Another interesting National Park Traveler article today. This one, by Bob Janiskee, provides a list of National Park Service units that for various reasons were abandoned, dropped, or transferred out of the system. The article links out to more detailed examinations of these thirty-four sites – earlier articles written by Janiskee. Of interest to military historians, White Plains National Battlefield, a Revolutionary War site, never got organized. And Mackinac National Park in Michigan, while among the first parks established and including Fort Mackinac, fell victim to budget constraints.
From the Civil War perspective, Chattanooga National Cemetery and Castle Pinckney became units of the National Park Service due to Federal reorganizations in 1933. The cemetery, which probably shouldn’t have been a separate NPS unit anyway, eventually went to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Arguably Castle Pinckney should have become a unit within Fort Sumter National Monument (which includes Fort Moultrie also). But as reported earlier this year, there are efforts to preserve the fort.
But there is a third “lost” Civil War national park on the list – the Atlanta Campaign National Historic Site… or to be exact, Sites. In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built five rest stops, complete with picnic pavilions and interpretive exhibits, along the Dixie Highway in northern Georgia. These traced Atlanta Campaign actions (or inactions) at Ringgold Gap, Rocky Face ridge, Resaca, Cassville, and New Hope Church. The WPA pavilions included interpretive metal signs (such as one at Cassville) to which the NPS added the metal markers linked above.
During World War II, the Secretary of the Interior transferred the five picnic areas to the NPS. However, after administering the “Historic Site” for six years, the NPS transferred the property to the State of Georgia in 1950. Janiskee summarizes the ill-fated historic site in his article:
When the Secretary of the Interior issued an order on October 13, 1944, instructing the National Park Service to administer the Atlanta Campaign National Historic Site, it could scarcely have been an occasion for an NPS celebration (not to mention that World War II was raging at the time). You’d have to have been at least one full bubble off plumb to really believe that a scattered collection of interpretive picnic pavilions belonged in the National Park System, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Yellowstone National Park and Gettysburg National Military Park.
However, I’d offer a different take on this.
Many preservationists are familiar with the “Antietam Plan.” In brief, when established the Antietam National Battlefield lacked funding. Instead of purchasing the whole acreage of lands, as was done at Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Gettysburg, at Antietam the War Department worked with right-of-ways and easements. Thus the battlefield became more a tour route than established property. While that sounds like a disappointment, in the long run the plan succeeded, and quite remarkably so. Later parks followed this plan to various degrees and were generally successful.
At the time the NPS received the Atlanta Campaign unit, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield was in the system too, but facing court challenges in its protracted evolution. Only in 1947 did that park become “officially established.” The abandonment of the Atlanta Campaign NHS, meager though its holdings were, left only Kennesaw Mountain as the NPS unit representing one of the Civil War’s most important campaigns.
Since that time development along the I-75 corridor encroached upon the battlefields. Decades later, there is still some hope for these battlefields. Not covered by the original WPA sites, Picketts Mill is now a State Historic Site. Likewise work continues for the Resaca State Historic Site. Ringgold Battlefield received a National Register of Historic Places selection in March of 2011. Markers are in place or going up for Rocky Face Ridge. Organizations like the Georgia Battlefields Association have made strides. But much has been lost since the 1950’s, particularly closer into Atlanta.
Yes, a five-picnic-pavillion park on par with the larger parks does seem outrageous. But on the other hand, logically those five sites could have become part of an extended park with Kennesaw Mountain. As seen at other locations, just “being” a park provides some impetus to further preservation efforts. Perhaps an “Antietam Plan,” but at the broader perspective. I have to wonder if those five pavilions, had they remained in the NPS inventory, could have become the grains of sand to culture a string of pearls?