Land and National Historic Site Bills: H.R. 4199










June 5, 2008

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on H.R. 4199, a bill to amend the Dayton Aviation Heritage Preservation Act of 1992 to add sites to the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, and for other purposes.

The Department cannot support enactment of H.R. 4199 unless it is amended in conformance with this testimony. Partner organizations play a vital role in the management, operation, and/or development of the non-contiguous sites within Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. Therefore, the Department recommends the bill be amended to require the partner or partners to sign an operating agreement(s) for the development and operation of Hawthorn Hill and The Wright Company factory associated lands and buildings, the two sites this bill would add to the park, before the Department can accept donation of the land and include it within the boundary of the park.

Section 3 of H.R. 4199 would authorize the Secretary to make grants to public and private organizations relating to the preservation, development, use, and interpretation of properties within the boundaries of the park, subject to the availability of appropriations. Implementation of partnerships with Federal, state, and local governments and the private sector associated with the Wright brothers, the invention and development of aviation, or the life and works of Paul Laurence Dunbar often requires the transfer of funding from the NPS to partner organizations. The NPS is able to transfer funds, including appropriations intended for partner organizations, through the use of cooperative agreements for most activities when there is substantial involvement between parties. The NPS is not authorized, however, to spend funds for construction and development projects on non-federal property within the park boundary where there is not substantial involvement by the NPS. We recognize that this section has been changed in response to concerns expressed by the Administration with respect to a version of this bill introduced in the 109th Congress. However, in principle, the Administration continues to oppose grant authority such as the authority provided in section 3 because it allows limited NPS funds to be diverted from park services and facilities. Therefore, we recommend deleting this section.

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park was authorized in October 1992, with a specific mission "…to create partnerships among Federal, State, and local governments and the private sector to preserve, enhance, and interpret for present and future generations the historic and cultural structures, districts, and artifacts in Dayton and the Miami Valley in the State of Ohio, which are associated with the Wright brothers, the invention and development of aviation, or the life and works of Paul Laurence Dunbar…."

Established as a multi-unit partnership park, Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park encompasses four non-contiguous sites that commemorate the legacy of the Wright brothers, poet and author Paul Laurence Dunbar, and their association with the Dayton region. The Wright brothers, through their invention of controlled, heavier-than-air, powered flight, achieved one of the single most important technological advances of the 20th Century. Paul Laurence Dunbar, a childhood friend of the Wright brothers, rose from a poor childhood in Dayton to international acclaim as a writer and as an effective voice for equality and justice and contributed to a growing social consciousness and cultural identity for African Americans in the U.S.

The NPS owns and manages the core unit, The Wright Cycle Company complex including the Wright Brothers' Print Shop building, in partnership with Aviation Trail, Inc., which owns the Aviation Trail Visitor Center and Museum. The remaining three units of the park, Huffman Prairie Flying Field, Wright Brothers Aviation Center and the 1905 Wright Flyer III, and the Paul Laurence Dunbar State Memorial are owned and managed by the legislatively mandated partners in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS).

H.R. 4199 would add Hawthorn Hill in Oakwood and The Wright Company factory and associated land and buildings in Dayton, Ohio to Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. It authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to enter into cooperative agreements with a partner or partners to operate and provide programming for Hawthorn Hill and charge reasonable fees which may be used to defray the costs of park operation and programming. It also authorizes grant assistance to help the park in meeting its partnership requirements.

Hawthorn Hill, a large Georgian-style house in the community of Oakwood, south of Dayton, is nationally significant for its conceptualization by Wilbur and Orville Wright, inventors of the airplane; and it, more than any other work of architecture, reflects their personalities. In 1910 following establishment of The Wright Company and the realization of commercial success from their development of the airplane, the Wright brothers began planning for a new family home. By 1912, they had purchased the property and began planning and designing their new home. Unfortunately, Wilbur died from typhoid later in 1912 before their new home was completed. In 1914 Orville, his father, Bishop Milton Wright, and his sister Katherine moved into Hawthorn Hill. Orville Wright continued to live at Hawthorn Hill until his death in 1948. For 34 years it served as the home and base of operations of Orville Wright and became a gathering place for many significant figures in the U.S. and international aviation history, such as Charles Lindbergh.

After Orville's death, the National Cash Register Corporation (NCR) purchased the site in 1948 to use as a corporate guest house. In August 2006 the NCR donated Hawthorn Hill to the Wright Family Foundation with the stipulation that the Foundation would make every effort to donate the site to the NPS. Today, Hawthorn Hill still retains its Wright-era (1914-1948) integrity and is the only authentic residence of Orville Wright as an adult still standing. Aside from the addition of two small second-floor bathrooms to accommodate NCR guests and improvements to the building's heating and cooling systems, the interior structure is little changed from Orville Wright's time and retains its original materials and fixtures. The yard of Hawthorn Hill and the surrounding residential Oakwood neighborhood also maintain the integrity of the period, with the landscape retaining plants of the same species used during that era.

Hawthorn Hill was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1991, and was included on the new U.S. World Heritage Tentative List as a part of the Dayton Aviation Sites serial nomination by the Secretary of the Interior in 2008.

The Wright Company factory buildings in Dayton, Ohio are the birthplace of the American aviation industry. The Wright Company was in operation from 1910 to 1916. Although airplanes were being built at other locations during this period, these factory buildings are the first American facilities specifically designed and built for the manufacture of airplanes. They had a production capability greater than any other American airplane manufacturing facility at the time. The factory was capable of producing two airplanes a month. In 1911, just a few months after the completion of the first factory building, a second building was erected to meet the increased demands of the business. The factory now occupied over 20,000 square feet and had the capacity to produce four airplanes per month.

In 2006, the NPS completed a special resource study of The Wright Company factory buildings authorized by Public Law 108-447. The study determined that the factory buildings were significant because of their intimate association with Wilbur and Orville Wright and feasible when evaluated on the factors of size, configuration, hazardous substances, access, community support, and impacts on local communities and surrounding jurisdictions. However, when the factor of efficient administration at a reasonable cost was evaluated, it was determined that the costs to the NPS of developing and managing the site would be prohibitively high. Therefore, based on the evaluation of all factors, the NPS concludes that the addition of The Wright Company factory site would only be a feasible addition if a financially viable and willing partner steps forward to shoulder the costs of site development. The site is currently owned and managed by the Delphi Corporation and would be donated to the NPS.

Hawthorn Hill and The Wright Company factory buildings were both envisioned to be part of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, as originally conceived by the community and both are directly related to the purposes of the park. The addition of these two sites essentially completes the park by adding the only remaining Wright brothers related sites in the Dayton area which the NPS has determined have national significance.

The estimated planning cost for both Hawthorn Hill and The Wright Company factory buildings would be $650,000. The cost to develop these facilities would be approximately $3 to 3.5 million for Hawthorn Hill and $8.8 to $13.2 million for The Wright Company factory buildings. Projected costs for upkeep and operations would be $400,000 for Hawthorn Hill and $800,000 for The Wright Company factory buildings.

Section 4 amends Title V of Division J of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005 (16 U.S.C. 1132 note; Public Law 108-447) to correct several section references and to strike the reference to the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum, Wapakoneta, Ohio, located in Auglaize County. The reference to the museum is no longer needed since the entire county and its historic resources were included in the revised boundary of the heritage area.

Sections 3 and 4 of H.R. 4199 are identical to Sections 2 and 3 of H.R. 4191 as passed by the House on March 5, 2008.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to comment. This concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.

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