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Holly Schaller

The Evolution of the American Preservation Movement

       The American Preservation Movement and the establishment of National Parks developed under unique conditions that embodied American values. Historic preservation was the reluctant result of a search for a national identity and a reaction to change. National Parks were created to protect business interests with the secondary task of conservation and protection of land and wildlife. At the core of both movements was a discourse in economics and real estate and the American identity.

            American settlers and colonists embodied the very notion of “taming” and changing the environment not only to support ones immediate family, but also to create surplus commodities to participate in a much larger economy. The utilization of terra firma for this purpose created permanent changes on the landscape from when the Native Americans utilized the land for subsistence living.  It was none other than the Great American, Thomas Jefferson, who recommended that all laws be thrown out and replaced by new ones every twenty years and articulated the concept of continual change. Needless to say, these attitudes embodied the approach and attitude towards the impermanency of the built environment. However, when social and technological change became too rapid in the nineteenth century, there was a reconsideration of the American attitude towards change. Traits of a maturing culture, one sowing seeds of pride, became embodied within  the preservation movement while still in its infancy.

            Like the colonists, settlers to the west of the Mississippi were seeking their economic fortunes through the land and its resources. However, post Civil War America saw the rise of rapid industrialization, which put large companies—in the form of corporations—in direct competition with the individual. The railroads had immense power in the late nineteenth century. They secured lands in the form of grants and ultimately controlled a good deal of access and business in the Western States. In an attempt to create a monopoly and secure their economic interests, the railroads supported the establishment of National Parks, for the purpose of conservation and to promote the fledgling tourist industry, with full government support.

         The establishment of two different paths of two separate movements that basically reflected one set of values in one nation leads to an elasticity in the governance, support, evolution and ultimately the form of historic preservation and land conservation. This flexibility created a historical roadmap of ideals and interests coming together,  as seen in both movements, but also created divergent pathways to suit their interests.



           Holly Schaller received a BA in history in 1984 from Ripon College, Wisconsin. After graduation she traveled extensively throughout China, United States, and Europe, and worked in a variety of manufacturing environments that afforded her the opportunity to study manufacturing theory and processes.


Thesis Advisor: Vince Michael,Associate Professor, Chair, Historic Preservation






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