This presentation is part of the A Century of Design in the Parks: Preserving the Built Environment in National and State Parks, June 21-23, 2016, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Abstract and Presenters’ Bios

Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Site

Barbara Wyatt: First of all, thank you very much to NCPTT for organizing this wonderful conference, and we appreciate the opportunity to speak.

The historic preservation of the United States has deep and abiding ties to the Department of the Interior. When the department was established in 1849, its essential responsibility was the internal development of the nation and the welfare of its people. Almost from the beginning, this responsibility included the protection of cultural resources. Over time this protective role has reflected the national perception of the historic, beginning with the notion that historic resources were once of great antiquity, then acknowledging the significance of places associated with great moments in American history, and eventually noting the significance of great design.

American’s expanded their thinking about cultural resources is a 20th century moved through the decades.

By the end of the century, appreciation for everyday places that reflect our natural craftsmanship and small town milestones were entrenched in the lexicon of historic places. Much of the new thinking was related to passage of the National Historic Preservation Act, the NHPA. In this paper, we will explore the impact of the NHPA on the selection, treatment and management of National Park System historic sites. We believe that this is an apt reflection on the 15th anniversary of the NHPA and the 100th anniversary of the NPS.

Our study began with an examination of the history of historic preservation, especially the federal government’s role in shaping policy and professional practice. We consider the NHPA as a policy declaration by the federal government and instrumental on the emergence of historic preservation as a profession and a factor to be considered in planning at all levels.

We examined two historic sites. One is fairly early NPS unit. The other became a park unit some 45 years later after passage of the NHPA. We believe they represent the evolution of historic preservation in the 20th century and the changing perception of what is worth saving.

First, we’ll present a brief chronology of legislation that preceded and contribute to the NHPA.

In 1889, Congress designated the Casa Grande ruins in Arizona as the first cultural reserves in the US. It was placed under the protection of the Department of the Interior. Others followed, with a bias to sites of antiquity.

In 1906, the Antiquities Act gave the President the authority to designate national monuments. In that same year, Mesa Verde was designated a national park by Congress.

Ten years later, the Organic Act, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, created the NPS and charged it to conserve the scenery and the national and historic objects and the wildlife therein. It gave administration of existing and future parks and national monuments to the NPS. Other federal agencies maintained jurisdiction over some historic sites, mainly battlefields and monuments.

In time, NPS became interested in eastern expansion and even more involvement with historic sites. In 1930, four colonial period historic parks were created, including the George Washington Birthplace National Monument.

In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt, reorganized the executive branch of the federal government and gave the NPS jurisdiction over historic sites and monuments that had been the responsibility of the War Department, the Forest Service, and the National Capital Parks. Some historians consider this the most significant event in the evolution of the National Park System.

Passage of the Historic Sites Act two years later created a permanent home for the Historic American Building Survey and the National Historic Landmark program.

These and other “New Deal” programs were phased out or put on hold when the nation entered World War II. However, the designation of National Parks and historic sites continued during the war, and in the years after, even more NPS units were established.

Roger Reed: See how choreographed we are on this?

With the growth and escalation of tourism, shabbiness and infrastructure declined, and inadequacy became an embarrassment to the National Park Service, especially as it prepared for the 50th anniversary and the centennial civil war.

Enter Mission 66. The ten-year plan for developing and improving NPS units is most recognized for modern visitor centers and other amenities, but Mission 66 was legally important for contributions to historic preservation.

Another important milestone was establishment of the registry of National Historic Landmarks in 1960. The NHL program today retains its essential characteristics, such as the criteria for establishing significance, a conscious approach to certain category and property, such as birthplaces and churches, and the insistence on integrity. These defining principles were encompassed later in the National Historic Preservation Act.

Meanwhile, fueled by urban renewal, momentum was growing outside of government for a broader approach to historic preservation. A special committee on historic preservation was formed in 1964 by the United States Conference of Mayors to investigate the potential of historic preservation to gain a foothold in urban planning. The committee carried out a probing examination, and in 1966, the recommendation became the essence of the National Historic Preservation Act passed later that year.

The Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson October 15th, 1966. Please note the important revisions of the law of section 110 was added in the 1960 and ’80 amendments. This required all federal agencies to have a professionally staffed program to carry out their responsibilities under the law, and protect eligible properties.

The national registry program gained momentum in the 1970s with the availability of acquisition and development grants, and tax incentives to the rehabilitation of listed properties. Both programs needed requirements to assure acceptable work, and in 1976 the NPS issued preservation project standards. Shortly after, the guidelines for rehabilitating old buildings was issued. They were refined and ratified over the next 20 years.

The treatment guidance framed from an existing philosophical base. The Organic Act had given the NPS a responsibility to protect resources under its stewardship. In 1935, the Historic Sites Act articulated this: restore, reconstruct, rehabilitate, preserve and maintain historic and prehistoric sites, buildings, objects, and property of national historical or archeological significance.

The advisory board of national parks, historic sites, building and monuments honed priority of treatments a year later, when it declared: better preserve than repair, better repair than restore, better restore than reconstruct.

A few decades later the management policies of the NPS required that all pending planning decisions, all cultural resources will be protected and preserved in their existing conditions. The policies further specify that preservation should always receive first consideration.

All of these words are emblematic of the approach taken by NPS of historic sights, at least from the mid 1930s forward. With the codification of treatment standards, and the development of guidelines, the NPS had specific standards and methods to apply to its stewardship of cultural resources.

Furthermore, the NPS planning framework specifically addresses the management of cultural resources, the significance determined by eligibility for, or listening to the National Register.

Now, let’s review our case study, and let’s start with Appomattox.

Barbara Wyatt: Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park commemorates a defining moment in the Civil War: the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander of the Union Forces. The difficult meeting between the two military leaders in April 1865 effectively ended the Civil War.

The fateful encounter took place in the village of Appomattox Courthouse, located in south central Virginia, some 90 miles west of Richmond. Leading up to the meeting, Lee had retreated from Petersburg and Richmond, across southern Virginia with Union troops in relentless pursuit. The last battle of the Appomattox Campaign took place on April 9, when Confederate troops tried, unsuccessfully, to break through the Union position. That afternoon, a note from Lee was conveyed to Grant, requesting a meeting to discuss the terms of surrender of the army of Northern Virginia.

The two generals met at the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox Courthouse to agree upon the final terms of the surrender. By April 13, Confederate troops were issued paroles and were allowed to return home.

The end of the War began a period of memorialization. Appomattox Courthouse was not beloved by Southerners, whose efforts focused on allegiance to the Confederacy, not to thieve. Northerners also left the site alone. For many years, only the Confederate cemetery, west of the village, marked the presence of Civil War activity.

Elsewhere, Americans enthusiasm for Civil War battlefields seemed boundless, beginning with the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, charted in 1864. Commemoration intensified in the 1890s, when Congress authorized the establishment of National Military Parks with responsibility given to the War Department.

In 1893, the War Department placed 10 cast iron tablets at Appomattox in locations that marked pivotal events. In 1905, the state of North Carolina erected a monument at the battlefield. Then, for a long period, there was little commemoration activity there.

In 1926, Congress passed the Act for the Study and Investigation of Battlefields, which was the first legislation to require a broad historic site survey. 11 sites were soon added to the War Department’s system, including Appomattox, designated a national battlefield site in 1930. By then, it was a sadly ragged place. In the 65 years since the Great Peace, the village had lost major buildings, population, and agricultural production. The Courthouse burned in 1892, and the county seat was moved. The McLean house had been dismantled in 1893, and schemed to showcase it at the World’s Columbian Exhibition. Since then, the remains of the house that had not been looted, molded on site.

In 1931, funds were appropriated for construction of a monument, but many were uneasy. Southerners were suspicious of what appeared to be a celebration of Grant’s victory. The National Commission of Fine Arts, which had approval authority, considered monuments an out loaded expression of battlefield commemoration. Finally, it was agreed that “recreating the scene of the surrender would be more suitable.”

In 1935, the earlier legislation was amended to designate the site a National Historic Monument. All land within 1.5 miles of the Courthouse was authorized for acquisition, and by 1940, the area was acquired. In that same year, a CCC company began the work of returning the site to its 1865 appearance. By the time the company left in 1942, it had made significant in-roads on stabilization, clearing the land in construction of infrastructure. They also contributed to archeology at the McLean house.

The first master plan for restoration and reconstruction of the site was finished in 1940. Charles Porter of the NPS Richmond office and chief historian Ronald Lee worked on preliminary studies, including documenting all existing buildings, structures, and landscape features, and preparing a historic base map that portrayed the village in 1865.

Highlights of the plan were the following: returning the landscape to its 1865 appearance, removing non-historic buildings, stabilizing the Civil War Era buildings, installing infrastructure, reconstructing the McLean house, Courthouse and other missing buildings, and rerouting 24 to remove traffic from the village.

After NPS reconstructions of the George Washington birthplace were deemed inaccurate, Lee was determined that further reconstructions by NPS would be based on the most thorough investigations. Thus began an unprecedented research effort to document the McLean house. It’s eventual reconstruction, completed in 1949, was based on drawings prepared some 50 years earlier that were worked into hands quality drawings. Archeological investigations were important. Charles Hosmer characterized the final report for the McLean reconstruction as “the most complete and scholarly work yet undertaken by the NPS”.

The McLean House, reconstructed

The reconstruction and research that preceded it served as a model for reconstruction of the Courthouse and at other NPS sites. The reconstruction became an important precedent in the interpretation and management of NPS battlefields. Several scholars have noted that reconstruction of the McLean house ultimately influenced development of the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for the treatment of historic property and the reconstruction guidelines.

Treatment of the landscape also had long-lasting effects on historic preservation practice. The research undertaken to understand the 1865 appearance of the landscape was exacting and inclusive, utilizing the methodology and expertise of historians and archeologists. The landscape approach to the study was pressive and influential. Because of the documentation that supported original planning, the 1940 plan is still a touchstone for landscape management at Appomattox. With America’s entry in World War II, the plan was essentially shelved, but after the War, work began with new energy. The site and its viewshed were enhanced by land and scenic easement purchases. The reconstruction of several buildings began to fill the holes in the village, all were considered completely accurate. In 1954, the site’s name was changed to Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Park.

The Mission 66 perspective for Appomattox included the appearance of the park, management interpretation. A number of plans were prepared by Denver Service Center with particular focus on roads. Historic routes were found archeologically and existing roads were realigned. Roads were resurfaced to reflect the historic appearance.

The design and construction of the entrance, road, and parking lot were pivotal projects. The parking lot, built in 1961, confirmed the Mission 66 principals. It was sited south of the village area, mostly invisible from interpreted areas, but in close walking distance.

Reconstruction of the Courthouse had a major impact. Following the model of the McLean house, reconstruction was preceded by extensive research, resulting in a highly accurate exterior reconstruction. Because it was located in the center of the village and not far from parking, it was decided to use the building for the visitor center, merging the initiative’s attention to historic resources with its emphasis on interpretation and education. The Courthouse was dedicated in 1964 in time for the centennial commemoration of the Lee-Grant meeting.

The National Historic Preservation Act was passed immediately after the Mission 66 push, the Civil War centennial and the 50-year of NPS. It resulted in new directives for management and preservation of the park. As the law evolved in its regulatory function, documentation planning and project approval were all effective. The park was required to consider its features in terms of their contributing or non-contributing status and their treatment in terms of the standards and guidelines that evolved.

The Appomattox Park was administratively listed in the register with passage of the NHPA. The documentation was approved in 1989. The submission helped fill the park’s obligations under Section 110 in the NPS Culture Resource and Management Guidelines.

The documentation presents a glimpse of the national register program at that time, as well as the park’s perceptions of the significance of the resources. The period of significance was 1865, 1930, and 1935-1940. All but 2 maintenance buildings and the 1920 house were contributing. Today we would reconcile the periods of significance with historical events, architectural significance, and archeological significance. The original nomination found all of the reconstructive buildings contributing, as we would today, probably for different reasons.

The 1989 nomination counted 39 contributing sites, which were archeological sites and cemeteries. Today, we would find the entire park one contributing site, significant for its archeological, historical, and landscape value. The role historic landscape’s National Register bulletin was issued that same year, but probably not available for this nomination. The cultural landscape component of the cultural resource management guideline was not ready for another 10 years. Although these two pivotal guides were not used, the landscape approach to assessing the Appomattox landscape was essentially implemented, although not reflected thoroughly in the National Register documentation.

The NPS recently revised the nomination, bringing it into compliance with current standards, including an inventory of historic landscape features and non-contributing elements. Moreover, the new nomination identified state, local, and national significance with a period of 1790 to 1968. The revisions reflect maturation of the National Register Program. With the new documentation and the new park planning initiatives, the Appomattox Courthouse represents the evolution of NPS stewardship over an 80-year period.

Roger Reed: In 1978, Lowell Massachusetts was a depressed mill town, with a high end unemployment and vacant mill buildings, many of which were being demolished for safety and tax reasons. It is perhaps hard to remember the totally negative image of old mill towns that America had at that time.

What Lowell did have was a remarkable history centered on its water power system. First developed over the years 1824 to 1850, the independently operated water power system was basically still in operation and owned by the proprietors of locks and canals. 5.6 miles of waterways presented an extraordinary resource through preservation and rehabilitation. This is evident in the NPS concept for linking important sites with a canal-way and a trolley system using existing rail lines.

Cleaned up today, it may be hard to imagine the difficulties proponents were faced with. To begin with, this was a partnership between the NPS, the city of Lowell, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Although the historic canal system and several key buildings provided the basis for the Lowell National Historic Park, building ownership was not an objective, and it was recognized that this was no isolation park unit. Without the participation of the private sector and rehabilitation of the mill buildings, and the equally depressed commercial district, the project would fail.

The original NPS concept has basically been followed. A key feature was the location of the visitor center, and a mill near the heart of the historic city center. And then of course, the main commercial district up there.

This contrasted with the Mission 66 concept of the visitor center in a non-historic building, unobtrusively located. Moreover, it is important to note that most of this particular mill developed for low-income housing, bringing people back into the city center. In other words, the park service’s visitor center just occupied a portion of the ground, and the rest of the mill was used for other purposes.

Historic sites focused on the design of the canal system, while the visitor’s experience was enhanced by pedestrian parks along the canal. The historic water power system had recorded by the Historic American Engineering Record survey in 1976, just before the redevelopment got underway.

I mentioned the importance of the commercial district in this revitalization. A condition of the original federal legislation was to establish a local historic district to administer the changes to private buildings using the Secretary’s standards. When certain traditionalists in the city counsel balked at implementing these conditions, the Secretary of the Interior wrote a letter indicating the funding would cease with the ordinance.

Later, of course, the city not only had … the green part is the historic district, but you’ll notice there’s a large donut hole in the center, and that later was then substantially filled with additional historic districts protecting what is mostly residential resources.

There were 4 key themes for interpreting the Lowell National Historic Park, and we’ve seen the modern technology and hydropower, free enterprise and capitalism, working and living in the industrial city, and immigration and the settling of the city. Note that the last 2 particularly deal with the people who live there. Thus the recordation of the boarding houses was very important.

Along with the establishment of several national historic districts, an extensive building survey guided restoration and the rehabilitation efforts. Unfortunately, only 1 of the original row of boarding houses opposite they key food mill survived, and that much altered. In what essentially was a reconstruction, the park service made the decision that, like the missing buildings at Appomattox, this boarding house row was critical for interpretive purposes. And of course you see at the top the existing building, and up in the corner, you can see what the row of boarding houses were originally, and then the bottom is basically the reconstruction using the historic core.

There was no intent to reconstruct the interior. The building was used for exhibits on the lives of the workers, with the University of Lowell’s Hogan cultural center built on the rear, as you see on the left, behind that.

Boarding House Park and Morgan Cultural Center, 2016

Boarding house, formerly a parking lot on the site of the Longemosh boarding houses, became a center and has remained a center of cultural activity in Lowell and is symbolic of the integration of … and as an NPS unit, you can see the Golden Mill behind it and the city off to the right, and how the whole system works in an integrated partnership.

Barbara Wyatt: When we began our research, it was our premise that the National Historic Preservation Act had a vital role in shaping the preservation and treatment of cultural resources at National Park Units. We found that the Act was indeed important for codifying requirements for federal agencies requirements in regard to historic properties, but that the treatment of cultural resources by NPS actually represents the evolution of historic preservation attitudes and practices over the 50 years that preceded the Act.

The early work at NPS units helped the Act as a strong policy statement with legal requirements and expectations for the development of best practice by the NPS. In the decades after passage of the Act, the NPS developed a body of historic preservation practices that have had a profound effect on historic preservation at all levels of government and on public and private efforts to save historic properties and treat them well.

The Act itself reflects the overriding conservation mandate of the Organic Act that has become the underpinning of the NPS since the inception. When the Organic Act was passed, the Constitution was only 140 years old, and the United States was still groping for a cultural identity. At a fundamental, it knew that the protection of the nation’s natural and cultural resources was absolutely essential for this identity to be found and carried forward for future citizens.

To conservationists, the Organic Act was one of the most brilliant pieces of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress. The NHPA, as we have tried to demonstrate, was the result of the theory and practice that developed in the wake of the Organic Act and was an important instrument for making sure the primary dictate to conserve was carried out in the National Park units and beyond. Thank you.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]nps.gov
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119