Discover Where the National Parks and the Arts Intersect

 

The National Park Service, we know, protects and preserves important historical landmarks and expansive, undeveloped natural landscapes. However, many NPS units also have ties to the creative arts, and are dedicated to honoring and preserving an artistic legacy. We've taken a closer look at parks that focus upon artists, writers, and important creative and cultural pursuits that uniquely reflect and reexamine American culture.


Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site

 O'Neill's study and writing desk. Photo by  JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD  /  CC BY

O'Neill's study and writing desk. Photo by JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD / CC BY

Honoring the American playwright, the historic site encompasses O'Neill's home, Tau House, where he wrote some of his most iconic plays, including Long Day’s Journey into Night and The Iceman Cometh. Tours of the home are available but require advance reservations, except for Saturdays. Entry into the grounds is by NPS shuttle bus only, picked up in Danville, California. You might even be lucky, and catch an O’Neill play in the adjacent barn!

 

Wolf Trap is the nation’s only NPS unit that exists to present live performing arts. You can catch a performance here between May and September. With a varied schedule of live music, theatre, dance and opera, there’s something for everyone. In the off-season, the park is open for hiking and picnicking.

 
 Drum kit at New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, photo by Derek Wright.

Drum kit at New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, photo by Derek Wright.

The only NPS site dedicated to an art form and not an artist, New Orleans Jazz NHP offers guests the chance to take in a live, free jazz performance by the park rangers, as well as other musicians, in the heart of the French Quarter. Visitors can explore the history of jazz in the city via a self guided tour.

 
 Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site at sunset. Photo by  Marianna Foral  /  CC BY  

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site at sunset. Photo by Marianna Foral / CC BY 

New Hampshire’s only NPS unit (aside from a bit of the Appalachian Trail,) this site is a fabulous preservation of the studios, grounds, art colony and home of the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Tour the lush grounds, hear a concert, and take a guided tour during the summer months. You may view the casting for his famous bronze bas-relief for the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, which is part of the Boston African American NHS.

 
  The Olmsted house. Photo by  Daderot  /  CC BY   

 The Olmsted house. Photo by Daderot / CC BY  

Discover the studio of American’s preeminent landscape and park architect, responsible for the design of Acadia National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Yosemite Valley and New York's Central Park, among many others. The grounds and house are open for tours, and inside you will find the studio and offices intact, as if Olmsted were still working there. Note that like many of the Boston parks, this site is only open seasonally, typically Memorial Day to early October, due to winter weather.

 
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

The Washington D.C. home of Frederick Douglass, the great writer and orator. The NPS and nonprofit partners have kept the home in the same condition as lived in by Douglass and his family in the early 20th century. Home tours (by ranger only) take you through the marvelously restored and preserved rooms, with many original artifacts and pieces of furniture, including Douglass' work desk. On the property, you'll also find a replica of his "Growlery", a stone cabin where he wrote and read for many hours each day.

 
 The Presidential Box, photo by  Ron Cogswell  / CC BY.

The Presidential Box, photo by Ron Cogswell  / CC BY.

The site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Ford’s Theatre (a 20th century reconstruction of the original) also operates as both a museum and theater. Live professional performances of both classic and modern drama, are still presented between September and May.

 
Weir Farm National Historic Site

The Connecticut home and studio of painter J. Alden Weir, the site preserves the property as it existed in the late 19th century. With the extensive gardens and lush natural woods, it's also a great place to enjoy the outdoors. Many other famous artists journeyed to the farm to both visit and create work on the grounds. The NPS continues the tradition of arts creation by hosting a monthly rotating artist-in-residence program.

 
Longfellow House–Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site

Lifelong home of the great American poet and writer, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, this site also has an older history, as the site of George Washington’s headquarters from 1775-1776. It proved to be such a popular model for a house that the Sears, Roebuck and Company sold blueprints, for those interested in designing replicas. Many of Longfellow’s original belongings and furniture are still on display, with guided tours offered seasonally during the summer and early fall.

 
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

The home of the Pulitzer Prize winning Poet, Carl Sandburg, is preserved in the manner in which he and his family lived in the 1950s. You can explore the grounds, and wander the same trails that Sandburg did to inspire his writing. Of course, a huge draw are the goats, which are descendants of Paula Sandberg’s prize winning herd.

 

Carved between 1300 and 1600, over 24,000 rock art images of various significance exist on the basalt rocks located within this monument. Located in the Albuquerque metro area, the petroglyphs represent one of the most dense collections of rock art in the world. You can explore the monument via a series of trails that range in skill level.

 
John Muir National Historic Site

Tour the home where John Muir lived for nearly a quarter of a century, and where most of his major writing and conservation work occurred, including the founding of the Sierra Club. The Muir site is within a short drive of the O’Neill site, and is comprised of more than 300 acres of land and trails. 

 
Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

The only remaining known home of the famous author, the site exhibits a room that is based on his aesthetic beliefs. There are few actual Poe artifacts remaining, and the house itself is not preserved to his time. This is a less frequented NPS site in Philadelphia, and it is only open Friday though Sunday.