Kevin: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast – the show that brings you the people and projects that are advancing the future of America’s heritage. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology & Training. Today we join NCPTT’s jenny hay as she speaks with Cindy Brandimarte, Director of the Historic Sites & Structures Program in the State Parks Division of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. In the second and final installment of this two-part series, they’ll talk about Bastrop State Park, a National Historic Landmark in Texas that is the site of a 2012 NCPTT grant project.
jh: Thank you for joining me again today, Cindy, to talk a little more about the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, in Texas State Parks. There’s one state park in Texas that stands out in particular for its CCC heritage, and that’s Bastrop State Park. What evidence of the CCC is still visible in the landscape there?
CB: Oh, from the first moment you get there – the entrance portals are terrific, the park road, you can see fencing and culverts and curbing. There are bridges, there are two scenic overlooks. Arthur Fehr was landscape architect and architect for that park. There are stone tables and fire pits and an amphitheatre. There’s a custodians’ dwelling and a refectory that will knock your socks off. There are twelve cabins that the public is lucky enough to be able to stay in, a swimming pool and a pool shelter and a bath house and a great, a workshop that was – that burned in the early ’40s but was rebuilt, helped to be rebuilt by the National Youth Administration, which was a successor in part to the CCC. So that maintenance building, is what we use it for now, and that is still in use. And we are very proud of that.
CB: Bastrop is one of the few parks, state parks, in the whole nation that’s a National Historic Landmark because so many elements survive. And Ethan Carr, an architectural historian formerly with the National Park Service, wrote that excellent NHL nomination.
jh: Ok. Well, part of the value of documentation and educational tools such as the websites that we’ve discussed is revealed when sites like Bastrop State Park are threatened. I understand that much of that park burned last year in the Bastrop County Complex fire, which was one of the most destructive wildfires in Texas history. What happened to the park’s CCC structures?
CB: We estimate that what we lost were a wooden roof on one of the overlooks. I tell you, our wildland fire team, which got the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation this year, pulled out all the stops, absolutely worked day and night for many days throughout that week, that awful Labor Day weekend and into the week. This wildland fire team was established at Parks & Wildlife in 2005, and if we hadn’t had it, those buildings would be gone. These men and women who have day jobs at Parks & Wildlife – some of them are clerks and office managers and park rangers and superintendents, were out there on the line. And at first, the fire was so vicious and the water was so scarce, people had to wait until the fire got within x number of feet of the building before they could start fighting it. People were hosing down roofs. We had to get – the local water department was running out of water. As houses burned, there were no water sources. So we had to truck in a lot of the water. And businesses chipped in so magnificently to help. So we had water tenders come in, and we just circled the buildings essentially. The photo that I sent you shows you just how close the fire got. You can see just a little circle of green around that cabin. And that’s, that’s what these men and women did for almost a week. And we’re talking 24 hours a day, when it was safe.
CB: They did that. And so we lost very little historic fabric there. And I know I sound like a Pollyanna, but there were some actual good things to come out of it, if one can be an optimist in times like those. We had archaeologists go in who were able to uncover some landscape features that had been pretty much lost. I mean, those pines drop leaves and needles, and they had gotten so buried – and now we can see what the CCC intention of water drainage was in that park. So we’ve tried to make the best of a terrible, terrible situation. The buildings survived, and we are assured by the ecologists that the forest will regenerate, so we’re hopeful. And we hope we’re around to see it!
jh: Well, NCPTT just awarded the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department a grant in relation to that fire at Bastrop State Park. What are you hoping to learn?
CB: Yes, and we are very grateful and optimistic again, because we want to sample the building materials – what’s been out there, the wood, the sandstone, the mortar, and see what effect cleaning and any sort of remedial treatment has had. And we want to make even better, be better prepared should it happen again here or elsewhere. This time we felt kind of in the dark about what had happened to our buildings, and we don’t want to feel that way again. We want to be better prepared and possibly protect the historic resources anywhere but inside and outside the Texas State Parks System. And I know our three conservators from the University of Texas and independent conservators, Fran Gayle, Casey Gallagher, and Miriam Tworek-Hoffstetter are very interested in learning the effects of fire retardents on the structures, and even to consider replacement materials if appropriate. And we’ll have a training session for our maintenance specialists all around the state as a result of their findings.
jh: That sounds like a really worthwhile project.
CB: I think so.
jh: Well thank you very much for talking with me today, Cindy!
CB: You’re very welcome. Thank you for having interest in the project, Texas State Parks, and the CCC.
Kevin: That was part two of jenny hay’s conversation with Cindy Brandimarte. If you missed part one, you can find it along with the transcript of this interview on our website. That’s ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time…