Rare NHL Designation Recognizes Places of National Significance
Governor Timothy M. Kaine announced Friday that Virginia’s Skyline Drive, a 105-mile roadway which winds through Shenandoah National Park along the crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Front Royal and Rockfish Gap, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark by U.S. Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne.
The NHL designation is the highest ranking bestowed by the U.S. government on a historic resource. It is reserved for those places that “possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States,” according to the National Park Service.
“This designation reminds Virginians of what an extraordinary national treasure we have in the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, that portion of the road extending beyond Shenandoah National Park,” Governor Kaine said. “What better time for this honor to arrive than in October, when autumn colors along the roadway are at their peak, attracting visitors from around the state and nation to Skyline Drive’s vistas.”
In 1996, the Department of Historic Resources listed Skyline Drive on the Virginia Landmarks Register and nominated it to the National Register of Historic Places. The department’s nomination cited the road’s national significance as a new model for conservation. That model was based on the acquisition of land with inherent natural beauty for permanent protection, while also providing recreational and scenic opportunities for the growing number of automobile travelers that arose during the early 20th century.
“The paradox of Skyline Drive is that the roadway was a powerful force for preserving the natural and historic landscapes and viewsheds of the Blue Ridge Mountains. From its earliest conception through to its final innovative design, the drive became the centerpiece of Shenandoah National Park, shaping the development of that splendid place.” said Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, director of the Department of Historic Resources. “Skyline Drive represents one of the earliest successes in Virginia resulting from a partnership between local, state, and federal agencies.”
In honoring Skyline Drive, the Interior Department notes that the roadway was “[d]esigned and constructed as the backbone of Shenandoah National Park from 1931 to 1942.”
“Skyline Drive is an outstanding example of the naturalistic landscape design developed by the National Park Service in the 1920s and refined in the following decade in the national parks and parkways of the eastern United States,” according to the Interior Department. The road’s balanced design, which flows with the landscape, “became the model not only for the nation, but also for other nations,” according to the Secretary’s announcement.
While Skyline Drive’s construction is often associated with the Civilian Conservation Corps formed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, work on the roadway officially began in 1931, under President Hoover, who had a presidential getaway cabin at Rapidan Camp, located today within the park in Madison County.
Although the CCC did not construct the roadbed, “there would be no Skyline Drive without the efforts of the CCC,” according to Reed Engle, a cultural resource specialist with Shenandoah National Park. “They graded the slopes on either side of the roadway, built the guardrails and guard walls, constructed overlooks, planted hundreds of thousands of trees and shrubs and acres of grass to landscape both sides of the roadbed, built picnic areas and campgrounds, comfort stations, visitor contact and maintenance buildings, and made the signs that guided visitors on their way,” Reed writes on the Shenandoah National Park’s Website.
In Virginia there are 118 other National Historic Landmarks, including George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Fort Monroe in Hampton and Richmond’s Jackson Ward. Nationwide there are fewer than 2,500 NHLs.
More information on Secretary Kempthorne’s announcement designating Skyline Drive an NHL, along with 15 other sites, is available at http://www.doi.gov/news/08_News_Releases/101408b.html.
A complete listing of Virginia’s National Historic Landmarks is available at http://www.nps.gov/history/nhl/designations/listsofNHLs.htm.