Shaping the Parks, Shaping America

Profiles in Preservation
Hallowed Ground Magazine, Summer 2016

On the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, the Civil War Trust recognizes these dedicated individuals who helped shape America's National Parks,
as we know them today.

John Muir
John Muir with President Theodore Roosevelt (left). (Library of Congress)

John Muir | 1838 – 1914

The spiritual father of American conservationism, the Scottish-born Muir was a naturalist and explorer who founded the Sierra Club and inspired the nascent movement to protect wilderness areas in the American West. A prolific writer and essayist, he recorded his personal geologic and botanic observations during numerous long journeys — from his “Thousand-Mile Walk” between Indiana and the Florida Keys, to years-long residencies in the California mountains and sojourns into the wilderness of southern Alaska.

Stephen Mather
Stephen Mather

Stephen Mather | 1867 – 1930

After making his fortune as an industrialist in the borax detergent trade, Mather became a passionate advocate for — and financial contributor to — conservation and public parkland. In early 1915, he became a special assistant on national park matters to the secretary of the interior, a position from which he built the political support necessary to establish the National Park Service the following year. As director of the service from its founding until his retirement following a stroke in 1929, Mather created a civil service infrastructure and saw the establishment of new parks in the East. 

Horace Albright
Horace Albright with President Herbert Hoover (right).

Horace Albright | 1890 – 1987

A native Californian, Albright was only 27 years old when he was named assistant director of the fledgling National Park Service in 1917. After two years in Washington, he spent a decade as superintendent at Yellowstone and Yosemite before returning to head the agency following Mather’s retirement. In 1933, he oversaw the integration of parklands from the War Department and Forest Service into the National Park System.

George Melendez Wright
George Melendez Wright

George Melendez Wright | 1904 – 1936

Although his life was cut tragically short by a car accident when he was just 31, Wright left an indelible imprint on the Park Service. The son of a wealthy sea captain, he earned degrees in forestry and zoology before embarking on a career as a naturalist at Yosemite. In 1930, using his own funds, he embarked on a multiyear study of wildlife and plant life conditions in the park, ultimately producing the service’s first scientific statement on natural resource management. Named the head of the new Wildlife Division in 1933, he advocated for a holistic approach to park management, integrating both natural and cultural resources, until his death in 1936.   

Ronald F. Lee
Ronald F. Lee

Ronald F. Lee | 1905 – 1972

After the 1933 absorption of military parks from the War Department, the reorganized National Park Service quickly became involved with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal initiative that enabled large-scale infrastructure projects on public lands. In this way, Lee joined NPS as a historical foreman in Tennessee, but eventually came to the Washington headquarters, where he served as chief historian and chief of interpretation. In the late 1930s and 1940s, he was a leading historian in the preservation movement, helping create the National Historic Landmarks Program and found the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He was a key figure in the creation of Piscataway Park, opposite George Washington’s Mount Vernon, a visionary instance of viewshed protection for a historic site.  

Charles Peterson
Charles Peterson

Charles E. Peterson | 1906 – 2004

Raised and educated in Minnesota, Peterson began his 33-year career with the National Park Service in 1929 and quickly played an instrumental role in saving the Moore House, site of the British surrender at Yorktown, Va. In late 1933, in his capacity as eastern division chief, he penned a memo that became the foundation of the Historic American Buildings Survey, which has documented key elements of the national built environment ever since. He was instrumental in developing and solidifying the philosophy and procedures within the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation and in forming preservation architecture into a professional discipline.

J.C. "Pinky" Harrington

J.C. “Pinky” Harrington  | 1901 – 1998

The author of the 1955 manifesto “Archaeology as an Auxiliary Science to American History,” Harrington is considered the father of American historical archaeology. Although his interest in the discipline was sparked by Spanish mission churches of the Southwest, he joined the Park Service in 1936 for excavations at Jamestown, Va. There, he met and married Virginia Hall Sutton, one of the first women hired as an NPS ranger, with whom he was a founder of the Eastern National Park and Monument Association.

William Murtagh
William Murtagh

William Murtagh  | 1923 — present

Prior to completing his architectural history PhD at the University of Pennsylvania — the same institution where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees— Murtaugh was named a Fulbright Scholar and held a supervisory architect position at Independence National Historical Park. In 1967, after nine years in the leadership of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, he was appointed the first “Keeper” of the National Register of Historic Places and established procedures for the program that remain in place to this day. Murtagh has been a central figure in the education of subsequent generations of preservation professionals, both as author of the seminal textbook Keeping Time and numerous teaching positions. 

Robert M. Utely
Robert M. Utely

Robert M. Utely | 1929 – present

As chief historian of the National Park Service, beginning in 1964, Utley played a pivotal role in the drafting and implementation of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. He worked closely with officials across the nation to forge the infrastructure of the new state historic preservation offices and was instrumental in determining the criteria for the new National Register of Historic Places. He continued to rise through the Park Service administration until 1972, when he left to become deputy executive director of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Manuel Lujan
Manuel Lujan

Manuel Lujan | 1928 – present

After serving 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, the New Mexican Lujan was named secretary of the interior by George H.W. Bush in 1989. In July 1990, during the 129th anniversary commemorations for the Battle of First Manassas, he responded to costly emergency preservation efforts at that field and the loss of other important historic landscapes by proposing the creation of a federal commission to study the status of Civil War battlefields. As part of this vision, the American Battlefield Protection Program was established within NPS in 1991, and the landmark “Report of the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission” was released in 1993.

Ed Bearss
Edwin C. Bearss (left)

Edwin C. Bearss | 1923 – present

Growing up on his Montana ranch, Bearss named his favorite cow Antietam. In the year between his high school graduation and enlistment in the WWII-era Marine Corps, he hitchhiked to his first battlefield visits. After recovering from wounds suffered in the South Pacific, he attended college on the GI Bill and, after a visit to Shiloh, decided to devote his life to the interpretation of battlefields. His career began at Vicksburg, where his research located two lost forts and the wreck of the USS Cairo. Promoted to southeast regional historian in 1958, he was active in the Civil War centennial commemoration. In 1966, he arrived at NPS headquarters in Washington and rose to chief historian in 1981. In the early 1990s, he served a key role on the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission and the emergence of the battlefield preservation movement. He remains the Park Service’s chief historian emeritus.  


See more features celebrating 100 years of the National Park Service in the Summer 2016 issue of the Civil War Trust's Hallowed Ground magazine »

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