Battling for Manassas Joan Zenzen writes that the plan for Manassas was to “create a destination of historic interest of the same caliber as Gettysburg”* by tying historic preservation and recreational use together. At Manassas, “history and recreation went hand-in-hand to aid in the furtherance of the democratic nation.”*

The intention was to create a park in which the story of the First and Second Battles of Manassas “would be told in conjunction with other important Virginia campaigns during the Civil War. Park Service historians envisioned a linked national battlefield system, in which visitors could trace the movement of soldiers from one Virginia battlefield to the next and emerge from the experience with an overall understanding of the Civil War.”**
On May 10, 1940 this dream became a reality when Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, using the authority conferred upon his office by the 1935 Historic Sites Act, officially designated more than 1,600 acres of the Bull Run Recreational Demonstration Area and former Manassas Battlefield Confederate Park as Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Oak Grove on Henry Hill in the newly designated Manassas National Battlefield Park, 1940—Manassas NBP Collection

*Joan M. Zenzen. Battling for Manassas: The Fifty-Year Preservation Struggle at Manassas National Battlefield (PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998).

**National Park Service, Manassas to Appomattox: National Battlefield Parks Tour in Virginia (Washington, D.C., 1939), Department of the Interior Li

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