Museums for the Parks - Countdown: 18 Days

August 07, 2012 Posted by: DL

In 1924, when John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his sons toured Mesa Verde, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks, the National Park Service was only eight years old.  Much had been accomplished - improved roads, better accommodations, a growing group of loyal and educated Park Rangers - but the interpretive program planned by NPS Director Stephen Mather was only just developing.

Naturalist Edwin McKeee shows the canyon to visitors from the parapet of Yavapai Observation Station. Circa 1930. NPS Photo
Naturalist Edwin McKeee shows the canyon to visitors from the parapet
Yavapai Observation Station.  Circa 1930. (NPS Photo)

After Rockefeller and his sons received a personal tour of Mesa Verde National Park by Superintendent Jesse Nusbaum, Rockefeller wanted to support interpretive and educational programs throughout the National Parks.  In addition to funding a museum at Mesa Verde, Rockefeller funded other museums in the new National Park System through the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, a foundation established by John D. Rockefeller, Sr. in memory of his wife.  In 1923 the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial gave the American Association of Museums funding to oversee the building of a new Yosemite museum, designed by Herbert Maier.  In addition, grants from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial also funded the Yavapai Observation Station on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. 

West facing exposure of Yavapai Museum. 17 June 1929. (NPS Photo/George Grant)
West facing exposure of Yavapai Museum.  17 June 1929.
(NPS Photo/George Grant)

In 1928 the Rockefeller Memorial contributed $118,000 for four museums in Yellowstone National Park at Old Faithful, Fishing Bridge, Norris Geyser Basin, and Madison.  These museums became landmarks of the National Park Service 'rustic style' and served as models for other hundreds of buildings under the auspices of the National Park Service.  Equally important, the buildings served as some of the first "trailside museums," where visitors could receive orientation to an area through the National Park Service's interpretive programs.  For both architectural and educational reasons, these buildings play an important role in the history of the National Park Service.

Norris Trailside Museum(NPS Photo/RC Townsend)
Norris Trailside Museum (NPS Photo/RC Townsend)



(1)    Newhall, Nancy. "A Contribution to the Heritage of Every American." New York: Alfred Knopf Publishing. 1957.

(2)    Architecture in the Parks: A National Historic Landmark Theme Study

Last updated: August 9, 2012

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