by Barbara Wyatt, ASLA
It may not have been deliberate, but the National Trust’s 2021 list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Properties includes five cultural landscapes. The National Trust has become an excellent champion of properties reflecting the nation’s diversity, and efforts to stretch the nation’s historic preservation consciousness to encompass landscapes is reaping results. None of the five are designed landscapes, but each reflects an important moment in American history, and each is a distinct landscape type. Several reflect a diversity that was absent in the early years of the preservation movement. Kudos to the National Trust for encompassing sites that reflect many of America’s people and the landscapes they occupied.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation began identifying threatened sites more than 30 years ago by publishing the annual 11 Most Endangered list. Competition can be keen to garner a place on the list because the publicity and advocacy has saved properties. Typically, properties on the list are threatened by destruction or neglect. It is not unusual for landscapes to appear on the list, including designed landscapes, but five on one list seems like a win.
A summary of the significance and threats to the properties on the 2021 list that encompass significant landscapes follows, drawn from information on the National Trust website. And, the National Trust is accepting Letters of Intent for the 2022 list through November 12, 2021—you’ll find more on the nomination process below.
Landscapes of Social and Political History
Selma to Montgomery March Camp Sites, Selma, Alabama
The important civil rights trail in Alabama is acknowledged as the “Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.” This significant corridor—also a cultural landscape—is bordered by resources of exceptional importance that are threatened by decline, including the David Hall Farm and Robert Gardner Farm. In March 1965, when thousands of Civil Rights demonstrators marched from Selma to Montgomery to campaign for full voting rights, three African American farm owners along the 54-mile route courageously offered their properties as overnight camp sites for the marchers. Among the demonstrators were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Congressman John Lewis.
These families are among those who Dr. King called the “ordinary people with extraordinary vision” as they risked their lives in support of the Civil Rights movement. The two farms are still owned by the same families, but the buildings need stabilization and repair. According to the National Trust, the properties require “interpretation to expand the narrative of this significant landscape in Civil Rights history and share the stories of these families, whose tremendous bravery helped to change American history.”
Archaeological and Industrial Landscape
Summit Tunnels 6 & 7 and Summit Camp Site, Truckee, California
High in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the most difficult stretch of the transcontinental railroad tracks was laid, with several tunnels and retaining walls built to accommodate the extreme terrain. More than 90% of the Central Pacific Railroad workers were Chinese. From 1865 to 1867 a changing cast of individuals lived in the largest work camp known. The tunnels and the spectacular China Wall are owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The mammoth camp site—and several others—is located in the Tahoe National Forest. The dangers of steep terrain and brutal winters contributed to a high fatality rate among workers, as they cut and leveled railroad beds, quarried stone, and built the long and deep tunnels. Tunnel #6 is 1,659 feet long and sits more than 100 feet into the slope—an amazing accomplishment!
These resources, near ski and hiking attractions, are threatened by vandalism and damage inflicted by curious passers-by. Extensive graffiti is evident on the stone surfaces, and physical damage to archaeological resources at the spectacularly beautiful site is a major threat. Although the Tahoe National Forest protects the archaeological remains of Summit Camp, which is being nominated as a National Historic Landmark, visitors may not understand the significance of the resources. The National Trust believes that “highlighting how Chinese laborers accelerated the development of the American West, and better interpreting and protecting these sites, would honor this important and often overlooked part of our country’s history.”
Landscapes of Mourning: Historic Cemetery
Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Order of Moses Cemetery and Hall, Cabin John, Maryland
Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Order of Moses Cemetery and Hall were established in about 1885 near a post-Emancipation Black settlement known as Gibson Grove. Residents, some formerly enslaved, established a local benevolent society to care for the sick and destitute, bury the deceased, and provide overall support to the local Black community.
In an act of racial injustice, highway construction in the 1960s ran through the Gibson Grove community and took a portion of the cemetery site. Today, foundations are all that remain of Moses Hall. The planned expansion of the Washington, D.C. Beltway threatens the cemetery, where known burials span from 1894 to 1977. Sadly, Black cemeteries around the country became casualties of highway construction in the post-war years. Today, with federal and state laws ostensibly protecting such sites, the Moses Cemetery should not be a casualty of highway expansion. In fact, since the 2021 Most Endangered list was published, the tide may have turned, and advocates are hopeful that new proposals for the Capital Beltway construction will avoid the cemetery and hall site.
Maritime Cultural Landscape
Boston Harbor Islands, Boston, Massachusetts
The Boston Harbor Islands, now part of a national and state park, are home to a wealth of historic resources dating back 12,000 years and continuing through the colonial period and later. The islands encompass many historic resources, including the most intact Native American archaeological landscape remaining in Boston, historic Fort Standish, the Boston Light, and more. Today, the islands remain significant and sacred to Tribal members in the Boston region.
Storm surges are becoming more frequent and more intense due to climate change and resulting sea level rise. This is causing accelerated coastal erosion and, consequentially, an escalated loss of archaeological sites and other historic resources. Protecting these sites before their stories are lost requires greater public attention, funding for mitigation efforts and archeological studies, and strategies to document and protect historic and natural resources from climate-related storm surges.
Historic Agricultural Landscape and Black Social History
Threatt Filling Station and Family Farm, Luther, Oklahoma
The entrepreneurial Threatt family first sold produce from their 150-acre family farm outside Luther, Oklahoma, in the early 1900s. Over time, the family expanded their business to include a filling station (built in 1915), ballfield, outdoor stage, and bar. The filling station was the only known Black-owned and operated gas station along the now historic Route 66 during the Jim Crow era. The Threatt farm became a safe haven for Black travelers and reportedly provided refuge to Black Oklahomans displaced by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
The Threatt family still proudly owns the property and envisions revitalizing the farm and buildings in time for the 2026 Centennial of Route 66. They hope that the second century of the “mother road” is launched with a more representative narrative of its history. This will not happen without partners and financial support to help restore the filling station and bar and tell the stories of Black entrepreneurship and travel, including the racial strife encountered at many turns.
These sites and the six other 11 Most Endangered Historic Properties reflect gratifying diversity. For landscape architects, the cultural landscapes that identify several of the properties is a welcome emphasis. Consider visiting the National Trust website to show your support for preservation of the 11 Most Endangered.
Thanks, National Trust! ASLA salutes your attention to the nation’s threatened cultural landscapes.
The National Trust is also accepting Letters of Intent for the 2022 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Anyone wishing to nominate an endangered historic place must submit a Letter of Intent on or before Thursday, November 12, 2021. Visit savingplaces.org/11most for details about the Letter of Intent process, including the format for sharing the historic place’s history, how it is threatened, and how the historic place might be saved. Jennifer Sandy, Field Director, Preservation Services & Outreach at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, welcomes nominations for threatened landscapes. She mentioned in an email: “We would absolutely love to have more landscapes nominated for the list.” After review by National Trust staff, a select number of nominators will be invited to submit full nominations in early December. The final list will be published in June 2022.
Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, is an historian and landscape specialist for the National Register of Historic Places and the National Historic Landmarks Program at the National Park Service. She serves as an officer for ASLA’s Historic Preservation Professional Practice Network (PPN) and on the PPN’s Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) Subcommittee. Barbara is affiliated with the ASLA Wisconsin Chapter.