Tag Archives: Pullman

April 2017 New Stamps from Puerto Rico to the Arctic Circle and Places In-Between

San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico has one brand-new stamp this month and one replacement stamp.

Here are the new stamps for the month of April:

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument | Birmingham, AL

Freedom Riders National Monument | Anniston, AL

Reconstruction Era National Monument | Beaufort, SC

Harriet Tubman National Historical Park | Auburn, NY

Antietam National Battlefield | Pry House Field Hospital Museum

Noatak National Preserve | Bettles, AK

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park | Outdoor Recreation Information Center

Gulf Islands National Seashore |

      • Advanced Redoubt
      • Okaloosa Area

San Juan National Historic Site |

      • Castillo San Felipe del Morro
      • San Antonio Guardhouse, El Morro

Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area |

      • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
      • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
      • Lincoln Depot
      • Lincoln Law Office
      • Lincoln Tomb
      • Old State Capitol
      • Springfield, IL
      • Carthage, IL
      • Clinton, IL
      • Homer, IL
      • Mahomet, IL
      • Quincy, IL
      • Vandalia, IL
The Pry House at Antietam National Battlefield has an updated cancellation this month. Photo credit: National Park Service

Most notable this month are stamps for four new additions to the National Park System, which recently brought the total number of Nationa Park Units up to a total of 417.  Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Freedom Riders National Monument, and Reconstruction Era National Monument were all added in January by way of declarations made by President Obama under the Antiquities Act.  Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Upstate New York (not to be confused with Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in southern Maryland)  was added following land acquisition that was authorized the 2015 Defense Authorization Act.  I recently wrote about the important history behind the first two civil rights-related national monuments.  Reconstruction Era National Monument preserves four properties associated the building of post-slavery lives for African-Americans in the South.  Union forces captured the area around Beaufort, South Carolina in 1861, in the early days of the Civil War, so in many respects, this part of South Carolina is where the Reconstruction Era began.  Some of the places in the new national monument include areas where reconstruction was being implemented, even as the Civil War raged around them.  This includes sites associated with old Camp Sherman, where a regiment of African-American troops for the Union Army was recruited.

The Pry House served as General McClellan’s headquarters at Antietam National Battlefield.  Although it is within the Park boundaries, it is operated in partnership with the National Park Service as an outpost of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and has several exhibits on how medical needs were handled during the battle.  This site previously had an official stamp from 2006 to 2011 – the new stamp replaces an unofficial stamp that the site had been using for the last five years.

The Ranger Station in Bettles, Alaska is one of the most-remote corners of the National Park System. Photo credit: Bruce Johnson, 2007

There are two new additions in the Pacific Northwest this month.  The remote village of Bettles in northern Alaska is most-famously a gateway community for Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve.  A second stamp is added this month at the joint National Park Service – US Fish and Wildlife Service Ranger Station in the village for adventurers taking a longer flight to the remote rivers located in Noatak National Preserve.   In testament to the size of Alaska, Bettles is itself some 600 miles (a 14.5 hour drive according to Google Maps) from Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.   Even so, it is approximately another 150 miles as the bush plane flies to get to Noatak National Preserve from Bettles, a remote national park with no on-site visitor facilities whatsoever.

In Seattle, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park has added a stamp for the inter-agency information station at the REI Flagship Store in Seattle, which provides information about parks and other public lands throughout western Washington.

Gulf Islands National Seashore has added two stamps for the Florida section of the park.  The Okaloosa Area is the easternmost section of the National Seashore, located just east of the town of Fort Walton Beach, and preserves the beaches on the barrier island.  The Advanced Redoubt is located in the Fort Barrancas Unit of the Park, on the grounds of the Pensacola Naval Air Station.  The Advanced Redoubt and Fort Barrancas were both built in the mid-19th Century to protect the Pensacola Navy Yard.

The San Antonio Guardhouse, located in the foreground (with El Morro in the background) is a new cancellation location this month for San Juan National Historic Site.  Photo from 2011

San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico is comprised of two old Spanish fortifications, the Castillo San Marcos and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro.  The latter received a new stamp this month, replacing an older stamp that referred to the location by its nickname, “El Morro.”   There is also a brand new stamp this month for the San Antonio Guardhouse, which is located just outside the fortifications of El Morro. This gives the site three total Passport locations.

Finally, the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area has added to the 15 stamps it introduced in January of this year.  The additions this month include 7 additional Lincoln sites in and around Springfield, Illinois, which join the long-standing cancellation for this Heritage Area at Lincoln Home National Historic Site, which is also in Springfield.

The other additions this month appear to primarily have local connections or secondary interest to the life of Abraham Lincoln.  The two most notable are the additions for Mahomet, Illinois and Vandalia, Illinois. The Museum of the Grand Prairie is operated by Champaign County in Mahomet. Lincoln visited the area in and around Mahomet during his time as a lawyer on the 8th Judicial Circuit and the museum includes exhibits on this stage of Lincoln’s life.  The Vandalia Statehouse State Historic Site preserves the old state capitol in Vandalia, Illinois where Lincoln worked as a state legislator from his election in 1834 up until the capitol being moved in 1839.  The stamps for Carthage, IllinoisClinton, Illinois; and Quincy, Illinois  are each at local historical society museums.    The stamp for Homer, Illinois is at the local nature center.

Together with the existing stamps for this heritage area, there are now 29 stamps for the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area located across central Illinois.  Prior to 2015 there were just 17 on-location* stamps in the entire state of Illinois, including a single stamp for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, one for the Chicago Portage National Historic Site Affiliated Area, two for the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail,  10 for the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, and 3 for the Lincoln Home National Historic Site (including one for the Heritage Area and one for the Underground Railroad Freedom Network, both located at the main visitor center on the site).  2015 brought the addition for three more stamps for the brand-new Pullman National Monument in Chicago.  Now the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area has single-handedly more the doubled the statewide cancellation total for the state of Illinois, with now at least 50 stamps being available in that state. That will be enough to keep Passport enthusiasts from the Midwest busy for quite a while, and is continued testament to how National Heritage Areas have really fueled the growth of the Passport Program in recent years.

The final shot this month is of Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, on a flight from Bettles to Noatak National Preserve. Photo credit: Bruce Johnson, 2007

* – This count of 17 stamps does not include stamps for the Amtrak Trails and Rails Partnership program, a couple of which pass through the state of Illinois.

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May Stamps – Lots More to Choose From

Eastern National has released its list of new cancellations for the month of May, and the list is quite a doozy!   A total of 25 new stamps are listed, although many of them are replacements for already-existant stamps.  Let’s take a look….

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is marking its 50th Anniversary in 2015.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is marking its 50th Anniversary in 2015.  Photo from 2012.

Anniversary Stamps

  • Sequoia National Park | 125th Anniversary 1890 – 2015
  • Kings Canyon National Park | 75th Anniversary 1940 – 2015
  • Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area | 50th Anniversary 1965-2015

Its starting to look like Parks Passsport enthusiasts may well remember 2015 as being the “Year of the Anniversary Stamps.”   At least one new anniversary stamp has been issued each month in 2015, and the trend shows no sign of letting up.  I’m still not sure that it makes sense to be making Passport Stamps with adjustable dates that are good for seven years with a single year permanently etched in the bottom text of the circle, but they seem to be popular for the moment!

Its interesting to note the Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park share more than just a a new Passport stamp this month.   The two parks share a common superintendent, have a single joint brochure for both of them, and even share the same website (just click the links if you don’t believe me!)   In fact, it sometimes appears that the only think keeping Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park from being listed as a single Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park that counts twice is the force of tradition.   Still, until these stamps were issued, I’m not sure if I had ever realized that these two national parks were created 50 years apart, almost to the day.  Sequoia National Park was established on September 25, 1890 and Kings Canyon National Park was established fifty years and six days later on October 1,  1940.   If you are in to anniversary celebrations, it sounds like a trip to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks the last week of September could be a lot of fun!

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area wouldn’t come along until 1965, and so celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Delaware Water Gap NRA preserves a particularly beautiful section of the Delaware River as it flows past the Pocono Mountains on the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.   The “water gap” refers to the southern end of this park where the river literally cuts through one of the mountains, creating a “gap” in the mountain.  Today, this park is within an easy day’s drive of both the Philadelphia and New York metropolitan areas, making it a great place for residents of those urban areas to get out into the parks.

 

landscape-dig
Of the four new national parks established in December 2014, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument outside of Las Vegas, NV is the second to get its own Passport stamp.  Photo credit: National Park Service

 Stamps for New National Parks

  • Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument | Nevada
  • Pullman National Monument
    • Historic Pullman Foundation
    • Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
    • National Pullman Porter Museum
  • First State National Historical Park
    • Beaver Valley – Woodlawn Tract
    • Fort Christina – Wilmington
    • Old Swede’s Church – Wilmington
    • The Green – Dover
    • John Dickinson Plantation
    • Ryves Holt House – Lewes

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument was one of four new parks established by Congress in December 2014.   Located outside of Las Vegas, NV it preserves the desert landscape as well as fossils of mammoths and other creatures from the last ice age.   Right now it doesn’t have any visitor facilities, so its passport stamp is being kept at the Alan Bible Visitor Center for Lake Mead National Recreation Area in nearby Boulder City, Nevada, just to the south of Las Vegas.

Pullman National Monument is an even newer national park than Tule Springs Fossil Beds, having been established by Presidential proclamation in February 2015.  I’ve written about Pullman twice already, here and here.  Similar to the way in which Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument / National Historical Park in Maryland was established by relying upon other preservation parterns in the area, it appears that Pullman National Monument is following a similar model  Pullman NM actually already had its first Passport stamp, reading Chicago, IL on the bottom available at its dedication ceremony, in which President Obama signed his proclamation establishing the new national park right on site.  That cancellation is available at the Historic Pullman Foundation’s Visitor Center, which will surely now also have the stamp recognizing the role the Foundation is continuing to play in preserving and interpreting this site.  The Foundation is curently offering tours of the site on the first Sunday of the month, and will continue to own and manage some of the historic buildings on the site, including the Market Hall.   Likewise, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency will also continue to own and manage some of the historic properties at this site, including the architecturally-significant (and beautiful) Hotel Florence.  Finally, until the National Park Service is able to open its own visitor center at the site, one of the best ways to learn about the history of the Pullman company town,  which is now a national monument, will be a visit to the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, which is also located on-site.

First State National Monument was originally proclaimed by President Obama in March 2013 with three sub-units, Dover Green in the State Capitol, the old New Castle Courthouse in New Castle, and the Brandywine Preserve in Wilmington.  In December 2014, Congress renamed this parkFirst State National Historical Park, and also authorized expanding its boundaries to include a few additional sites.  In February 2015, new stamps were issued for the original three sites with the new name, First State National Historical Park, as well as for two of the new sites.  This month, it appears that new stamps have been issued with new bottom text for four of those first five sites (only the New Castle Courthouse site is not listed), as well as for two new sites, both in Wilmington.   One is for the Old Swedes Church, which claims to be the oldest continuously-used house of worship as originally built in the United States, with a history stretching back to 1698.  The other is for nearby Fort Christina, the site of the colony of New Sweden way back in 1638.  The story of Swedish settlement in the United States is not one that is often told, so these should be very interesting additions to the National Park System.

 

The author and his junior T. Rex at the Blue Heron historical coal mining community in Big South Fork NRRA wearing a T-Shirt from St. Croix NSR.  Both Parks have new stamps this month.  Photo from 2013.
The author and his junior T. Rex at the Blue Heron historical coal mining community in Big South Fork NRRA wearing a T-Shirt from St. Croix NSR. Both Parks have new stamps this month. Photo from 2013.

Stamps for Existing National Parks

  • Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area | Helenwood, TN
  • Gateway National Recreation Area | Ryan VC – Floyd Bennett Field
  • Yellowstone National Park | Wyoming
  • St. Croix National Scenic River
    • St. Croix River
    • St. Croix Visitor Center
    • Namekagon Visitor Center

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in northeastern Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky has recently been adding Passport cancellations for visitor facilities in its gateway communities.  In addition to the long-standing three stamps for the Park’s three visitor contact stations at Oneida, TN; Stearns, KY; and Blue Heron (a historic coal mininng community near Stearns, KY) the Park added stamps for Crossville, TN and Historic Rugby, TN in August 2014.   Helenwood, TN is also a gateway community, and is the latest addition to this program.  You can check out a Parkasuaurs Trip Report from this Park here.

Gateway National Recreation Area includes a number sites in the immediate vicinity of New York City in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and northern New Jersey.     Floyd Bennett Field was New York City’s first municipal airport, and now provides urban recreational opportunities, including campaing.  The Ryan Visitor Center is the National Park Service’s main visitor facility there, and this stamp replaces a previously-existant stamp.

Its not clear what to make of a new stamp for Yellowstone National Park that simply says “Wyoming” on the bottom.  Yellowstone currently offers 13 different Passport cancellations throughout the Park, and it appears that this would be the 14th.

The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway includes the St. Croix River and its main tributary, the Namekagon River.  Its hard to tell what to make of the stamp that simply reads “St. Croix River,” but the “St. Croix Visitor Center” will likely replace the existing stamp at the visitor center in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border; and the the “Namekagon Visitor Center” stamp will likely replace the existing stamp at the visitor center in  Trego, Wisconsin in the northern part of the state.  This park also includes older stamps for the “Marshland District” and for “Minnesota-Wisconsin” that are kept under the counter at the Namekagon Visitor Center.  There is also one other stamp at Prescott, WI at the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center in Prescott, Wisconsin where the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway meets the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area.

 

Canyons of the Anicents National Monument includes many pueblo ruins, as well as a portion of the Old Spanish Trail National Historic Trail
Canyons of the Anicents National Monument includes many pueblo ruins, including Lowry Pueblo pictured above, as well as a portion of the Old Spanish Trail National Historic Trail. Photo from 2010.

Stamps for Park Partners

  • Old Spanish National Historic Trail | Canyons of the Ancients NM
  • The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor
    • Old Sturbridge Village
    • Prudence Crandall Museum
    • Lebanon Historical Society Museum
    • Roseland Cottage
    • Norwich Heritage & Regional Visitor Center

The Old Spanish National Historic Trail marks the old trading route between Spanish Santa Fe, New Mexico and Spanish Los Angeles, California.   There are currently 50 different Passport stamps along the various routes of the trail.   Canyons of the Ancients National Monument was proclaimed by President Clinton in January 2000, but it is not a national park because he assigned it to the Bureau of Land Management for management, rather than to the National Park Service.  Canyons of the Anicents is located in southwestern Colorado and is basically contiguous with the much smaller (and much-earlier designated) Hovenweep National Monument operated by the Naitonal Park Service.  It preserves numerous historic pueblo ruins in a largely natural and unexcavated state.  This stamp for the Old Spanish NHT will be housed at the excellent Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colorado, which is the BLM’s main visitor center for the National Monument.

In addition to establishing four new parks in December 2014, the Defense Authorization Act for 2015 also made a number of administative changes.  Among these changes was rebranding the clumsily-named Quinebaug-Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor to the much-catchier sounding Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor.  The Last Green Valley NHC includes numerous sites in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.  The first three sites listed above all previously had stamps under the old name, whereas the last two are new additions to the Passport Program.  The Old Sturbridge Village is a 19th Century living history villate in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.  The Prudence Crandall Museum  in Canterbury, Connecticut preserves the home of the woman of the same name, who was named Connecticut’s “state heroine” (ever wonder how many states have a state heroine?) for her role in providing education to African-Americans.  The Lebanon Historical Society Museum preserves the history of the Connecticut town of the same name, and back in 1998, it was featured in the New York Times.  Roseland Cottage Gardens and Carriage House is a historic property in Woodstock, Connecticut.  Finally, the Norwich Heritage & Regional Visitor Center is located in the Connecticut town of the same name.

With these new additions, Parkasaurus now counts 1,900 active Passport cancellations currently available, or 1,818 stamps excluding anniversary stamps and other special event or special program stamps.

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Two New National Parks, Two New Stamps

Pullman_Chicago_Clock_Tower
The old Administration Building is the centerpiece of the new Pullman National Monument, and will eventually become the new national park’s visitor center.

 

There’s been some big news in the National Park System in recent weeks with President Obama using the Antiquities Act to add two new national parks to the U.S. National Park System, taking us to 407 total U.S. national parks.    There’s also the usual monthly release of new cancellations for the Parks Passport program, which had two additions this March, one of them for the brand new Park.

The first of the two new national parks is Pullman National Monument in Chicago, located south and west of Chicago’s downtown.   Parkasaurus wrote a short post on the proposal for this national park back in August.   The new National Monument will include the historic administration building and clock tower, which will actually be the only part of the monument owned by the Federal Government.  The administration building was badly damaged by a fire in 1999, and the higher profile of being a national park site should definitely assist fundraising efforts to repair and restore the building.

The rest of the Monument will retain its current ownership.  The architecturally beautiful Hotel Florence and the old factory will remain owned by the State of Illinois as part of Pullman State Historic Site.  The old greenstone church and the numerous worker houses from Pullman’s days as an old-style company town will remained owned by the residents.  Full details are available in the monument’s official proclamation.

This National Monument has clearly been in the works for a long time.   President Obama actually flew in to Chicago to make the announcement on-site, and as part of the ceremonies the National Park Service staff from nearby Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore already had a Junior Ranger program available, as well as a Passport cancellation: Pullman National Monument | Chicago, IL.  The cancellation is available at the Historic Pullman Foundation’s Visitor Center, which is serving as the Park Visitor Center until the Administration Building is complete.

 

The Memorial at Manzanar National Historic Site in California.  Honouliuli National Monument will join Manzanar as one of 5 national parks telling the story of Japanese-American internment during World War II.  Photo from 2009.
The Memorial at the cemetery site in Manzanar National Historic Site in California. Honouliuli National Monument will join Manzanar as one of 5 national parks telling the story of Japanese-American internment during World War II. Photo from 2009.

The second new national park, which was also established under the Antiquities Act on the same day is Honouliuli National Monument, located just outside of urban Honolulu in Hawaii.   At first glance, Honouliuli appears to be the fifth national park telling the story of Japanese internment during World War II.   The first of these is Manzanar National Historic Site in California, which was established as a national park in 1992.  Manzanar was established after a detailed special resource study by the National Park Service on Japanese internment and was selected because it was the first internment camp to be established, the California desert had left Manzanar relatively well-preserved, and its proximity to the main highway between southern California and many of California’s ski resorts insured that it would be relatively accessible to visitation.  The other three are:

The story of Honouliuli will be somewhat different than these other four, however, in two important ways.  First, because of the very large numbers of people of Japanese ancestry in the Territory of Hawaii immediatelly following the attack on Pearl Harbor, internment was carried out much more selectively in Hawaii than the mass-internment which occurred on the American mainland.   In total, only about 2,000 residents of the Territory of Hawaii were interned in World War II, and of those, only about 320 were interned at Honouliuli.   By contrast, Manzanar had more than 10,000 internees at its peak, and Tule Lake had more than 18,000 internees at its peak.  Secondly, Honouliuli actually held more than 4,000 prisoners of war.   In that sense, Honouliuli might also develop closer ties with Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia, the site of the infamous prisoner of war camp operated by the Confederacy.

As of the date of proclamation, however, Honouliuli has become largely overgrown.   Indeed, the site was actually donated to the Federal Government by Monsanto, which had subsequently acquired the site and surrounding lands.   Right now there is no public access to the site.  It will be at least a few months before the site is open to limited visitation, and likely several years before it is fully opened to regular visits.  So no Passport Cancellation, just yet for this site.

The second new Passport Cancellation for March instead goes to the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail with a stamp for its 50th Anniversary 1965-2015.   The historic voting rights march to the State Capitol in Montgomery of course came just days after the Nation was then-marking the 100th Anniversary of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, and his call to “achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

The addition of Pullman National Monument and Honouliuli National Monument means that there are now 407 national parks in the U.S. National Park System, with another three national parks that were authorized by the Defense Authorization Act for 2015 expected to be established by the end of the year.   Meanwhile, we have recalibrated our calculations of what constitutes a unique Passport cancellation, so the addition of these two new cancellations takes us to a total of  1,889 unique stamps in the Passport Program, with 79 of those being stamps for anniversaries or special events and programs associated with the Parks.

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Riding the Rails at Steamtown National Historic Site

Steamtown NHS

I recently had the occasion to make a return visit to Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania.   It wasn’t a tough choice to add Steamtown as a side-trip on a recent family road-trip – as the proud parent of a three-year-old boy who absolutely loves trains (and an almost-one-year-old girl as well); Steamtown NHS was sure to be a hit.

There is a little irony to that, of course, as Steamtown NHS isn’t always looked upon fondly by fans of the U.S. National Parks.   In my recent post on the Pullman District, I alluded to the fact that sometimes the normal study process for a new national park is cut short in the rush to create a designation.  Steamtown NHS is a particular case where that process was almost completely side-stepped.  In the mid-1980’s, with the Steamtown tourist attraction in Scranton suffering from financial trouble, the local Congressional delegation pushed through a national park designation for the site to have the National Park Service take over the site and hopefully raise it to prominence.

On the other hand, it strikes me that there is no question that the story of steam railroading in the United States is a story that is well worth telling as part of the National Park System.  After all, there are at least a half-dozen national park sites devoted to telling the story of coastal fortifications and defenses in the U.S. (that’s a story for a future blog post) – so surely one would imagine that the economic engine of steam railroading would be a worthwhile story for inclusion in the National Park System.  The flip side to that, of course, is whether there is any one place that is more suitable for telling that story than any other – and in particular, whether Steamtown, in Scranton, is that place.

The primary claim to fame of Steamtown NHS is that it has preserved an old-fashioned railroad roundhouse, including the railroad turntable in the center.  According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 30 roundhouses left in the United States – which makes the turntable and roundhouse at Steamtown rare enough, if not exactly unique.  It possible that the ones here at Steamtown are in better condition than the others, or are otherwise somehow more significant than the others – but if so, that isn’t yet clear to me.

During the age of steam railroading, roundhouses were exactly as the name implies – round.   The buildings would almost completely surround the central turntable, and the turntable would allow the rail cars to be distributed into any of the bays in the roundhouse.    Today, Steamtown NHS preserves only a small portion of the original full-circle roundhouse, along with a slight larger section of the roundhouse, which has been rebuilt.  Together, the original and reconstructed roundhouses now contain the Park’s collection of historic locomotives.   This collection was largely inherited from the original owners, although the National Park Service has made various trades, sales, and purchases over the years to increase the historical quality of the collection.

This photo from 2006 shows the turntable and the historic section of the roundhouse at Steamtown NHS.   During the author's visit in 2014, the turntable was under repairs.
This photo from 2006 shows the turntable and the roundhouse at Steamtown NHS. During the author’s visit in 2014, the turntable was under repairs.

As steam locomotives were replaced by diesel locomotives in the 20th Century, roundhouses were eventually rendered obsolete.    This was due to the fact that diesel locomotives had much different maintenance requirements than their steam locomotive predecessors.   Intuitively, this makes sense, as a steam locomotive required maintaining a fire within it – and that surely imposed a lot of wear and tear on the equipment in a way in which a modern diesel engine did not.   Thus, as diesel replaced steam, roundhouses were generally replaced with more modern maintenance facilities.

At Steamtown NHS, the turntable is once-again surrounded by a full circle of buildings, as the National Park Service has constructed museum buildings where the rest of the roundhouse once would have stood.   When standing in the area of the central turntable, this at least gives some of the historical feel of what standing inside the original full circle roundhouse might have felt like.

When visiting Steamtown NHS, there is a ticket booth directly between the parking lot and the roundhouse/turntable where you pay your admission.   Head into the visitor center on the left for orientation exhibits on the park.  Heading in a clockwise direction through the complex will take you first to the Technology Museum, which provides a great overview of the evolution of railroad technology over the years.

Continuing in a clockwise direction will take you through both the restored and historic roundhouses, and the park’s collection of historic locomotives.   On our visit, we found this to be the quickest part of the park to go through.   The historic locomotives were nice and all – but, if you aren’t really in to the ins-and-outs of historic trains, we found these exhibits overall less meaningfull than the others in the park.

At the end of the locomotive exhibit you reach the History Museum.  The history here is largely told through the lens of the Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad, which originally constructed and operated the roundhouse where this national park now sits.   It doesn’t appear that the D, L, & W was a railroad that was necessarily particularly more notable than several others that operated in this area – but it does appear to at least be representative.    The History Museum tells the story of turn-of-century railroading through the people who would have used and worked on the railroad, and is an easy set of exhibits to get “lost in” if you enjoy that sort of thing.

The last part of the roundhouse is the theatre – however, since we were making this visit with young children, we ultimately decided to skip the movie.

A view out the window on the train excursion tour.
A view out the window on the Scranton Limited train excursion tour.

 

A trip to a place like Steamtown NHS, of course, would not be complete without a train ride.   The Scranton Limited is the most-frequently-offered excursion, and provides a short 30-minute round-trip through the rail yards, past some of the historic buildings in downtown Scranton, and back.  Despite the name of the park, the Scranton Limited tour is conducted using a historic diesel locomotive.    Still, if you are travelling with little ones, the trip is sure to meet with approval.

A satisfied customer dreaming of a train ride!
A satisfied customer dreaming of a train ride!

 

Throughout the year, other train excursions are offerred, such as to regional festivals, or to the nearby town of Moscow, PA.   Also offered with some regularity is a program offering a chance to operate a railroad hand-cart – which definitely seems like it would be a fun option for a return visit when our kids are older.

For fans of the Passport to Your National Parks program, this national park has a single major cancellation to collect:

    • Scranton, PA

The cancellation is available in three locations in the park, at the ticket booth by the entrance, and the Ranger desk in the visitor center, and at the sales counter in the Park Bookstore.

Overall, the turntable, roundhouse, historic locomotives, and train excursion tours of Steamtown NHS may not quite rise to the level of being “one of the 400 most-important places in the United States.”   On the other hand, you couldn’t tell the story of the United States without including the rise of railroading technology; so it seems to me that if there wasn’t a Steamtown National Historic Site already as a national park, then we would there to be some national park like it.   And of course, if you happen to love trains, or have little ones who love trains, then Steamtown NHS is a can’t miss destination.

I captured the reflection of my three-year-old Jr. Parkasaurus in the window gazing out on one one of the park's historic locomotives.
I captured the reflection of my three-year-old Jr. Parkasaurus in the window gazing out on one one of the park’s historic locomotives.
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A Pullman National Historical Park in Chicago?

One of my favorite topics is following possible new additions to the U.S. National Park System.

This week there has been quite a bit of news surrounding the possibility of a Pullman National Historical Park due to a visit by National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis to a town hall meeting in Chicago on the topic.

The U.S. National Park System includes many historic places, but we don’t often think of our industrial heritage as being among those places.  The Pullman District of Chicago was a company town – founded by George Pullman’s Pullman Palace Car Company.  Pullman Cars are, of course, nearly synonomous with “railroad sleeping cars,” in the way that a hundred years later “Xerox” would become nearly synonomus with “photocopu.”  The town of Pullman was also apparently the first industrial company town – which as near as I can tell is a distinction that excludes coal mining company towns, like Blue Heron in the Big South Fork NRRA.

The Pullman Palace Car Company was founded by George Pullman in 1867, shortly after the end of the civil war.  The business model of the company was to lease its rail cars to the railroads, and to provide the staffing for those cars at the same time – with many of those employees being recently-freed former slaves.   The town of Pullman, which was then separate from Chicago, was founded in 1880 out of a combination of the Pullman Palace Car Company’s need for a new factory, and George Pullman’s belief that the industrialists of the day should use their wealth for the betterment of their workers.

Nowadays, the idea of a “company town” seems like an almost completely foreign concept – well at odds with our modern conception of freedom.   In many ways, Pullman was a remarkable feat of central planning – with the size of your house determined by your rank within the company, and a prohibition on saloons within the town.

Now, industrial heritage isn’t always the first thing that we think of when we think of national parks – but there are a few examples.   Lowell National Historical Park is generally the prototypical example, where the old cotton mills are now a successful national park and tourist destination in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Other examples of industrial heritage-themed national parks include Thomas Edison’s laboratories at Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey, and the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.

Along those lines,  its interesting to note that even Jon Jarvis brings up the fact that adding the Pullman site to the Passport to Your National Parks Program as one of the attractions for designating it as a national park.   There’s no question that designation as a national park immediately adds a site to an awful lot of peoples’ bucket lists.

With that being said, the national significance of the Pullman District seems difficult to question.   The area was the site of a major strike, and so was instrumental in the development of labor unions in this country.  Moreover, the Pullman Company was also the first company to develop a predominantly African-American labor union.  With 90% of the historic buildings still in tact, there seems to be a strong case that the Pullman District would be an ideal place to tell the story of how the Industrial Revolution in this country transitioned into the pre-Great War Gilded Age.

If you want the full details, you can read more about the National Park Service’s initial assessment of the Pullman District as a candidate national park by checking out their Reconnaisance Survey.  As the survey makes clear, however, ideally the Reconnaisance Survey would just be a first step on the way to a complete Special Resource Study of the Pullman District that would fully evaluate the area against the four established criteria for establishing a new national park.   Although several recent national parks have been designated by the President under the Antiquities Act without waiting for the Special Resource Study to be completed (let alone waiting for Congress to take action by designating the park and also establishing a budget for the new park), I generally lean towards wanting to let the established process play out and letting the career professionals in the National Park Service do their job.   By all accounts, the Pullman District isn’t in immediate danger of decay or development, so it seems that there is plenty of time to allow that to happen.

On the other hand, the initial assessment seems to be pretty clearly pointing towards the Pullman District being a worthy addition to the U.S. National Park System.  Indeed, it seems kind of amazing that a storied city like Chicago does not yet have a single national park site of any kind within its boundaries.   Given those considerations, and reading between the lines of Director Jon Jarvis’ comments, it seems that the Pullman District will be taking its place in the U.S. National Park System sooner rather than later – my guess would be almost certainly before another famous Chicagoan moves on to other things in 2017.

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