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Research Question 1:

What can the Eliot scrapbook tell us about land conservation history?

A movement emerged during the Industrial Revolution in response to rapid human development and expansion. It sought to preserve as much land as possible before the eventual rise of larger and larger cities. Not only did this include the preservation of large tracts of land outside towns and cities, but also the incorporation of public space within cities. The Charles Eliot Scrapbook highlights several issues related to contemporary land conservation fights: the navigation of laws and regulations, how to fund a reservation, negotiating private land interests, the accessibility of public land, and raising public awareness and activism.

Land conservation took many forms in the late 1800s. The Scrapbook highlights the preservation of land in and outside of Boston. An article in The Transcript on page 38 [columns 1-2] of the scrapbook discusses the increased overcrowding since 1885 in tenement apartments in New York City and Boston, and proposes the incorporation of small open spaces in the city for the tenements, which “should be chiefly confined to young children and old people, and hoodlums strictly excluded.” The need for parks within the inner city can also be seen in the development of the Brooklyn Society For Parks and Playgrounds for Children [pg. 19b, column 1]. Additionally, Eliot and other visionaries believed that preserving public land now, before more development occurred, was key for the happiness and health of the public. In Boston, there was a perspective by the creators of the Metropolitan Park System that the city would soon grow to connect the towns surrounding it, as well as a sense that it was too late to conserve much of what should have been preserved [pg. 65]. To prevent overcrowding and a lack of public space, they had the forethought to preserve places for the public when it became larger [pg. 67].

At the same time, there was a growing awareness from an emerging middle class that taking time out of work for leisure was important for health and happiness, leading to more and more people vacationing in natural areas.1 While vacations created a public awareness for the need for public land access, it also put considerable strain on existing areas that were not protected by the government [pg. 70--Bar Harbor]. Railroads and roads were built specifically for accessibility to beautiful areas, creating further congestion. Vacationing also highlighted the lack of shorelines and natural space reserved for the public, since people had to rely increasingly on the goodwill of private landowners and hotels. [See Research Question 5 for more on shorelines.]

The Industrial Revolution also contributed to infrastructure and public transportation systems, with railroads and electric cars connecting the city to the suburbs and preserved lands [pg. 47--Adirondacks; pg. 133--Metropolitan Park]. Increased access via new technology, such as the bicycle and electric trolley paths, allowed for the preservation of land that might have not been accessible to city and poor populations [pg. 130].

Access to the American West via photographs and drawings also provided people on the East Coast with a sense that America had true wilderness in it, which was stamped out in the East through the creation of cities and industry.2 The need to preserve large swaths of the West can be seen in several articles in the scrapbook, namely Frederick Law Olmsted’s piece on Yosemite Valley, and President Harrison’s continued preservation of Yellowstone National Park [pg. 27--Olmsted; pg. 36, article 4].

Through the scrapbook, it is also clear that land conservation occurred in several different forms. Individuals preserved land for the public [pg. 78], societies preserved land through gifts and grants (The Trustees, etc.), and the Government also took an active part in preservation (Yellowstone, the Palisades, etc.). In modern terms, the movement relied heavily on “grassroots” organizing, which included suggesting that neighbors of farmers should persuade them to give their land to land preservation entities. For The Trustees, they called on the public to help them identify lands that could be preserved, and encouraged the public to provide land. “Owing to the wisdom of the Legislature in 1891 we in Massachusetts are no longer compelled to wait for action by these official boards, these investigating boards, or for town action, for municipal action of any sort. We are no longer compelled to wait for such formal action in this matter of reserving open spaces” [pg. 88].

Lee, Felicia R. "The Vacation, A Measure Of Behavior And Values." The New York Times. August 14, 1999.
2The Library of Congress. "History." The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.