This presentation was part of A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.

Presentation Video and Transcript

By Roger Reed and Barbara Wyatt, ASLA


The Organic Act passed in 1916 established the National Park Service and compelled it “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein.” “Historic objects” were interpreted as historic and prehistoric buildings, structures and sites. Even parks that were designated primarily for their spectacular scenery may have included such historic “objects.” They also may have included some buildings and landscapes considered intrusions in the natural landscape and, therefore, dispensable. The history of the National Park Service reflects shifting attitudes about what is valued in the built environment and evolution of the nation’s historic preservation consciousness.

As the century unfolded, parks developed resources to enhance visitors’ experiences, accommodate park staff, and maintain the parks. These resources were imprinted on park lands by the National Park Service itself, sometimes with an innovative flair that established a park design vocabulary adopted by states and cities across the nation. Many constitute the second wave of valued cultural resources—those built by the parks to facilitate administration, visitation, and interpretation.

National park buildings, structures, sites, districts, and objects received scrutiny beyond the Organic Act with passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The act that established the nation’s historic preservation program through state, federal and tribal partnerships also compelled each national park to evaluate its resources for eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the National Register includes listings for 18,921 buildings and structures and 10,590 sites in the national parks. Many remain to be listed.

In their presentation, Roger and Barbara will discuss park resources listed in the National Register that illustrate the range of American architectural and landscape architectural design. Their talk will include glimpses of resources originally saved by the Organic Act because they were considered historic or useful, and those built later to accommodate a growing number of visitors and staff. Some half-dozen or so parks will used as case studies to demonstrate how park design evolved over time, reflecting nationwide trends or NPS innovations, and how park cultural resources reflect the evolution of values in historic preservation. Their talk will illustrate how NPS has effectively implemented the directives of the Organic Act and the National Historic Preservation Act in the preservation of cultural resources.


Roger Reed, architectural historian, National Park Service staff for the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark programs in Washington, DC.

Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, National Park Service staff for the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark programs in Washington, DC.

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