Find Your National Historic Site

In the United States, there are 58 national parks, over 100 national historic sites and historic parks, over 2,000 national historic landmark sites, and roughly 80,000 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps you have taken some time to #findyourpark as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday, but there’s a good chance you’ve accidentally found your national historic site. In Boston alone there are 58 national historic landmarks. If you’ve ever gone to the Boston Public Library or heard a performance at Symphony Hall, you’ve already visited one! The landscape and atmosphere of historic sites plays a pivotal role preserving and interpreting the history and “spirit” of the site, as well as impacting visitor experience. As a Designing the Parks intern with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation,  my primary focus is collaborating with key team members at four national historic sites (Frederick Law Olmsted, Hampton, John Muir, and Longfellow House/Washington’s Headquarters) on a grant project assessing living collections management software.

Living collections management is dynamic, and record keeping helps preserve historic data while also planning for the future, such as developing a long-term care plan for a historically significant tree, or identifying funding priorities.Management software can provide field assistance, clerical assistance, and create new, interactive means of engaging the public. This week we spoke with many of the key stakeholders at our field sites to begin assessing their needs and concerns – each site is very unique! Topics ranged from the ability to track phenological changes to phone-friendly methods of seasonal plant identification for visitors to methods of tracking weeds and invasive species.

As an example of what one aspect of living collections management can entail, this week we visited the Longfellow House/Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge, MA. We met with head gardener Mona McKindley to get a tour of the grounds and garden where she told us about key species with historic influence, shared her plans for maintaining the formal garden space, and introduced us to a community volunteer gardener. She also provided helpful insight during the grant phone call – thanks, Mona! Back in the office, I’ve been learning a couple of mapping tools that can create dynamic and spatially accurate displays of properties, which has been applied to the Longfellow/Washington site. More than just a great reference, dynamic maps can be customized and edited to reflect the needs of individual sites. Below are photos of the real property and the map recreation. See if you can match up some distinct features:

As I continue with the Olmsted Center, I look forward to working and learning with the wonderful team here (thanks for the patient AutoCAD help, Tim!) and speaking further with our project team and exploring the different tools and technologies available to benefit the parks and the people who work in and visit them!




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