Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stephen Mather - Further Memorial Locations
In my Stephen Mather post of July 29, 2012 I said, "It is my goal to find the Mather memorials in the national parks I visit and pause to remember the 'Father' of the U.S. National Park Service and appreciate the good that he has done for us. Perhaps you will now also engage in this interesting quest."

On a just completed vacation from a Maine winter to a Georgia spring I looked for two Mather bronze-plaque memorials, one in Virginia and the other in New York. Before finding them, I stopped in Darien, CT to see the 1778 Mather Homestead, a national historic landmark, at 19 Stephen Mather Road. Nearby is the Mather Cemetery, where Stephen is buried.*1

Mather Homestead
The first memorial I located was in VA at the Petersburg National Battlefield, the Civil War site of the 9 1/2-month Union siege that led to Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. The memorial lies horizontally on a brick stand near the visitor center.*2

Mather Memorial - Petersburg National Battlefield
The second I found with some difficulty at an unexpected location. It was inside NY's Bear Mountain Zoo and affixed to a large boulder on a high prominence overlooking the Hudson River just south of the Bear Mountain Bridge.*3 The bridge, when it opened in 1924, was the world's longest suspension bridge.
Mather Memorial - Bear Mountain
This location raises a question, as the memorial is inside the 5,000-acre Bear Mountain State Park. Recall that Mather was the first director of the federal government's National Park Service. Following his death in 1930, his memorial plaque was placed in most national parks and likely in entities under NPS jurisdiction. I was unaware of a Mather memorial in a state park. Its location might be due to the underlying ground of the mostly demolished Revolutionary War's Fort Clinton or perhaps to President Roosevelt's program to preserve public lands during the 1930s Great Depression via the Works Progress Administration, which was engaged in the park at the time.
I have not come across a complete list of the Mather memorial locations. I hope you join me in this interesting and educational quest to fill in that list. If you do find one, please let me know.

* GPS locations:
1 Mather home - Darien: N41° 06.768'  W073° 28.468'
2 Mather memorial - Petersburg NB: N37° 14.627'  W077° 21.396'
3 Mather memorial - Bear Mountain SP: N41° 19.059'  W073° 59.278'


  1. Interesting topic! Don't get me going on another scavenger hunt!....On second thought, why not? I've seen a number of these Mather plaques over the years - if only I had a crystal ball foreseeing a distant quest (and a gps), I could have added to the list many times over! Kudos to you for finding the one in the zoo! Amazing!......Another good job, focusing on a little known or thought-about topic. Only you! Mo

    1. Apparently there are a great number of plaques, Mo. At the time of Mather's memorialization, there were 27 Natl Parks and even more Natl Monuments. In addition, there are the quizzical locations, like Bear Mtn. Finding all the Mather plaques could take a lifetime. We better get started!

  2. As you know, the Appalachian Trail is under NPS jurisdiction although not much of it is on federal land and it is maintained by volunteer clubs. The AT should have a Mather plaque somewhere, right? The highest point on the AT is in Great Smoky Mountains NP, which probably has its own Mather Plaque.

    The AT crosses the Bear Mountain bridge. According to Wikipedia the Bear Mountain Zoo is the lowest point on the AT at 124 feet above sea level, and the Bear Mountain section is the oldest part of the trail, dating back to 1923. (I don't understand how the trail crossed the Hudson before the bridge was built, but to this day hikers have to cross the Kennebec by boat.)

    Wikipedia says that in 2010, 700 volunteers from the NY-NJ trail conference completed 4 years of work paving the trail at this location with "800 granite-slab steps followed by over a mile of walkway supported by stone crib walls with boulders lining the path." That looks like your picture. Perhaps that is the newest Mather plaque?

    The chief engineer for the park was Major William A. Welch, Wikipedia claims, "whose work for the park would win him recognition as the father of the state park movement[2 (foot note for obituary in the New York Times)] (and later, the national park movement).[citation needed]" Welch is supposed to have suggested the idea for the AT to its founder, Benton MacKaye.

    One wonders if any American who was not a politician or a war hero has more memorials than Mather. Did you know there is a Stephen T. Mather high school in Chicago? That probably has a plaque.

    Don, you are amazing! Happy Easter to you and MC and your far-flung family.

  3. Jim -- Many thanks for your research and comments. I was at the southern terminus of the AT in March last year with the grandkids via the Amicalola Falls State Park, GA access to Springer Mtn. I GPS'd the Falls part and met some cold, wet hikers about to start. It's a beautiful spot, if you get the chance to visit.

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