From Mink (for part 2 of this post, click here):
In developing the Fredericksburg area for visitation, the National Park Service (NPS) sought to provide facilities at each of its four battlefields. The Fredericksburg Battlefield Museum and Administration Building, now known as the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center, was completed in 1936 and served as the primary interpretive stop for the battlefields, as well as the park headquarters. Before the completion of the main facility at Sunken Road, however, the park began construction of small wood frame “Ranger Contact Stations” on each of the battlefields to serve the public
“In an effort to be of still further service to the traveling public, the National Park Service has planned additional contact stations which will be erected at convenient points through the park.
The basic materials used will consist of native stone and cresoted [sic] cypress or pine planking with a roof of the same type. The entire design will harmonize with the general landscape features so that none of the natueral charm of the localities will be disturbed.
When completed…they will enable the Park Service to reach a great number of visitors who daily traverse the Park in ignorance of the trained staff of historians who are available to them.” – Free Lance-Star, May 30, 1935
Each station essentially followed the same plan, drawn up by the NPS specifically for the Fredericksburg area battlefields – a one-room, one-story cabin measuring roughly 17.5 feet by 11.5 feet with a stone fireplace and a small porch.
With the fireplace, the structures were apparently intended as all-weather, year-round facilities to be staffed by one of the park’s historians or rangers. All four of the stations were built adjacent to main roads and park automobile tour routes. The locations were: among the artillery lunettes and gun pits along Lee Drive at Prospect Hill on the Fredericksburg Battlefield:
Along State Route 3 at the site of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson’s wounding on the Chancellorsville Battlefield
On the north side of State Route 20 at its intersection with Hill-Ewell Drive on the Wilderness Battlefield
At the “Bloody Angle” on the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield
The historians and rangers who staffed these sites offered visitors personal services in the way of informal interpretive talks and orientation to the park and its individual battlefields. They were aided by exhibits within the buildings, such as historic photos and art, small libraries of research material, and “relic boards” that contained artifacts found on the battlefields.
Outside the stations, additional interpretive tools included signs and markers, outdoor semi-horizontal map tables, and orientation discs. These concrete circular tablets were set flush with the ground and had etched into them a nort arrow and line radiating out from the center like spokes on a wheel. Each line was labeled with names of other battlefield landmarks and sites in the area, along with distances in miles, to help orient the visitor to their location the battlefield.
For nearly thirty years, historians and rangers “in the field” staffed these small contact stations and provided interpretive services to the touring public and park visitors. The NPS Mission 66 program, which brought about the construction of the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center, resulted in the closure and removal of these structures, in exchange for new upgraded facilities.
A follow-up post that looks at these locations today and what, if anything, remains from the park’s first efforts to provide on-site personal services for its visitors can be found here.
Eric J. Mink