It’s National Parks Week, which made me think about the National Park Service’s long-running Handbook series. Although I enjoy any and all national parks, I tend to seek out those with archaeological or historical connections. Research reveals that the Park Service began publishing its Historical Handbook series in 1949. Although the original handbooks in the series are out of print (you can find a list and cover images here), the series continues today.
A favorite of mine is the Clara Barton Historical Site and its accompanying Handbook. For one thing, the site is in Glen Echo, Maryland, which for residents of the Washington, DC area means Glen Echo Park, another favorite Park Service place. For years it was an amusement park, and remnants of those days remain, as does a carousel and a ballroom for dancing. It’s worth a visit all by itself.
The Barton house presents quite a contrast. Originally built from timber scavenged from the Johnstown flood for use as a storage depot for Red Cross supplies, in 1897 it became both the headquarters of the American Red Cross and the home of its founder, Clara Barton. (Visiting the site on a hot summer day always makes me wonder what life was like in this rather humid area before air conditioning). The size of this 38-room house, the rooms themselves, and the dark pine paneling all conjure up life in a unique turn-of-the century home/office/volunteer center dedicated to helping victims of disaster at home and abroad.
The Clara Barton Handbook presents the story of the house, the person, and the organization concisely and lucidly. Like all of the Park Service handbooks, it’s also a quality product in design. If you’re planning a visit, or just want to learn more about this remarkable place, I’d recommend it.
You can find a list of Handbooks, including quite a few that cover historical parks, here.