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Presidential pasts.

SINCE 1933, the National Park Service has preserved and interpreted a variety of historic sites associated with former presidents, ranging from birthplaces to retirement homes. Before that time, the Park Service supervised large natural areas such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon but had few responsibilities for historic properties. Without federal participation, the preservation of historic sites and homes remained primarily the domain of private individuals and groups that acquired and restored them, sometimes with mixed results. The homes of former presidents proved no exception.

Private groups restored George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon and Grouseland, the home of William Henry Harrison, paying great attention to authenticity. Less scrupulous individuals promoted as "authentic" the log cabin in which Abraham Lincoln had been born, even though the cabin was apparently moved and rebuilt after the Lincolns left Kentucky. This did not dampen the enthusiasm of Lincoln's supporters. In 1907 Mark Twain urged that the Lincoln birthplace be made into a "national park of patriotism," and public sentiment echoed his call. The federal government responded by acquiring the cabin and birthplace site in 1916, placing both under the supervision of the War Department.

Horace Albright, the second director of the National Park Service, believed his agency was better equipped to interpret historic sites than the War Department and lobbied Congress for a larger role in the interpretation and supervision of these sites. In 1930, Congress responded by creating George Washington Birthplace National Monument and placing it under the Park Service's supervision. Albright continued his lobbying efforts and in 1933 convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to transfer responsibility for all national monuments, battlefields, forts, and other related sites from the War Department and other agencies to NPS. Since then, more than 20 historic sites associated with presidents have been added to the park system.

John and John Quincy Adams

Writing from Philadelphia to his son John Quincy, John Adams lamented, "One day spent at home would afford me more inward delight and comfort than a week or winter in this place." "The Old House," as several generations of Adamses would refer to it, serves as the centerpiece of Adams National Historic Site in Quincy, Massachusetts, the only national park site to tell the story of two presidents.

John Adams bought the house in 1787 while serving as U.S. Minister to Great Britain, and it remained inhabited by the Adams family until 1927. The Adams Historical Society donated the house and its contents to the federal government in 1946.

The oldest wing of the house was built in 1731, but many of the later additions and much of the interior design reflect the influence of John Adams' wife, Abigail. When Abigail first viewed the house, she found the garden "a wilderness and the house a mere barracks," but after decorating the house and adding rooms, she found the surroundings more comfortable. Many of the modifications were made when the couple lived in Philadelphia, where John Adams served as vice president and later as president, between 1789 and 1801. Abigail explained her involvement in the renovations in a 1798 letter to her sister, saying, "I know the President will be glad when it is done ... he has too many publick [sic] cares to think of his own affairs."

Abigail's acquisitions reflect her husband's position as a man involved in world affairs; she furnished the house with Louis XIV furniture from France and porcelain from China and England, as well as a variety of other furnishings from around the world. Later generations of Adamses added their own personal touches--for example, the second floor study displays John Quincy Adams' terrestrial and celestial globes on either side of a marble fireplace added to the room by Charles Francis Adams around 1880.

The site also includes a library built by Charles Francis Adams to house his family's papers, an extensive garden, and several outbuildings. For more information, write to Adams NHS, P.O. Box 531, Quincy, MA 02269-0531.

Herbert Hoover

Not all future presidents were raised in the luxury offered by the Adams' estate. Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 in a 14- by 20-foot house in West Branch, Iowa, the son of Jesse and Hulda Hoover. "Bertie," as Hoover was called by his Quaker parents, lived here until he was orphaned at age 10. Today, the house at the corner of Penn and Downey streets is the heart of Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.

West Branch, like many small Midwestern towns during the 1870s, depended on agriculture for its survival. Even those who did not farm, like Hoover's father, were tied into the farm economy. Jesse Hoover owned a blacksmith shop not far from the Hoover home. As the town prospered, Jesse Hoover sold his shop and opened a farm machinery business. Some time later, the Hoover family moved into a larger house on Downey Street. The family's prosperity did not last long, however, as Jesse Hoover died in 1881. After Herbert's mother died in 1884, he went to live with an uncle near West Branch and moved to Oregon a year later to stay with another uncle.

One of the difficulties in interpreting a historic birthplace is demonstrating how the site can influence the development of a president's character. The small town values of individualism and self-reliance Hoover learned in West Branch stayed with him throughout his life, as did the Quaker tenets of humanity and generosity. His term as president was just one facet of a life dedicated to public service. As director general of relief and rehabilitation after World War I, Hoover oversaw relief efforts that fed millions of people in more than 33 nations.

In 1939, the Hoover cottage was restored to its 1874 appearance, using some of Jesse and Hulda Hoover's personal belongings. The site also preserves a blacksmith shop similar to Jesse Hoover's, the 1857 Friends Meeting-house, which the Hoovers attended, and an 1853 schoolhouse built by the Quakers. With some minor changes, the site retains the appearance of Hoover's neighborhood in 1874. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum also is in West Branch, along with Hoover's gravesite. For more information, write to Herbert Hoover NHS, P.O. Box 607, West Branch, IA 52358.

Harry S Truman

When a young Harry Truman arrived in Independence, Missouri, with his parents in 1890, Elizabeth Wallace's grandparents had lived at 219 Delaware Street for 23 years. Later, while courting Bess Wallace, Truman wrote, "It seems like a hollow week if I don't arrive at 219 Delaware at least one day in it." Harry S Truman would arrive at the Wallace House many times during the next 60 years. Harry and Bess Truman lived there after marrying, used it as the "Summer White House" while serving as president and first lady, and returned to it after retiring from Washington in 1953.

The house is the focal point of the historic site. Heirlooms from Bess Truman's families, the Wallaces and the Gates, and furniture bought during the Trumans' service in Washington fill the house. The Trumans renovated the house after retiring to Independence, modernizing the kitchen and other rooms. Harry Truman chose the wallpaper in the kitchen and added shelves to the den to hold his extensive library. Little has changed at 219 Delaware since Bess Truman bequeathed the house and its contents to the federal government in 1982.

While in Independence, visitors also can see the Harry S Truman Library, tour the Harry S Truman National Historic Landmark District, and see a variety of sites significant in Truman's personal and political life. Free tickets are required for tours of 219 Delaware and are available from the Ticket/Information Center at the corner of Truman Road and Main Street. For more information, write to Harry S Truman NHS, 223 North Main Street, Independence, MO 64050-2804.

Martin Van Buren

Lindenwald, Martin Van Buren's retirement home, is in the Hudson River Valley south of Kinderhook, New York, an area settled by the Dutch. Van Buren's family had lived in the area for more than 150 years, so Lindenwald made a suitable residence for the former president. The house was built in 1797 on what used to be Van Buren family land. This may have fueled

Van Buren's desire to acquire it. Van Buren, by many accounts a man fastidious in appearance and accustomed to stylish surroundings, bought the house in 1839 with an eye towards renovating the Georgian-style mansion with additions more suited to the tastes of the time. Van Buren turned his land into the farm of a country gentleman, complete with 220 acres of cropland, fish ponds, formal gardens, and several outbuildings. In 1849, under the supervision of Van Buren's son, Smith, the noted architect Richard Upjohn transformed the house into a replica of the popular "Venetian villa" style, adding several modem architectural elements including an Italianate tower. Van Buren died in 1862, and two years later Van Buren's son, John, sold Lindenwald to pay personal debts after he and his brothers inherited the property.

The house and grounds acquired by the National Park Service in 1976 cover 22 acres. The house displays a variety of period furnishings, as most of the Van Buren family's belongings were sold by the subsequent owners of Lindenwald. Elaborate colored wallpaper depicts a Paysage a Chasses (Landscape of the Hunt). Imported from France, the wallpaper remains from Martin Van Buren's renovations. For more information, write to Martin Van Buren NHS, P.O. Box 545, Kinderhook, NY 12106.

Presidential Sites Conference in Washington

This spring, the National Parks and Conservation Association will co-sponsor, with NPS and the National Archives' Office of Presidential Libraries, the first major symposium devoted to interpreting presidential sites. "Interpreting and Preserving the Presidential Sites" will be held in Washington, D.C., March 8-12.

In part, the symposium will attempt to stimulate NPS program managers at presidential properties to use their sites as classrooms, to better interpret history, and to raise Americans' understanding of the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights.

The National Constitution Center supports programs that focus on the relationship of the Constitution to contemporary issues as seen through the prism of history. The center, headquartered in Philadelphia since its creation in 1986, has pledged its support of NPCA's conference. The congressionally chartered institution is the permanent legacy of the Constitutional Bicentennial.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; National Park Service manages historic sites of United States presidents John Quincy Adams, Herbert Hoover, Harry S Truman, Martin Van Buren and others
Author:Swift, J. Charles
Publication:National Parks
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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