STATEMENT OF DANIEL N. WENK,
DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS
OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,
CONCERNING S. 662, A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR
TO CONDUCT A STUDY TO EVALUATE RESOURCES AT
THE HARRIET BEECHER STOWE HOUSE IN BRUNSWICK, MAINE,
AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
APRIL 23, 2008
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 662, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study to evaluate resources at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Brunswick, Maine.
The Department supports the enactment of this bill. However, the Department feels that priority should be given to the 29 previously authorized studies for potential units of the National Park System, potential new National Heritage Areas, and potential additions to the National Trails System and National Wild and Scenic River System that have not yet been transmitted to the Congress.
If enacted, the bill would direct the Secretary to conduct a special resource study to evaluate the national significance of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House and surrounding land, and to assess the suitability and feasibility of including the site as a unit of the National Park System. The study, which is to be completed within three years after funds are made available for it, will follow the criteria for potential new areas contained in section 8(c) of Public Law 91-383 (16 U.S.C. 1a-5(c)) which require such studies to address four areas: significance, suitability, feasibility, and management options.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe House, located at 63 Federal Street, Brunswick, Maine, is a National Historic Landmark whose oldest portion, a 2-story wood frame house, dates from 1807. It was the residence from 1850 to 1852 of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the influential indictment of slavery, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was written here. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1962, and is listed by the National Park Service in its Underground Railroad travel guides as a site of interest.
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher (1811-1896) was born in Connecticut and moved with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832 at the age of 21. There she was a teacher and author, and traveled to Kentucky where she interviewed fugitive slaves and witnessed the brutality of slavery first-hand. In 1836 she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, who later became a professor at Bowdoin College, prompting her move to Brunswick, Maine. She used her personal experiences to develop Uncle Tom's Cabin, published as a serial in 1851 in an antislavery newspaper, and in book form the following year. An enormous popular success, its antislavery message provoked strong reactions throughout the South. In response to criticism, she wrote A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, (1853), a collection of factual material on slavery intended to justify the charges implied in the novel. She continued to lead the life of an active writer, publishing a second anti-slavery novel, poetry, and numerous essays and fictional works about New England social life.
The property at 63 Federal Street was operated as an inn for many years, and was expanded several times to include an attached barn, several ells, and a 54-unit motel. The complex was purchased several years ago by Bowdoin College, which rehabilitated the motel for use as a student dormitory. The main house is not currently in use or open to the public. The college has recently undertaken a study of the historic structure, to identify remaining elements that would have been present during Stowe's era, and to explore various options for preserving it. The college is committed to preserving the building, but is reluctant to undertake the financial burdens of restoring and operating it as a house museum.
The property is one of three former Stowe homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The others are houses at 2950 Gilbert Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio and 73 Forest Street, Hartford, Connecticut, both of which are open to the public as sites honoring Harriet Beecher Stowe. The special resource study would allow National Park Service professionals to build upon the historic structure reports recently prepared for the Bowdoin College house through a grant from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and to assist in the preparation of options for long-term preservation of the National Historic Landmark Harriet Beecher Stowe House.
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.