Conte Corner: National Parks

National Parks
An abundance of National Parks and Landmarks

Story and Photo by Markelle Smith and Kristen Sykes

Do you know how many National Park units there are in New England and the Connecticut River watershed? Neither did we until Kristen started a new position this spring as the Northeast Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. It’s been a joy to discover histories, people, and places we never knew existed!

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park (Cornish, NH).

The Connecticut River watershed and the Conte Refuge are blessed with many ecological wonders, and the historic and cultural resources found in this region are equally impressive. This summer Kristen had the opportunity to explore some of the amazing national historic parks and landmarks in the watershed.

Standing there looking up at a twelve-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln, it was hard to not to feel insignificant next to this giant among men. This statue and many others are what await you at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park in Cornish, New Hampshire. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was an American sculptor who completed over 150 works, including the Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment Memorial in Boston and The Standing Lincoln. According to the National Park Service, “In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented a copy of the (Lincoln) statue to Mexico as a symbol of Mexican and American friendship.” The Saint-Gaudens family began summering in Cornish, New Hampshire, along the banks of the Connecticut River in 1885. Their presence led to the formation of the Cornish Art Colony: 100 artists, sculptors, writers, designers, and politicians lived there either full-time or during the summer months. The Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park is one of many National Parks located within the Connecticut River watershed.

Across the Connecticut River from the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park is Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park. This 550-acre park is named for conservationist George Perkins Marsh, who grew up on the property, and Frederick Billings, an early conservationist who established a progressive dairy farm and professionally managed forest on the property. Frederick Billings’s granddaughter, Mary French Rockefeller, and her husband, conservationist Laurance S. Rockefeller, continued the sustainable forestry and farming practices on the property over the latter half of the twentieth century. The forest at the park is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The property also houses the Forest Center that includes a classroom and meeting space. The Forest Center is “LEED platinum certified” (the highest rating for green construction) and was built with FSC-certified wood from the park’s historic forest.

Situated along the Connecticut River in Springfield, Massachusetts, is the Springfield Armory National Historic Site. The Armory was the primary center for the manufacturing of military firearms from 1777 until its closing in 1968. It was the first federal armory and one of the first factories in the US dedicated to the manufacture of weapons. It houses the world’s largest collection of historic American firearms.

The National Park Service also maintains two national scenic trails within the boundary of the Conte Refuge and the Connecticut River watershed: the New England National Scenic Trail (NET), a 235-mile footpath stretching from the New Hampshire border to the Long Island Sound in Connecticut; and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT), a 2,190-mile footpath from Georgia to Maine that traverses through the four Conte Refuge and Connecticut River watershed states.

There are also dozens of National Historic Landmarks scattered throughout the Conte Refuge located within the boundary of the 7.2-million-acre Connecticut River watershed. The National Historic Landmark program lives under the auspices of the National Park Service and “recognizes structures, districts, objects, and similar resources nationwide according to a list of criteria of national significance.”

In Cornish, New Hampshire, you will find the Salmon P. Chase Birthplace national landmark, which was the birthplace and childhood home of Salmon P. Chase. Chase was the governor of Ohio and ran for president against Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln appointed Chase to be treasury secretary and later appointed Chase as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.

A newer landmark in New Hampshire, designated in 2013, is The Epic of American Civilization. This mural was created by the social realist painter José Clemente Orozco. The mural is in the basement reading room of the Baker Memorial Library on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was painted between 1932 and 1934 and consists of a series of twenty-four fresco panels. The principal themes are the impact of indigenous Native Americans and European colonists on North America, the Mexican Civil War, the First World War, and the rapid industrialization on the human spirit.

Downriver in Dummerston, Vermont, is the landmark Naulakha, also known as the Rudyard Kipling House. The house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993 as it was the home of Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, which he had built from 1893 until 1896.

The national landmark The American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vermont, is notable for being the first US factory at which precision interchangeable parts were made, giving birth to the precision machine tool industry.

Downriver is the Edward Bellamy House in the Chicopee Falls section of the city of Chicopee, Massachusetts. The landmark honors journalist Edward Bellamy who wrote Looking Backward, a utopian science fiction novel.

The home of well-known poet Emily Dickinson is a museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, and consists of two houses: the Dickinson Homestead and the Evergreens.

Traveling down to the Nutmeg state is the Richard Alsop IV House, an historic house in Middletown, Connecticut. The home was built in 1839 and is a distinctive example of transitional Greek Revival and Italianate architecture and is nationally significant for the extremely well-preserved drawings on its interior walls. Currently the house serves as the Davison Arts Center of Wesleyan University.

Hartford, Connecticut, is awash in national landmarks including the Mark Twain House, Harriet Beecher Stowe House, the Old State House, the Connecticut State Capitol, and Coltsville Historic District, to name a few.

This winter we encourage you to visit a National Park Service unit in the Connecticut River watershed and see and learn from some of the historic and cultural resource gems that await you!

Subscribe Today