I Left My Heart in a National Park: NPS Sites We Love

“I love that place!”  Chances are, you’ve heard that phrase – and used it yourself – numerous times.  What makes us love certain places?  Do we feel a personal connection to the history of a place?  Do we find inspiration or serenity in a particular landscape?  Or is it something indescribable, something we can’t put into words, but just feel?  Here at the Northeast Museum Services Center, we are privileged to work with national parks across the Northeast Region that vary significantly in terms of place.  We work on-site at historic rowhouses in urban settings, quiet farmhouses in the countryside, and grand Victorian mansions with formal gardens.  In honor of Valentine’s Day, allow us to share with you some of parks we love, and why. 

Sara Wolf, Director – Weir Farm National Historic Site

My father was an artist — a painter.  I remember spending many happy hours in his studio as a child creating exuberant messes in the name of art.  Walking into the Weir studio with its remnants of the smells of oil paints and turpentine instantly transports me back to that time and fills me with joy.  And that is why I love Weir Farm National Historic Site.

Weir Farm National Historic Site.  (Image source:  Weir Farm National Historic Site website - http://www.nps.gov/wefa/index.htm)

Weir Farm National Historic Site. (Image source: Weir Farm National Historic Site website – http://www.nps.gov/wefa/index.htm)

Laurel Racine, Senior Curator – Shenandoah National Park

I have loved Shenandoah National Park since I was a kid.  My family’s road trips focused heavily on the highways of the East Coast with relatives’ houses at the end of each drive.  It was such a relief when my parents would get off the interstate and drive more slowly under the canopy of trees along Skyline Drive with its tunnels, vistas, stone walls, and visitor centers.  If we were lucky, we would stop at Luray Caverns outside the park with its colorful caves and gift shop only a child could love.  Over the years I have seen the Drive in full leaf and shattered and broken after winter ice storms only to appear rejuvenated the next time I visited.  Nature’s resilience is amazing, if not boundless.

Shenandoah has such romantic place names.  Who wouldn’t want to go to Skyland, Panorama, or Pinnacles?  The stories are intriguing as well:  the early mountain residents, President Hoover and the Secret Service in fishing cabins on the Rapidan River, and the CCC boys building Skyline Drive.

Early in my NPS career I worked on many projects at Shenandoah and came to love it for what I considered its parky-ness:  the fee stations, lodges, campgrounds, stables, trails, and fireside chats.  As I drove on remote fire roads, I would think, “Now this is what it’s like to work for the Park Service.”  I was responding to the immersion in the landscape, the ability to lose myself in the trees while technically working.  When I would make the frequent drives from Dulles to the park, a smile would break across my face every time I saw the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.  Virginia is not home but I always had a sense of returning somewhere familiar and special.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park.  (Image source:  NPS Digital Image Archives/Wikimedia Commons)

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park. (Image source: NPS Digital Image Archives/Wikimedia Commons)

Nikki Estey, Museum Technician – Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site

Having grown up in Massachusetts, I have always been fascinated with local New England history, specifically the Colonial and Early Republic periods.  I can’t get enough Georgian architecture, federal furniture, and eighteenth-century ceramics!  So, it may come as a surprise that my favorite National Park Service site is Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in Buffalo, New York.  When I first visited, I didn’t know what to expect from the house that was used briefly to swear in our 26th President after the assassination of President McKinley in 1901.  Upon arriving, I saw a beautiful Greek revival home and interactive exhibits that immersed me in the history of the period.  Not only do you learn about the events that took place in Buffalo in September of 1901, you also learn about politics, the fight for equality, economics, popular culture, the formation of the National Parks, and the many accomplishments of Theodore Roosevelt during his presidency.  I learned so much and loved how the interactive exhibits worked with so many different learning styles.   I am looking forward to visiting again in the future!

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site.  (Image source:  Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site website - www.trsite.org)

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. (Image source: Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site website – http://www.trsite.org)

Alicia Paresi, Curator – Thomas Edison National Historical Park

I have had more than one crush on a Victorian house, but I can honestly say that the first time I saw Glenmont, it was love at first site!  Thomas Edison National Historical Park is a spectacular site that contains the laboratories and artifacts that span Edison’s sixty-year career as an inventor, manufacturer, businessman, and private citizen.  But it’s his private home that steals my heart!   The New Jersey estate, known as Glenmont, was purchased by Thomas Edison in 1886 for his new bride Mina Miller.

For me, the glorious architecture, jeweled windows, furniture suites, Persian rugs, and eclectic mix of decorative arts transform this mansion into a cozy home perfect for creating memories with family and friends.   Edison once said that the mansion was “…a great deal too nice for me, but isn’t half nice enough for my little wife.” Now THAT is true romance!

Glenmont in the spring.  (NPS photo courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park website - http://www.nps.gov/edis/planyourvisit/index.htm)

Glenmont in the spring. (Image source:  Thomas Edison National Historical Park website – http://www.nps.gov/edis/planyourvisit/index.htm)

Jessica Costello, Museum Specialist – Petersburg National Battlefield, City Point Unit

I first visited the City Point Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield almost ten years ago as part of a team writing a Collection Management Plan, and have been in love ever since.  City Point is a peninsula situated at the confluence of the James and Appomattox Rivers in Hopewell, Virginia.  Appomattox Manor, the beautiful home standing there today, was built in 1763 by Richard Eppes.  This site has witnessed thousands of years of activity by Native Americans, as well as the efforts of generations of the Eppes family to build up their plantation and establish themselves as elite members of society.  During the Civil War, Union General Grant established City Point as his headquarters during the Siege of Petersburg, and it transformed into a busy city teeming with soldiers.  The history of this site is rich, fascinating, and monumental in terms of our nation’s past.

What I find so special about City Point is the way it can hold so many amazing, important stories, and yet present such a calming, tranquil, unassuming air.  At Appomattox Manor, I can stand in front of the 18th-century house and look past huge magnolia trees to the two wide rivers coming together down below.  I can walk between the kitchen house, smoke house, and vivid crepe myrtle trees, and literally feel time standing still.  Every time I have been to City Point, I have been invited by the quietude and serenity of the site to relax, breathe deep, and soak in the natural beauty it has to offer and the incredible stories it has to tell.

app manor

Appomattox Manor, City Point, Petersburg National Battlefield. (NMSC photo)

Jennifer McCann, Museum Specialist – Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

The NPS Northeast Region site I love is Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. Aside from it’s stunning location in the Hudson River Valley, the Vanderbilt Mansion is an intriguing house with fascinating stories. Designed by McKim, Mead and White, the Mansion was a vacation home for Frederick W. and Louise Vanderbilt at the turn of the 20th century. The Mansion has incredibly beautiful historic furnishings, artwork, and architectural details. If you visit, make sure you check out the drain pipes under the bathroom sinks…no, really! After the Vanderbilts had discontinued using the place, the Secret Service used the Mansion to house agents and staff, due to its proximity to President Franklin Roosevelt’s home, Springwood, just down the road. Roosevelt himself suggested that the house become part of the National Park Service in 1940.

Details of a sink at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.  (NMSC photo)

Details of a sink at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. (NMSC photo)

Margaret Welch, Archivist – Longfellow House Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site

Reverend Samuel Longfellow.  (Image source:  Longfellow House and Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site)

Reverend Samuel Longfellow. (Image source: Longfellow House and Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site)

That moment in which the hero/heroine realizes that he/she has found the “right one” is a highlight of romantic comedies.  I was fortunate enough to have that moment in realizing that I had been hired for the “right” job.  I knew the photographic collection of the Longfellow House Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site had extraordinary significance and historical integrity when I was hired to catalog it in February 2001.  But I never imagined that I would have a personal connection to its archives.  During a survey with NMSC and Longfellow staff in March of that year, I happened to come across a letter by the Reverend Samuel Longfellow, younger brother of Henry Wadsworth, with the following passage written in the mid 1860s:

I stayed at a pretty place called Curzon’s Mills where [there] is an old fashioned house under fine old trees & on the banks of a little stream bearing       the poetic name the “the Artichoke.”  And when I came away Miss Curzon rowed me up     the river … among the yellow water lilies.

Well, Miss Curzon is one of my ancestors, and my sisters and I now own the “old fashioned house” by the Artichoke River some one hundred and fifty years afterwards.  The “yellow water lilies” (spatterdocks) still bloom on the river in the summer.  And I knew that I had found “my” job.

"Old Fashioned House" by Artichoke River.  Courtesy photo.
“Old Fashioned House” by Artichoke River. Courtesy photo.

Well, there you have it – some of the NPS sites that we have fallen in love with during our years on staff at NMSC.   Theodore Roosevelt, a great champion of our national parks, first visited the Badlands of North Dakota as a young man in 1883.  Theodore Roosevelt National Park was later established there in 1947.  Of his first visit to this desolate, beautiful landscape, Roosevelt said, “and so began the great romance of my life.”  It is our hope that you may find in your national parks a place that you connect with, that inspires you, that you love.  Happy Valentine’s Day from NMSC!

Source for information on Glenmont: http://www.nps.gov/edis/historyculture/index.htm

Roosevelt quote found at http://www.nps.gov/thro/historyculture/theodore-roosevelt-quotes.htm

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