Park History

The National Park Service's First Plane Was a Tough-As-Nails 1928 Fairchild FC-2W2

In the 1930s the National Park Service’s first plane, a 1928 Fairchild FC-2W2 piloted by legendary aviator Dave Driskill, shuttled passengers, mail, and other stuff to and from CCC camps in the Outer Banks. Now privately owned, it is still flying.

Fort Davis National Historic Site Commemorates a Key Frontier Military Post

Established 47 years ago on September 8, 1961, Fort Davis National Historic Site is an outstanding example of a western frontier military post. From 1854 to 1891, Fort Davis guarded travelers, mail, and freight moving on the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail.

Pilgrim Places: Civil War Battlefields, Historic Preservation, and America’s First National Military Parks, 1863-1900, Part VI

With the exception of Grover Cleveland, every United States president from Ulysses S. Grant through William McKinley was a veteran of the Union army, as were many congressmen. Following reconstruction, the sectional reconciliation paved the way for ex-Confederates and their political spokesmen in Washington to join Northern leaders in supporting battlefield commemoration.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial You See Over There By the Tidal Basin Is Not the Original

The impressive Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial situated near the Tidal Basin is not the original FDR Memorial. The first Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was a simple plaque installed near the National Archives on the 20th anniversary of FDR's death. It was a humble memorial, and that’s just what FDR wanted

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historical Site Commemorates a Great Achievement in Early Transportation

The Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historical Site is located in southwestern Pennsylvania about 12 miles west of Altoona. Authorized on August 31, 1964, this park commemorates an ingenious inclined plane system that provided a vital trans-mountain link in the 400-mile long trade route connecting Philadelphia with the Ohio River Valley during the mid-1800s.

Pilgrim Places: Civil War Battlefields, Historic Preservation, and America’s First National Military Parks, 1863-1900, Part V

In marked contrast to the involvement of Confederate veterans, African American participation in Civil War battlefield commemoration was minimal in virtually all cases. Prior to President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863, some blacks served as soldiers (and sailors) for the North.

Pilgrim Places: Civil War Battlefields, Historic Preservation, and America’s First National Military Parks, 1863-1900, Part IV

Once the national cemeteries were established, they were effectively the only areas of the battlefields in a condition adequate to receive the public in any numbers, and they became the focal points for official ceremonies and other formal acts of remembrance. Most widely observed was Decoration Day, begun at about the end of the war in response to the massive loss of life suffered during the four-year conflict.

Pilgrim Places: Civil War Battlefields, Historic Preservation, and America’s First National Military Parks, 1863-1900, Part III

As with the southern Pennsylvania countryside surrounding the town of Gettysburg, the struggles between the United States and Confederate armies from 1861 to 1865 often brought war to beautiful places, with many battles fought in the pastoral landscapes of eastern, southern, and middle America— in rolling fields and woods, along rivers and streams, among farmsteads, and often in or near villages, towns, or cities.

Seventy-Five Years Ago, the Reorganization of 1933 Impacted the National Park System Like No Other Event Before or Since

What’s the single most significant date in the evolution of the National Park System? It’s hard to argue with August 10, 1933. That’s when the Reorganization of 1933 took effect, and no other event in the history of the national parks before or since can match it for the sheer scale and portent of its long-lasting impacts.

Fort Donelson National Battlefield Commemorates the North’s First Major Victory in the Civil War

In February 1862, the Battle of Fort Donelson yielded the North’s first major victory of the war and propelled General Ulysses S. Grant into the national spotlight. Today you can visit Fort Donelson National Battlefield, which celebrated its 23rd anniversary August 9, and see where the Union’s greatest military hero earned the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.

Pilgrim Places: Civil War Battlefields, Historic Preservation, and America’s First National Military Parks, 1863-1900, Part II

The event in American history prior to the Civil War that had the most potential to inspire the preservation of historic places was the American Revolution. Yet, between the Revolution and the Civil War, historic site preservation in America was limited and sporadic.

Creating Cape Cod National Seashore Forced the National Park Service to Think Outside the Box

Cape Cod National Seashore was established 47 years ago on August 7, 1961. To create the new park, the National Park Service had to “think outside the box” and employ greenlining and cooperative stewardship.

Saturday: Pilgrim Places: Civil War Battlefields, Historic Preservation, and America’s First National Military Parks, Part II

Where, and when, did Americans first think of preserving places for history's sake? In part two of his look at the history and preservation of America's Civil War battlefields, historian Richard West Sellars takes a look at efforts in the United States to preserve places of history prior to the Civil War.

Pilgrim Places: Civil War Battlefields, Historic Preservation, and America’s First National Military Parks, 1863-1900, Part I

Today, well over a century after the Civil War ended in 1865, it is difficult to imagine the battlefields of Antietam, Vicksburg, Shiloh, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga had they been neglected, instead of preserved as military parks. As compelling historic landscapes of great natural beauty and public interest, these early military parks have been familiar to generations of Americans.

Pruning the Parks: Delisted Over a Half-Century Ago, Fossil Cycad National Monument (1922-1956) is a Cautionary Tale

South Dakota’s Fossil Cycad National Monument was supposed to protect a geologic treasure when it was established in 1922, but its marvelous surface deposits of fossilized plants had already been stripped from the site. A bill signed into law on August 1, 1956, abolished the park, which has served ever since as a cautionary tale. If you don’t protect park resources, they won’t be there for future generations.

Would You Love Zion National Park As Much If It Were Called Mukuntuweap National Park?

Established by presidential proclamation 99 years ago on July 31, 1909, Zion National Park was originally named Mukuntuweap National Monument. It acquired its present name through circumstances that included unhappy Mormons and an iconic National Park Director who suffered crippling bouts of depression.

Coming Saturday: Pilgrim Places, Our Civil War Battlefields and Their Preservation

During his National Park Service career, historian Richard West Sellars examined in-depth many facets of the National Park System and National Park Service. One of those projects focused on Civil War battlefields and how they've been preserved over the years. The Traveler presents this work, Civil War Battlefields, Historic Preservation, and America’s First National Military Parks, 1863-1900, in a seven-part series starting Saturday.

Park History: The U.S. Life-Saving Service

Fierce winter storms and shifting shoals gave birth to the "Graveyard of the Atlantic," where thousands of ships have foundered since record-keeping began in the 16th century. Beginning late in the 18th century, rescuers began patrolling the East Coast in search of such wrecks.

Park History: Coronado National Memorial Has Sister Parks in Mexico

Coronado National Memorial, which celebrated its 56th birthday on July 9, is situated on the Mexican border about 20 miles south of Sierra Vista. Coronado has two “sister parks” in Mexico. Hands-across-the-border partnerships like these produce many kinds of benefits.

Cape Cod National Seashore: How Do You Define Historic?

Walter Gropius, founder of the influential German Bauhaus school of design, implored the managers of the brand new Cape Cod National Seashore to design facilities, such as visitor centers and bathhouses, with an innovative approach. Rustic cabin design found in Western national parks wouldn’t work here, but Modern design featuring modest scale and a light footprint on the land would.

National Park History: Renaming National Parks Can Show Respect for Native Cultures

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Pu'uhonau o Honaunau National Historical Park both celebrate birthdays in July. These two parks were renamed for cultural-political reasons, underscoring the importance of labels and the need to respect native peoples.

Park History: Mammoth Cave National Park

Long before anyone thought of national parks, folks were heading down into Mammoth Cave to see the sights. And if you've ever visited this incredible underground labyrinth, you'd understand why.

Park History: Olympic National Park

What is it that intrigues us so about Olympic National Park? To be sure, the park's multiple personalities are alluring. There aren't many national parks that can lay claim to not just sea coast and rain forest but also glacier-coated peaks worthy of mountaineering.

Park History: Would There Have Been a Mesa Verde National Park Without Virginia McClurg?

Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park celebrates its 102nd birthday on June 29. Mesa Verde's 4,000+ archaeological sites document a culture that flourished for centuries before the last generation abruptly and mysteriously abandoned its ancestral home. Did you know there might not have been a Mesa Verde National Park at all if it hadn’t been for Virginia McClurg?

Celebrating Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road

It's an engineering wonder, one that not only delights, but also perplexes and confounds, both motorists and road crews. And today the 75th birthday of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is being celebrated. It's a time to both reflect on the history of this 50-mile pathway across the park's interior and look as well at the effort to rebuild it.
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National Park History: Prince William Forest Park Was a Top Secret Spy Training School

Virginia’s Prince William Forest Park became a national park in 1940 and acquired its present name 60 years ago this month. Many people know that the park offers solitude, scenery, and recreation. Most don’t know it was a top secret training school for OSS spies during World War II.

Recalling Yellowstone National Park's Historic 1988 Fire Season

No one realized it at the time, but when a lightning strike ignited a single tree in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley 20 years ago, it was a dire harbinger of what would become a historic fire season.

Park History: Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park celebrates its 40th birthday on June 28. Situated just a few miles south of Miami, and encompassing most of Biscayne Bay, it is one of the largest marine parks in the National Park System It is also an ecological treasure and a marvelous playground.

Park History: Director Hartzog and the Automobile

How's that saying go, the more things change, the more they stay the same? That certainly seems to be the truth in the case of national parks jammed with automobiles.

Park History: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established 74 years ago this month. Now this big, automobile-convenient park attracts more than 9 million visitors a year and entertains them with forested mountainsides, winding roads, flowering shrubs, pioneer-era relics, and other delights. Great Smoky has great scenery, interesting history, and amazing biodiversity.
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