August 14, 2004

Our goal is the creation and sustenance of the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, National Historic Trail, that passes through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and the elevation to a higher level the quality of heritage preservation all along the route. This newsletter tries to represent the point of view of the patriots who respected Washington and Rochambeau, the ones who, if alive, would be working with us to honor them.

Here is another excellent site for cultural information on the American Revolution. http://www.historycarper.com/

Are We Worthy?

“If our descendants be worthy the name of Americans, they will preserve, and hand down to their latest posterity, the transactions of the present times; and, though I confess my exclamations are not worthy the hearing, they will see that I have done my utmost to preserve their liberty…” – Patrick Henry

The International Intrigues and Excitement of the W3R Project

The interest level in this project has been exceptionally high and filled with intrigues. The fact that one European dominated group went so far as to declare in December of 2001 that I had resigned and that they had accepted my resignation shows how serious and filled with self-importance some supporters are. Interest in the W3R is truly international and speaks to the potential success that the NPS can have with this project. We supporters of the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail (W3R NHT) of course want the NPS to be \ very successful.

From the beginning in 1996, when I began the current W3R effort, I have taken the role of Samuel Adams for the project. You may recall that Sam was the embodiment of the Committee of Correspondence in the American Revolution and that is t he title I took. I am not the soldier nor the representative nor the statesman. You have filled those roles far more capably than I ever could. My role has been to provide the facts and to try to convince everyone that the cause is worthy and justified and achievable. Like Sam, my words may at times seem inappropriate and even volatile.

In the past, each attempt to preserve this route has ended in a heartfelt handshake, a cheerful slap on the back, and a paper certificate (sometimes by joint resolution of Congress). We don’t want another certificate or just greater access to TEA21 grants. This time we will only accept the real thing! We want the national historic trail now!

Sometimes friends quarrel. That is only natural when they have minds of their own. That is true of all the supporters of the W3R NHT as well as our closest allies whom we fought with and against during the American Revolution. This route gives each of us a way to thank every one of the nations that had a roll in shaping our ideas about humanity, liberty, and justice… our culture. It will create a magnet for preservation activities.

It is time for the supporters of the W3R NHT to begin to set aside their differences and unite again for the congressional W3R NHT commencement exercise next year. Then, with NPS guidance and partnership across nine states, we can commence to make the dream a reality. But it would be self-delusion or arrogance for us to think that we are somehow accomplishing this task on our own. We can only succeed by providing the means for the voices of the patriots to be heard for themselves, as Patrick Henry and many others would have wished.

To date the content, editing and quality of the National Park Service (NPS) work on the W3R has been truly outstanding. The educational and informational impact of new reports would be greatest if released in early October because it will be in the interest of the NPS and W3R supporters to get the word out on what is an important election issue in nine states. And the final NPS recommendations will be extremely important as the legislation is introduced next spring because it will be an indication of how well prepared we are for this undertaking. The most critical aspect for us was initially getting Congressional support in 2000. CT. Congressman John B. Larson was exceptional in that regard, and we think he will be exceptional again in 2005.

What Is A National Historic Trail?

By Steve Elkinton, Program Leader, National Trails System Program, National Park Service, Washington, DC “Hans: Here’s a short article for your newsletter about the National Trails System “process.” I appreciate the invitation.” As the special resource study for the Washington-Rochambeau Route across nine states draws to conclusion, I would like to give readers of this newsletter some idea of what might be in store if and when the route becomes officially designated as a national historic trail. National historic trails (NHTs) are authorized under Federal law — along with their sister category, national scenic trails — under the authorities of the National Trails System Act of 1968 (United States Code Vol. 16, Secs. 1241-51). NHTs commemorate nationally significant events in history. They may be discontinuous and heavily disturbed, but their general corridors are usually tied together by an auto tour route using modern roads and highways. Interpretive services, special events, and re-enactments are major ways these trails are made visible to the public.

National scenic and historic trails come into being as Federally-administered trails in a four step process:

  • Legislation requesting a feasibility (or special resource) study
  • The study
  • Legislation (based on the study) establishing the trail
  • A comprehensive management plan (CMP) that articulates roles and responsibilities of various partners, defines trail administrative functions, and generally satisfies with the planning requirements of the National Trails System Act. Ideally, it serves as an action compact among trail partners

While step four is going on, several other things are usually afoot, too. The trail’s official marker, or logo, is developed and made available to mark the route and associated sites. An advisory council is appointed for the first 10 years of the trail’s official existence. (This council can be an excellent forum for competing interests, providing access to state governments.) If it doesn’t already exist, a trailwide nonprofit partner organization should get organized to help coordinate partnership activities (volunteers, conferences, research, etc.) all up and down the trail. And, a trail brochure is developed to market the concept of the trail as a whole. This 4-step process, on average, has taken 13-15 years for trails already part of the System.

National historic trails, because of their often discontinuous nature, offer special challenges. The Trails Act seeks to limit Federal protective actions (including acquisition) to the sites and resources truly associated with the trail’s most significant values, so two terms are introduced:

“high potential site” and “high potential segment.” These are defined in the Act as places that embody the values and history for which the trail was established. They need not have a high level of integrity (as used in historic preservation, meaning degree of intactness) but they must offer the opportunity for interpretation and recreation. The Act goes on to say that high potential segments should have “greater than average scenic values or afford an opportunity to vicariously share the experience of the original users of the historic route.” Federal protection is limited to these sites and segments. Such sites are usually identified and listed (not in the feasibility study) but in the later CMP.

Another concept that the Act introduces is certification. This is a voluntary process by which properties under the jurisdiction of non-Federal government bodies (such as a state park agency) and private landowners can become officially recognized as part of the trail. Certification agreements formalize this relationship, basically offering a quid pro quo of public access in exchange for official recognition. Some certifications last many years, others do not. At some certified sites the public can come and go any time, at other times, access is restricted to just a few days a year. Generally, Federal sites and segments along a national historic trail are considered “Federal protection components” and should enjoy some degree of protection from the outset.

National historic trails — especially those that pass through urban areas — are a challenge to land managing agencies used to clearly defined boundaries and sole jurisdiction. But the partnerships and creativity that have arisen to make these trails available in a coherent way to the public is remarkable. Most trail partnerships are formalized through cooperative agreements that are broadly authorized in the Trails Act. For historic trails, the Federal Government has actually acquired minimal acreage to protect key resources — instead, other partners (such as state agencies, land trusts, local organizations, even private landowners) have acquired key sites to protect them from undesired development.

The National Trails System is an experiment that is yielding important lessons all the time. The first NHT (the Oregon NHT) was established in 1978, over 25 years ago. Since then 14 others have been established, bringing attention to compelling national stories and their associated resources in 29 states. Over 250 staffed visitor centers are located along these trails — although most are devoted to themes other than the trail.

Some of the newer trails highlight little-known, but significant, chapters in American history, such as Spanish colonization of the San Francisco Bay by Captain Juan Bautista de Anza in 1775-6 or the Nez Perce War of 1877. From 2003 to 2006, the bicentennial commemoration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is alerting millions of Americans, and their international guests, to the adventure of following in the footsteps of history along one of these trails. In my opinion, none of these trails is “complete,” and perhaps never will be. But the Federally supported effort to recognize nationally significant trail stories and make available opportunities To “walk in the footsteps of history” can be a moving way to pass on our Nation’s rich legacy to future generations.

Marketing American Culture and Civilization

The tide of time has carried with it the desire of Americans to recognize that we have developed a culture and a civilization that is worthy of preservation and of an auspicious place among the other great cultures of the world.

Oddly enough we have learned most about our distinctive culture not when we leaned on our allies such as we did during the American Revolution, but as some allies have seemingly abandoned us. During this war between human civilization and terrorism when some great established cultures continue to mock America as a nation of cowboys, and as some celebrate on their streets when they see Americans murdered, mutilated, and hung from their bridges… we sense the greatness of our heritage… our pluralistic humane civilization… very deeply. In the past we have usually looked outward to find culture, but rejection has helped Americans look inward and to rediscover and celebrate what is our own.

Even as we talk about preserving the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, more of the route is being lost to development as historic homes, Inns, and encampments are bulldozed away. Disparaging remarks about the patriots and about efforts to preserve our heritage have often been an impediment to new preservation and have impoverished the maintenance of heritage.

The successful preservation of Williamsburg and Valley Forge was the result of exceptional marketing. Rockefeller was the benefactor not the restorer of Williamsburg. The preservation was the work of experts with considerable research based on maps, drawings, and writings from when Rochambeau’s army was stationed in the town. It attempted a truthful re-creation of the entire colonial town. Buildings that predated the late eighteenth century were restored, but a number of newer buildings were demolished to restore the town to its most famous period of history. The result is a kind living history peopled with costumed guides tending shops and performing the crafts of the bygone era. Visitors are literally drawn into the past, and America’s imagination has been truly captured. Anyone who visits Williamsburg knows it has a fairly complete cross section of the living history from the time period of the American Revolution.

Some historians seem to disparage any heritage that is coherent, or that successfully engages the visitor. In an article in the New York Review of Books, Ada Louise Huxtable criticized the Williamsburg preservation. She wrote:

“Certainly it was in the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg that the studious fudging of facts received its scholarly imprimatur and history and place as themed artifact hit the big time.”

She also says it is a “selective fantasy” of the place as someone thinks it was, or would like it to have been. How could she know that unless she claims she knows the “truth” is different?

This type of attack is one example of why preservation has become so impoverished. Heritage is clearly destroyed with the pen as well as with the bulldozer. What would possess an historian to attack not just historic preservation but the integrity of other historians who she said fudged to create a fantasy? It is through such acts of omission and disparaging remarks that heritage is lost. The rationale often is that there are limited resources so we must be selective, prioritize, and by omission destroy the older, less pristine heritage. Yet in America there is tremendous potential power of public and congressional support for funding to preserve American heritage because it benefits the environment, our quality of life, our culture, and our economy.

The “Complete Restoration” of Valley Forge was accomplished over 25 years beginning in 1935. As soon as Pennsylvania Governor George H. Earle announced intentions to acquire the entire Valley Forge area that was believed to have been occupied by the Continental Army his plans came under fire by historians.

Former Park Commissioner Dr. Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer used the words “desecration” and “abomination” to attack the Valley Forge restoration.

“Valley Forge would be an exposition instead of a beautiful piece of Pennsylvania countryside. Every historical and patriotic association in the States should rise up in protest against such desecration of an American shrine.”

Dr. Albert Cook Myers said,

“The data is insufficient to do as the Governor proposes. It would be much better to leave such restoration alone. . . . Let them protect and preserve what they already have.”

Lawrence C. Hickman, president of the Sons of the American Revolution, professed himself to be “bewildered”.

“It would certainly be incongruous to put up huts around the modern monuments. Or would they tear down these expensive markers put up by various States and organizations?”

But the people serving as park commissioners during this period would not let their Valley Forge idea die. Editor Gilbert Jones made several comments explaining why log huts were so important to Valley Forge at that time to construct a “living re-creation of this historic scene” so that “the future may learn from the past.” Jones later wrote,

“A marker is not graphic enough for the average person and he carries away only a hazy idea of Washington’s historic Encampment.”

Jones had innate marketing skills and observed that recent visitors had been considerably more inspired by the dirt floor in the single hut reconstructed in 1935 than by any monument. Jones linked the floor to one of Valley Forge’s sacred symbols when he spoke of its being “trod by many bleeding feet that historic winter.” Surely Valley Forge too would transport the visitor back in time. This would be,

“the finest of all tributes to the free men who fought not with weapons of warfare, but in the Spiritual battle at Headquarters, in Huts, on Parade Ground and behind Entrenchments at Valley Forge.”

Williamsburg and Valley Forge speak to what can be accomplished with the W3R if sound marketing principles are applied and all try to refrain from social, international, and political agendas that denigrate the founding fathers and hence impoverish what we seek to preserve.

If you sense the same force for good that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if we do together what we must do, then there is no doubt that the President and Congress will rise up in support of the ideals supported by and transported on this hallowed ground which we would deign to call the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.

Finding Meaning in History
 “The revolution was effected before the war commenced. The revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.” –Geoffrey F. Abert, American historian

“Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” — Harry Truman (1894-1972), 33rd American President

“Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine.” — Dwight David Eisenhower, 34th US President