The Byway to Gettysburg: A Vista that Inspires

Posted on: February 9th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 1 Comment


My earliest historical memories as a child involve a road trip up to Gettysburg National Military Park. At the time it felt like an epic journey (field trips rule!) with a group of friends. I must have been in elementary school at the time because my impressions of that first trip are mostly of being somewhere away from school, and not much about the battlefield itself.

The battlefield. (Photo: fauxto_digit on Flickr)

Fast forward a few years later. I was a senior in high school and we were back over the Maryland border in Pennsylvania. What’s different about this time is context. We had spent weeks talking about the battle and its role in the Civil War. We watched Gettysburg, read The Killer Angels to see how the battle was interpreted, and recognized the love for a fictional Buster Kilraine. I knew more about what I was looking at, and where I was standing. Together the group - like many before us - reenacted Pickett’s Charge, posed in Devil’s Den like a Matthew Brady photograph, and tried to charge up Little Round Top - getting a clearer idea for tactics. It was a great trip. Public history at its finest.

The hills and woods of Gettysburg are covered in boulders. (Photo: macwagen on Flickr)

Although I've been to Gettysburg a few times since then, a day trip this past weekend made me think about the journey in a different way.  For those of you not from this city, Gettysburg is about an hour and forty-five minutes from Washington, DC. It’s a straight shot up Interstate 270 and Route 15 just over the Maryland border into Pennsylvania.  It is a beautiful drive with the Blue Ridge Mountains rising past you into a brilliant blue sky (in my case this was a surprisingly clear sky following a gentle snowfall).  It is also a drive that includes the Catoctin Mountain Maryland Scenic Byway.

Scenic byway through Gettysburg. (Photo: fauxto_digit on Flickr)

I think the best definition of what a byway is from the New York Department of Transportation website which states “A scenic byway is a road, but not just a road. It's a road with a story to tell.” These roads push travelers off the beaten path and links together history, transportation and culture. In the case of the Catoctin Mountain Scenic Byway, you learn about the soldiers who marched to Gettysburg, Maryland’s Native American history, and Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born saint.

Above all else, what pulled me in and made me grateful for the opportunity was how the byway linked the natural beauty of our country with our past, providing me with a vista that inspires.

The National Scenic Byways Program is just one of many preservation programs threatened in the new American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (HR 7). Learn more about the bill and its effect on historic preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

President Obama Creates New National Monument at Fort Monroe

Posted on: November 1st, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments


Written by Rob Nieweg

Aerial view of Fort Monroe (Photo: Fort Monroe Authority)

Aerial view of Fort Monroe (Photo: Fort Monroe Authority)

Today President Obama created a new National Monument within the National Park system: Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.

President Obama’s executive designation, pursuant to the Antiquities Act, honors Freedom’s Fortress as one of our most important national treasures, on a par with the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.

Located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Fort Monroe is a principal landmark of African American heritage. Old Point Comfort was the site of the 1619 First Landing of enslaved Africans in the English-speaking New World, and in 1861 it became the unique birthplace of the Civil War-era freedom movement. The May 1861 events at Fort Monroe inspired 500,000 African American women, children, and men - dubbed “contrabands” by the Union Army - to liberate themselves from bondage. They didn’t wait for permission, but made their way at great risk to relative safety behind Union lines, first at Fort Monroe and shortly thereafter at the ring of fortifications surrounding the nation’s capital. The courage and plight of the freedom seekers influenced national politics and hastened President Lincoln’s formal Emancipation Proclamation. Today, there is no better place, however, than Fort Monroe and nearby Hampton University­­ - under the legendary Emancipation Oak - to understand the personal struggles and triumphs of the freedom seekers, a chapter of American history too often relegated to the margins of traditional Civil War scholarship. But, this is a new day.

The U.S. Army has been a good steward of Fort Monroe for almost 200 years. The transition away from the fort’s original military use requires planning, pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act, to ensure that Fort Monroe is carefully preserved and skillfully adapted for compatible new productive uses. Yeoman’s work already has been done by the Army, Fort Monroe Authority, and Virginia Department of Historic Resources to prepare preservation-based protections for the 180 historic structures - including a massive, moated stone fortress - which contribute to the architectural character of Fort Monroe. Kathleen Kilpatrick, the Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer, and Bill Armbruster, original director of the Fort Monroe Authority, deserve medals for their leadership.

As an advocate, the National Trust has been working to preserve Fort Monroe since 2005, shortly before the Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to shutter the historic military post. The National Trust has served on the master plan steering committee and the historic preservation advisory group for the Fort Monroe Authority. Over the years we have worked closely with our partners at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, National Park Service, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Preservation Virginia, National Parks Conservation Association, Civil War Trust, as well as with grassroots groups like Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park and The Contraband Historical Society. It’s been a team effort.

In addition to President Obama, credit for the National Monument designation is due to many public officials who have joined in recognizing Fort Monroe’s importance to the nation. The thank you list includes Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, U.S. Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner, members of Congress Bobby Scott, Scott Rigell, Randy Forbes, and Rob Wittman, the whole Congressional Black Causcus, as well as Interior Secretary Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis. We all owe special thanks to Hampton’s Mayor Molly Ward, a passionate and effective champion for preservation of Fort Monroe.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story at Fort Monroe. Now comes the hard work of preparing and implementing detailed plans for conserving Fort Monroe’s outstanding scenic, natural, architectural, and cultural assets while encouraging sustainable economic development strategies so that Fort Monroe remains a vital community where people live, work, and visit. The National Trust will continue to play an active role at Fort Monroe, with special attention paid to ensure that the full and unvarnished stories of the “Contraband” heritage of self-emancipation are interpreted at Fort Monroe.

But first, a celebration and a request to you: Please join the National Trust in sending a personal thank you to President Obama.

Rob Nieweg leads the National Trust’s Washington Field Office, which works to save historic places in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Happy Anniversary, Lady Liberty

Posted on: October 28th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


The Statue of Liberty (Photo: National Park Service)

The Statue of Liberty (Photo: National Park Service)

Written by Denise Ryan

Today (Friday, Oct. 28) is the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. I think it is universal that everyone loves our Lady Liberty like we love baseball, apple pie and freedom. She is an inspiration to many and was a welcome site for many emigrating from distant lands arriving in New York harbor after a long voyage. In October 1924 President Calvin Coolidge created a new National Monument for her through the Antiquities Act.  If you've been paying attention, we are hoping President Barack Obama will use the Antiquities Act soon to establish a National Monument at Fort Monroe in Virginia - another very important location in the quest for freedom in America.

While we wait for that fine day, we can now get a look at the world from the new web cams located on Liberty's flame known as the Torch Cam or you can watch a little bit of a tribute to Liberty in the movie Ghostbusters II when Bill Murray pokes a little fun at her monument status 30 seconds into the clip.  Enjoy!

Denise Ryan is the program manager for public lands policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Safeguarding Our Treasures in a Changing Climate

Posted on: September 8th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


Written by Anthony Veerkamp

Exterior adobe failure of the west sanctuary window at Tumacácori National Historical Park, 2010. (Photo: Tumacácori National Historical Park)

The National Park Service sometimes has a hard time getting the word out about the good work that it does. No one will ever forget the story of the million-dollar outhouse, but meanwhile successful resource stewardship partnerships performed on budgets that are the federal equivalent of loose change found under the sofa cushions go unnoticed.

Case in point: the Vanishing Treasures Program. Active in 45 National Park units in the arid West, the program seeks to preserve threatened park cultural resources while providing technical assistance to other governmental agencies, tribes, and local communities. In the dozen or so years that Vanishing Treasures has been around, it has largely flown under the radar. That’s a shame, as the program represents the National Park Service at its best.

Just the name “Vanishing Treasures” should be enough to get some attention. While many federal programs have names that seem designed to convey as little information as possible (with the coup de grace often provided by an unwieldy acronym) “Vanishing Treasures” is a name that pulls no punches. After all, to vanish is more emphatic than, say, to “disappear”—I say “vanish”, you say “into thin air”. Just in case the urgency was lost on anyone, the program’s original long-range plan - “Vanishing Treasures: A Legacy in Ruins”  - hammered the point home.

As originally conceived, Vanishing Treasures sought to address the shortcomings of the NPS cultural resource stewardship in the context of slow, incremental natural deterioration of resources, recognizing that some misguided past interventions were failing and needed to be corrected.

The program’s 2010 annual report subtitled “A Climate of Change,” calls into question some of those underlying assumptions regarding the predicable pace of change. In her introduction, Program Director Virginia Salazar-Halfmoon unequivocally states that “climate change is now an accepted reality.” In fact, the NPS has been working on climate change-related issues for some time, as outlined in an article in the report by Project Historian Chris Johnson called “Where Nature and History Meet: A Historical Perspective on the National Park Service Response to Climate Change.”

The report notes the perennial gap between natural and cultural resources. While natural resource managers in the NPS have been studying the impacts of climate change for decades, Jeremy M Moss, Chief of Resources Management at Tumacácori National Historical Park, notes that “cultural resource managers have just begun thinking about the effects of global warming and climate change on archeological sites and historic structures.” Part of that challenge, Ms. Salazar-Halfmoon states, “is to work with those who are studying the natural environment to understand how their research may apply to the variety of preservation issues and methods that we are using to maintain our cultural sites.”

Given the political minefield that climate change has become, it is understandable, if a bit frustrating, that the report’s authors tiptoe so carefully around questions of causality; after all, when we say “smoking causes cancer” we don’t feel the need to qualify that with “although no specific case of cancer can be unequivocally blamed on smoking.”

Still, that’s a mere quibble. The NPS and the Vanishing Treasures Program are to be commended for taking on the challenge of climate change, recognizing that we may find that “the preservation treatments we have applied in the past may not be appropriate in a future altered by climate change.”

As Ms Salazar Halfmoon says “this is just the beginning of a dialog that needs to occur to ensure that we are prepared to address the preservation needs of a changing future.”

Anthony Veerkamp is the Director of Programs at the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Alaska Field Report: Preservation in the Wild

Posted on: September 6th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Brian R. Turner

Forest Service archaeologist Martin Stanford hiking in the Tongass National Forest. (Photo: Brian R. Turner)

Stewarding historic and cultural properties within Alaska’s vast network of public lands is not only technically and physically challenging, it can be downright dangerous.   On a recent field visit to a remote site deep within the Misty Fjords National Monument, a floatplane dropped me and three Forest Service employees on the shores of a pristine bay, about an hour’s flight from the nearest road in Ketchikan.

Our purpose was to conduct a basic conditions assessment of the oldest stone masonry structure in the state, a half hour walk through the bush from the shore.  As we set out, I watched in anticipation as Forest Service archaeologist Martin Stanford loaded a shotgun and slung it on his back to guard against a bear attack – standard procedure.   Eagles, gulls and herons were the only visible signs of life, and we hoped to keep it that way.  In addition to the gun, hard hats, waterproof boots, mosquito repellant, and bushwhacking skills were essential.

Storehouse #3, as the site is known, was built by U.S. Army Captain David Gaillard and a team of stone masons in 1896.  The builder would later gain fame for spearheading the central cut of the Panama Canal, the Gaillard Cut, one of the great engineering feats of the 20th Century.  Gaillard’s goal in building the storehouse, one of four, was to prove U.S. use of the land in a boundary dispute with Canada, later resolved in arbitration.  It was apparent that #3 was built with exceptional skill considering it has survived for so long in the harsh conditions of the Southeast Alaska wilderness.

Storehouse #3, circa 1896, is the oldest stone masonry structure in Alaska. (Photo: Brian R. Turner)

The storehouse is an important reminder that humans have left their mark in even the most remote places on earth.   Naturally, in a state as vast as Alaska, with over 222 million acres of public land (bigger than Texas and Oklahoma combined), it is a tremendous aspiration for federal lands agencies to identify and protect every tangible and intangible reminder of 10,000+ years of human occupation.  But appreciating how humans survived in Alaska’s harsh environment helps us better understand our own connection with the wild.  Further, what we protect now will help future generations maintain a key connection to the past.

Undoubtedly, historic and cultural sites both above and below the ground, are disappearing every day in Alaska.  Many have never been recorded.  Some of the most rapid deterioration is being wrought by a changing climate.  On the shores of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, last year the Army Corps of Engineers observed that half of the archaeological sites it documented in 1982 have vanished.  These places were claimed by the rising seas, a unique irony given the battle against petroleum drilling on the Refuge that has now made ANWR a household name.

Landscape surrounding the “stone lady,” a culturally significant property to the Yup’ik on the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Brian R. Turner)

Not surprisingly, federal funding for any proactive survey of our public lands is at a record low.  Heritage professionals in National Parks, Forests, and Wildlife Refuges around the country must be exceptionally resourceful with limited budgets, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Alaska.  The Fish and Wildlife Service, for instance, employs just one (very dedicated) archaeologist to oversee more than 78 million acres of public land.

Not all the news is dire.  Though rare, partnerships with Native communities, museums, and volunteers have been essential.  The Kodiak Island National Wildlife Refuge has documented more than 1000 human habitation sites thanks to help from the very inspirational staff at the Alutiiq Museum.  The museum also runs a community archaeology program that works with locals on Kodiak, and youth in particular, and has helped foster a sense of community identity and pride.  Another successful federal policy on Alaska public lands has been permitting access to public lands for subsistence hunting and food gathering which is critical for the survival of traditional ecological knowledge.

As anyone who has visited Alaska is well aware, the state’s size and the resourcefulness of its people make it undoubtedly unique.  And, though it may be often overlooked by those who visit the state expecting the purity of an “untrammeled” wilderness, history worthy of preservation abounds.

Brian R. Turner is a Regional Attorney at the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

New Visions for Kentucky's Coal Country

Posted on: August 25th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


The Kentucky side of Black Mountain showing all mountaintops intact. (Photo: Flickr user

Written by Karen Nickless

In an earlier post I discussed the National Windows Preservation Standards Summit (sponsored by the Preservation Trades Network) that was held from July 22-July 29 at Pine Mountain Settlement School in the mountains of Kentucky. The goal of the Summit was to provide unbiased energy testing data for historic windows and to develop industry guidelines for the treatment of historic windows. The Summit garnered national press from The New York Times  to the trade publication Window and Door

The Summit focused on conserving our built environment, which of course benefits the natural environment. It was fitting that the Summit was held at Pine Mountain Settlement School. Founded in 1913 to serve the isolated Southeast Kentucky mountain community, the school's mission shifted in the 1970s to become a center for environmental education. Ironically, Pine Mountain’s 625 pristine acres sit in Harlan County, the heart of coal country. Coal is omnipresent, from the coal trucks on the mountain roads to bumper stickers that declare, “If You Don’t Like Coal, Don’t Use Electricity.”

While I was at the Summit I took an afternoon to visit the towns of Benham and Lynch. Benham and Lynch sit at the foot of Black Mountain, which was on the Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2010. Benham and Lynch were once model company towns with thriving local businesses and a hospital and schools provided by the coal company. Now Benham and Lynch are economically depressed and many old and historic buildings stand empty. The towns are developing heritage tourism, with attractions such as the Portal 31 exhibition mine and the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum.

Both illustrate that coal mining is an industry with a proud history, but mining coal has changed. Where deep shaft miners once brought the coal to the surface, now the coal is accessed by surface mining, often with an extraction method known as mountaintop removal, which literally removes the summit of a mountain to access coal. Mountaintop removal decimates flora and fauna and deposits debris into nearby creeks. The removal of mountaintops can cause dangerous flooding and rock slides. In 2005, on the Virginia side of Black Mountain, a three-year-old boy died when a boulder dislodged at a mountaintop removal site struck his house.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.