Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.
Happy Birthday America! Today the United States celebrates its independence. Not surprisingly, there are a number of properties in the National Register of Historic Places that contain the word “independence.” In the Berryman cartoon seen above, the ongoing issue of independence for the District of Columbia is depicted. In the United States, there is one county named Independence, in the state of Arkansas, there are approximately 40 properties in Independence County, including the Central Avenue Bridge, located in Polk Bayou, Arkansas. “The Central Avenue Bridge, or the Highway 69 Bridge, crosses Polk Bayou in central Independence County, Arkansas, in the town of Batesville. The bridge is an open-spandrel, concrete arch built in 1930. It consists of five spans with the main span being a length of approximately eighty (80) feet and with a main span width of approximately thirty (30) feet. The total length of the bridge is approximately three hundred ninety-seven (397) feet.”
“Independence County, one of the “Mother Counties” of Arkansas, originally contained all or part of fifteen modem counties of Arkansas. The county’s history ties closely to its strategic location-it sits astride the White River. The White River, which lies between the Arkansas and Missouri rivers, is one of two major drainages of the Ozarks region. That crucial geographic trait made the Independence County area, with the White River as its original western boundary, an attractive place for Native American, and future European, settlements.
In recent years, the route of Hernando deSoto’s expedition through the southeast, from 1539-1542, has been recharted by scholars, and Independence County is on the newly mapped path.3 Later European exploration was dominated by French fur-trappers, with the White River Valley becoming one of the stages on which the Osage met the French to trade. Their presence in the White River Valley left French names on the land, such as Polk Bayou, the location of the future county seat, Batesville.”
Among the fifty states in the Union, more than half contain a city named Independence. While there is not an Independence, Massachusetts, there was a Fort Independence, also known as the Castle, in Boston. “In the spring of 1634, John Winthrop visited Castle Island and decided to make it the primary defensive fortification of the colonial settlement. A major factor in Winthrop’s decision was the Island’s strategic location. Between Castle Island, located less than three miles east of Boston, and Governor’s Island, approximately 3/4 miles north of Castle Island, lay the main ship channel into Boston Harbor. Since passage between Castle Island and the mainland to the south was impractical, and passage north of Governor’s Island was impossible for ships of substantial tonnage, Castle Island was the natural location for defenses against naval attack.”
“Except for a somewhat earlier defense set up on Fort Hill in the southern end of Boston, Castle Island is the oldest fortified site in the original Massachusetts Bay Colony. Begun in 1634 and called “the Castle” by John Winthrop, it controlled the main ship channel to Boston’s inner harbor. Fire destroyed the Fort in 1673, but it was soon rebuilt. Sir Edmund Andros, Royal Governor of the Province, was imprisoned here in 1689, during the first colonial rebellion against royal authority. In the early years of the eighteenth century, a completely new, bastioned fort of masonry was built at the express direction of King William, who feared an attack on the colonies by the French fleet. The new fort was named Fort William and, with over one hundred guns, was the most impressive fortification in British North America. Governor Shirley sought refuge at this third fort during the impressment riots of 1747. The stamps of the hated Stamp Acts were stored here, and the ill-received revenue commissioners appointed under the Townsend Acts were forced to retreat to the Fort in 1767. At Samuel Adams’ insistence, the British troops were quartered here after the Boston Massacre of 1770. Fort William was partially destroyed by General Howe during his evacuation of Boston in March 1776, but was immediately repaired by colonial forces under the direction of Lt. Col. Paul Revere and put under the command of the leader of the Massachusetts militia, Major General John Hancock.”
“In 1798, Massachusetts ceded the island fortress to the United States, possibly because of the country’s difficulties with France, and President John Adams renamed it Fort Independence. A new fort was built in the early part of the nineteenth century from a design by John Foncin, the French engineer who designed and built Fort McHenry. This fort, the fourth on the site, was garrisoned during the War of 1812 but fell into serious disrepair soon after Reconstruction began in 1836 and was substantially completed by 1851 when the Fort was garrisoned once again. During the Civil War, several volunteer units kept watch at the Fort for Confederate ships. Oliver Wendell Holmes and Charles Francis Adams are only two of the Massachusetts notables who walked the parapets of Fort Independence before leaving for service with the Union Army. Though Fort Independence saw some activity during World Wars I and II, it was not fully garrisoned after the Spanish American War. Its 328 year military history came to an end in 1962, when the federal government ceded the area of Fort Independence back to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for use as an historic monument.”
In Southcentral Alaska, sits the now abandoned Independence Mines (National Archives Identifier 75325666). “The camp consisted of 16 wood frame buildings of the type and style of architecture of the late 1800’s; although some buildings were constructed as late as 1939. The camp sits on a very steep mountain side and all buildings were built on wood piling foundations. Due to heavy snow in the winter months all buildings and the mine shafts were connected with wooden tunnels.”
“Due to lack of maintenance since 1955, all the wooden tunnels connecting the buildings of the camp have collapsed from heavy snow loads. The blacksmith shop, ore staging area, milling and processing plant, and most storage sheds have collapsed, also, due to heavy snows in the winters . . . The problem for all remaining structures, results from spring runoffs and summer rains flowing under the buildings and softening or rotting pilings. This results in settling, which throws the building out of square. When heavy winter snows come the weight on the walls and roof break the buildings apart at corners. Most remaining buildings are in sound condition structurally, but all need to be re-roofed, repainted, repaired inside, and extensive work completed on the foundations.”
“As early as 1897, recorded evidence shows that prospecting was done on the property, and active mining was done on what is now called Fishhook Creek. In the early 1900’s, two Japanese prospectors located the first outcropping of gold in a hard rock deposit on what is now called the Eldorado Claim, part of the Independence. In 1934, the Wasilla Mining Company emerged from the earlier efforts and began truly large operation of the property. By 1936 the Wasilla Mining Company evolved into the “Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company” and expanded its number of working claims to just under 3,000 acres, and had recovered over 150,000 ounces of pure gold by 1942. In 1943 Public Land Order 207 closed the mines because of World War II. The mine reopened and operated from 1948 to 1950 when rising cost and fixed gold prices of $35.00 per oz. made it economically unprofitable to mine.”
During its operation, Independence Mine established several firsts. It was, and is, the largest hard rock gold mine in Southcentral Alaska and second in the state, only to the Alaska-Juneau Mine in Juneau. At one time it was the fifth largest population center in Alaska, having over 300 employees and some 26 families. It should be noted that while the mine was closed in 1950, It was the corporation’s intention to resume operations as soon as Congress lifted restriction on gold prices established during wartime.”
In Casper, Wyoming, “Independence Rock (National Archives Identifier 73730074)was a well-known landmark on the Oregon Trail long before the great overland migrations of the 1840’s. In 1840, Father Peter DeSmet called it “the great registry of the desert,” since thousands of people travelling west scratched their names on its surfaces. The Rock lies in the elevated plain between the emigrant crossing of the upper North Platte and the Sweetwater River. The Oregon Trail ascended the latter to South Pass. The Rock lies near the Sweetwater River where the Trail first approaches it, and because of this fact it become a favorite stopping and resting place for the travellers who had been struggling across the almost waterless reaches of the sagebrush upland after leaving the North Platte. Independence Rock soon became famous for the numerous names carved, painted, or written into and on it. It seemed that almost everyone who passed that way had to place his name and the date on the Rock. Some of the earliest travellers along the Trail noticed the word “Independence” carved on the Rock, but just who did it and when is not known. Rufus Sage, who passed the Rock in 1842, noted that its “surface is covered with the names of travellers, traders, trappers, and emigrants engraved upon it in almost every practicable part, for the distance of many feet above its base.””
“The Rock is a rounded outcropping of granite sticking up out of a relatively level plain sparsely dotted by other similar outcroppings. Geologically it is the top of a buried mountain. The land in the area is level to gently rolling and one can see for 20 miles in every direction from almost any point. Vegetation is limited to short prairie grass, short sage, occasional rabbit brush and yucca, with the exception of a few juniper near the rock outcroppings and some willows and sparse cottonwood trees along the river. Fauna include rabbits, skunk, snakes, deer, antelope, range cattle and a variety of small rodents, eagles, ravens, hawks, sage grouse and several varieties of song birds.”
Of course, one of the more famously named Independence locations, is Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (although there is an Independence Township in Beaver County), which is located on the grounds of Independence National Historical Park. In June 1948, with passage of Public Law 795, Independence National Historical Park was established to preserve certain historic resources “of outstanding national significance associated with the American Revolution and the founding and growth of the United States.” The Park’s 39.53 acres of urban property lie in Philadelphia, the fourth largest city in the country.”
Independence Hall, a two-story brick Georgian building, 105 feet by 45 feet, with a central belltower and steeple which rises 167 feet 8 inches on its south facade, is located on Chestnut Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets. Since its construction as the colonial State House between 1732 and 1753, the structure’s exterior, with the exception of its steeple and wing and arcade buildings, has remained predominantly intact. The interior, however, received numerous alterations during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The two notable nineteenth century features still a part of Independence Hall are its steeple designed by William Strickland in 1828 to simulate the original (thus creating a very early example of historic preservation in this country) and the Centennial Bell.”
Inside Independence Hall, where in the Assembly Room the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence (1776), and adopted (1777) and received ratification (1781) for the Articles of Confederation, the nation’s first comprehensive frame of government; and where, from May 25 to September 17, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention debated and signed the United States Constitution, a document of such enduring relevance that in nearly 200 years it has been amended only twenty-six times, ten of which constituted the Bill of Rights, (1791). Known as the State House from its construction (1732-53) until the 1850s, when a renewed reverence for the building’s role in American history established its current name. Independence Hall has survived remarkably intact, with the help of conscientious nineteenth and twentieth-century preservationists, culminating in the National Park Service’s complete restoration of the building during the 1960s and 1970s.”
Located on the grounds of Independence National Historical Park is the “John F. Kennedy Plaque, a 36-by 33-inch bronze tablet set in the sidewalk ten feet east of the Washington Monument in front of Independence Hall. This plaque commemorates a visit to the Hall by President Kennedy in 1962 to deliver the Fourth of July address. The City of Philadelphia placed the plaque in 1964.”
Happy Birthday America, to quote John Adams, “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.