Throughout the first few weeks of my project, I have learned a lot about the National Park Service and its initiatives to share and preserve history and nature. As I carried out some preliminary research, one of the most interesting sources I discovered was a Ken Burns documentary series entitled “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” The videos provided a history of the NPS, revealed some of the motivations for the creation of parks, and gave insights into the roots of the Service’s mission statement.
At the end of the first week, I visited the Department of Interior in Washington, DC, which is the government agency that oversees the National Park Service. Established on March 3, 1849, the department is in charge of domestic affairs concerning the nation’s natural resources, distinctive cultures, and energy management. I took a tour of the library, which was constructed of materials from America’s interior and learned some interesting tidbits of information from the librarian. One item of interest she pointed out was a door handle that contained an eagle to represent the American Nation, a carved bison face to represent the Department of Interior, and Indian rainclouds below to show the department’s commitment to preserving ancient cultures from America’s history.
My family and I took a trip to visit Belle Grove and Cedar Creek National Historical Park, a more recent park that is still in the stages of development. Despite its relatively young age (it was only created in 2002), the park had some interesting initiatives to share and preserve history. We witnessed preparation for the “Great Train Raid” where reenactors would bring to life the story of the South’s cutoff of the North-running B and O railroad during the Civil War. In 1861, Stonewall Jackson gave the order for forty horses to drag a locomotive along the Valley Turnpike to distribute railroad supplies to the South. The reenactors planned to use 8 horses to pull a reproduction train along the Valley Turnpike or U.S. Route 11. Even though the process was modified to fit in with the current times, it was still an exciting event to witness and proved a great way to share history with visitors. Inside the Belle Grove plantation home, we learned about some of the preservation measures to protect the historical building. Researchers spent months of careful study to remodel the house as it would have appeared during the late 1700s and early 1800s. For example, when historians did not know the carpet pattern of the dining room, they tracked down the English company that had made it. The company then checked its records for carpets shipped to the United States in that time period, and lighted on a pattern that would have probably been used. The carpet was remade to match the original pattern and restored to the house.
Belle Grove and Cedar Creek National Historical Park is a partnership park under the ownership of many different historical and preservation organizations. One of the rangers informed me that the National Park Service only owns seventy out of the 1500 acres, with the rest being owned by private organizations. I was impressed at how the different organizations worked together to provide visitors with a comprehensive overview of history in that area. Overall, it has been an exciting adventure to explore Shenandoah national parks and their history, and I can’t wait to learn more in the coming weeks.