Museums and Monuments, Historic
MUSEUMS AND MONUMENTS, HISTORIC
Preservation of historic sites with a patriotic focus was in its infancy in the 1920s, although many states had historic house museums run by antiquarians. Preservation efforts reached a fever pitch during the years of the Great Depression, however. The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), founded in 1910 and headed by William Sumner Appleton, was devoted to preserving the region's architectural heritage. Although many projects were stalled during the early years of the Depression, Appleton's work served as a catalyst for other such efforts around the country. SPNEA's Old-Time New England, the nation's first preservation magazine, also appeared in 1910 and was highly influential. Largely financed by philanthropists, preservation efforts aimed to create "a usable past" in an era of rampant change as old buildings fell into decay or were threatened with demolition.
Henry Ford sponsored a number of major restoration projects, beginning with Sudbury's Wayside Inn in Massachusetts in the early 1920s, his Michigan boyhood home in 1923, and the Botsford Tavern near Detroit in 1924. Ford also designed the Greenfield Village and Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, which opened in 1933 as a work in progress. By the time he died in 1947, Ford had invested millions in moving historic buildings and duplicating others. Ford aimed to create an "animated textbook," where actors or "interpreters" playing "living history" roles would inspire America's young people.
Similar outdoor museums followed, with or without site-specific buildings. Sewing machine magnate Stephen C. Clark determined to make Cooperstown, New York, a cultural "shrine," and persuaded the State Historical Association to move there in 1938. Clark also supported the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Cooperstown Farmer's Museum, which showcased early nineteenth-century rural life.
The founding of Antiques magazine in 1922 and the opening of the American decorative arts wing at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1924 signaled a growing interest in the country's historic material culture. Henry Francis du Pont pledged his fortune in 1928 to construct the Winterthur Museum on his Delaware country estate, which opened in 1951 as a nonprofit educational institution.
William A. R. Goodwin introduced John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to Virginia's old capital of Williamsburg in 1926 and persuaded him to underwrite a restoration project run by professionals using state-of-the-art preservation methods. Colonial revival architects collaborated with museologists, archaeologists, and historians, who aimed for authenticity in restoring Williamsburg's governor's palace, capitol, and houses and gardens to reflect "the spirit of the past." Williamsburg became a laboratory in restoration techniques and the research of colonial life, although some details of the site were later proved to be historically inaccurate.
Albert Wells of Southbridge, Massachusetts, an avid collector of historic machinery and other "old and odd things" made his home the Wells Historical Museum in 1935. In 1938 Wells incorporated Old Sturbridge Village to celebrate the "arts and industry of early rural New England." Advised by Goodwin and Kenneth Chorley, he hired Perry, Shaw, & Hepburn as well as Arthur Shurcliff to create a historical village from the early 1800s by moving vernacular buildings from neighboring states and constructing others copied from regional models. The village opened in 1946, complete with craftspeople and actors in an educational outdoor museum.
The restoration staff of Colonial Williamsburg consulted around the country on the restoration of old taverns, mills, and plantations, including a more accurate restoration of George Washington's home for the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association from 1931 to 1938 after Hoover signed a bill making it a national monument in 1930. Kenneth Chorley, who served as president of Colonial Williamsburg from 1935 through the 1940s, became adviser and mentor for similar restoration projects around the country, including Deerfield, Massachusetts, where piecemeal restoration work began in 1930, and Saint Augustine, Florida. Fiske Kimball, director of the Pennsylvania Museum of Art, became a pioneering professional by first restoring old Philadelphia houses and then advising the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, which bought Monticello in 1923.
Kimball helped the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America refurnish Dumbarton Oaks, their Washington, D.C., headquarters in 1928. The Dames and the Daughters of the American Revolution supported state and local preservation efforts, as did some state federation of women's clubs. The United Daughters of the Confederacy formed the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation in 1929 with private donations and funds from Virginia and Tennessee for the restoration of the general's birthplace, Stratford Hall on the Potomac.
Laurence Vail Coleman of the American Association of Museums traveled widely, studying and encouraging the establishment of historic house museums, despite difficulties raising money to buy, restore, and maintain endangered properties. In 1934, the Old Fort Niagara Association in Youngstown, New York, renovated a colonial fort on Lake Ontario. A coalition of SPNEA, the Trustees of Public Reservations, Colonial Dames, and the Massachusetts Society of Architects mustered funds in 1935 to create the Gore Place Society, saving a great Federal estate near Boston from developers. Trustees of Public Reservations' Laurence B. Fletcher saved the Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts, appealing to school children to fund purchase in 1939. Horace M. Albright became director of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1929 and widened its focus to include historic sites and buildings. The NPS hired Verne E. Chatelain in 1931 as the first historian in its Education and Research Branch, which later included archaeologists, architects, and landscape architects. In 1930, Herbert Hoover authorized the establishment and restoration of the Colonial National Monument, which includes Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.
After Roosevelt's 1933 inauguration, NPS director Arno B. Cammerer received expanded authority over national military parks, battlefields, and cemeteries, sites that had previously been administered by the War and Agriculture departments. The first new military park was the Morristown National Historical Park in New Jersey, where Washington's Continental Army wintered in 1779. The NPS hired more historians, used Civilian Works Administration funds to start the Historic American Buildings Survey under Thomas C. Vint, and put eight hundred Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) laborers to work on historic sites. The Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act of 1935 extended NPS authority over far-flung projects, including aid to the city of Charleston, South Carolina, which had passed a landmark historic district zoning ordinance in 1931. The NPS also designated the Salem, Massachusetts, waterfront as the first National Historic Site in 1937.
Urged on by Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes, acquisitions of historic sites were funded through both private donations and congressional appropriations. NPS staff helped state efforts as CCC units began working in more and more national and state parks. The WPA began an Illinois Museum Extension Project to reconstruct the Cahokia Courthouse with help from the state architect's office. In addition, Ickes created the Appomattox Court House National Historic Monument in 1940, but the war halted its restoration for a time. State and local efforts also gained momentum. In 1929 Illinois bought one of Abraham Lincoln's log cabins, restoring it to its 1840s appearance. The state also began reconstructing New Salem village, where Lincoln lived in the 1830s. Pennsylvania acquired Pennsbury Manor, the forty-acre home of William Penn, its first governor, and colonial revival architect Brognard Okie restored it. In 1931, Tombstone, Arizona, began raising funds to recreate the history of the Old West. The San Antonio Conservation Society used municipal funds to open the Spanish Governor's Palace in 1929 and worked on the San Jose Mission from 1933 to 1935 under the Public Works Administration. A 1933 county public works project in Syracuse rebuilt the Jesuit mission to the Iroquois, Sainte Marie de Gannentaha's fort and crafts shops. The Museum of the City of New York, which was established in 1923, helped charter the Historic Landmark Society in 1935, opening the Old Merchant's House museum in 1936. Louisiana amended its constitution in 1936 to permit the Vieux Carré Commission to preserve New Orleans's French Quarter. The state of California purchased the Monterey Custom House in 1937 as part of a master plan for historic preservation.
With 1928 congressional legislation, the nation's capital underwent renovations under the Commission of Fine Arts. Plans for a Thomas Jefferson Memorial gained momentum after the 1926 centennial of Jefferson's death; the National Capital Park and Planning Commission chose a Tidal Basin site in 1935, and John Russell Pope's design, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, was selected for the monument. Although criticized as "empty classicism," Pope's design won congressional approval in 1938. Dedication of a sarcophagus at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier took place in 1931. The War Department transferred Bedloe's Island, the site of the Statue of Liberty, to the NPS in 1937.
Renovation of historic houses and preservation of historic sites, as well as the construction of living history museums, created jobs during the Depression, and such efforts had wide popular appeal. The American Guide series, a state-by-state series of guidebooks prepared by the WPA's Federal Writers' Project, published its first volume in 1937. The series cultivated popular interest in historic places. Americans auto-toured in search of nature and nostalgia, antidotes for the problems of the present.
Barrington, Lewis. Historic Restorations of the Daughters of the American Revolution. 1941.
Becker, Carl. Every Man His Own Historian. 1935.
Coleman, Laurence Vail. Historic House Museums. 1933.
Crowther, Samuel. "Henry Ford's Village of Yesterday." Ladies' Home Journal 45 (September 1928).
Fitzpatrick, John C., ed. Some Historic Houses. 1939.
Hosmer, Charles B., Jr. Presence of the Past: A History of the Preservation Movement in the United States before Williamsburg. 1965.
Hosmer, Charles B., Jr., Preservation Comes of Age: FromWilliamsburg to the National Trust, 1926–1949. 1981.
Blanche M. G. Linden