A Bibliophile’s Guide to Finding Your Park
Hiking, biking, and running through fields not your thing? Being a book nerd or preferring the indoors does not put one at odds with the wonders of our national parks. Rather, the National Park Service preserves many different types of resources, including collections and artifacts. Book lovers can rejoice to learn that several national parks include marvelous libraries that will make the most ardent bibliophile’s heart skip a beat.
This national park library guide will give you an introductory look at the remarkable collections maintained by the National Park Service and will inspire you to find your park among the sublime book collections in the National Park System.
A Presidential Library in Massachusetts
“The only thing most people do better than anyone else is read their own handwriting.”
– John Adams
The Adams family (the presidential one, not the ghoulish one) gifted their home to the American people so that it could be preserved and go on to “foster civic virtue and patriotism.” Separate from the house at Adams National Historical Park is a grand library, housing an expansive collection of books and papers. Bequeathing his son all his books and documents, John Quincey Adams asked that the library be made fireproof to safeguard its contents, that the collection be kept together, and that his wife be able to use any of the books. The Stone Library that still stands today was built in 1870 in Medieval style. Of the 12000 volumes passed on through 4 generations, about 10 percent of the books originally belonged to President John Adams. His books include the Mendi Bible, which keeps alive a fascinating piece of American history. The rest of the collection includes works in more than twelve languages and on every topic – from astronomy to theatre.
An Abolitionist’s Bookshelves in DC
“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”
– Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass’s estate, “Cedar Hill” was given its name due to its high elevation and the many trees about its grounds. Visiting the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and touring Douglass’s home today, you’ll be drawn back in time, feeling like you could easily cozy down in this warm, well-lit library, only to be roused by the arrival of Frederick Douglass himself. The room has three large windows and books of every type. A stove heats the small area and a heavy wooden desk remains in the center of the room. As you are unable to closely inspect the bookcases, the National Park Service has online searchable lists of all the books and booklets, covering a vast number of the works that Douglass owned.
A Conservationist’s Collection in California
“None of nature's landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.”
– John Muir
The writings of John Muir were influential enough to convince President Theodore Roosevelt to invite Muir to Yosemite for a camping trip. Many of these very writings were created in Muir’s “Scribble Room.” During his lifetime, Muir wrote and published over 300 articles and 12 books, paving the way for conservationists with his progressive thoughts on nature and wildlife preservation. Though writing did not always come easily, Muir spent countless hours in his small office on the second floor of his Martinez home. This home is still preserved at the John Muir National Historic Site in California.
The Rockefellers’ Reading Room in Vermont
"Concern for the environment and access to parks is not frivolous or peripheral; rather it is central to the welfare of people- body, mind and spirit."
– Laurance Spelman Rockefeller
The mansion, which was donated to the National Park Service in 1992, stands as a reminder of its conservation-minded owners through the years. The Marsh family first built the home in 1805 and Frederick Billings renovated the home extensively, when he bought the house in 1869. The mansion went through further renovation in 1885, before having its final changes to the décor in 1954, when the Rockefellers inherited the home. The library at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park can be visited today, complete with a couch, desk, and lined with books, just as the Rockefellers left it in 1997.
Teddy’s Thinking Space in New York
"It is true of the Nation, as of the individual, that the greatest doer must also be a great dreamer."
– Theodore Roosevelt
Described by Theodore Roosevelt’s younger daughter as “the heart of the home,” the library at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site was both a family gathering place and the president’s study. The children would often perform poetry or sing in the area, while TR and his wife Edith would read aloud or write letters. While in office, TR used Sagamore Hill as his “Summer White House,” a period during which this same family gathering spot was used for daily updates from staffers or to review reports and legislation. The room is filled with pictures of influential men, including Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln. In addition to row after row of books, the room features multiple animal heads and hides, elephant tusks, and interestingly, two menorahs.
These libraries, the bastions of reflection, learning, and reading for some of America’s great men and women, are preserved today by the National Park Service. Don’t let being a die-hard bookworm or the weather not cooperating keep you from going to #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque. Instead, explore a different kind of national park experience and learn more about our country’s past.