America's History Protected on National Wildlife Refuges

Fifty years ago, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act to preserve the “historical and cultural foundations of the Nation as a living part of our community life.” Enjoy a sampling of the cultural treasures you can find on refuges. In the photo above, young visitors tour the Cathlapotle PlankhouseRidgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. (Photo: Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

You can see fully-preserved bottles of pickles, brandied cherries and peaches in the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge visitor center and museum in Iowa. (Photos: Maggie O'Connell/Bill O'Brian/USFWS)

The Steamboat Bertrand was bound for Montana gold mining territory when it sank in the Missouri River in 1865. All the passengers survived. A little more than 100 years later, the Bertrand was discovered and excavated. Watch a video “Sunken Treasure: The Steamboat Bertrand” here.


A major restoration project was completed in the summer of 2016 at the Whaley Homestead. Here is a step-by-step photo story of the reconstruction. (Photo: USFWS)

Peter Whaley and his wife, Hannah, moved to the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana in 1877. By 1885, they had completed a two-story house of square-hewn logs. The house still stands at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge as a lasting example of craftsmanship of the late 19th century. Two of Whaley’s children enlarged the farm to 400 acres. The Whaley family raised livestock and operated a meat market, hotel and sawmill.  Get the full story here.


More than 100 community volunteers donated 3,000 hours over two years to build the plankhouse, which opened in 2005. (Photo: Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge)

In 1805 and 1806, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark visited Cathlapotle, one of the largest Chinook villages along the Columbia River in Washington state. They saw plankhouses that served as people’s homes. A replica is now part of Ridgefield Refuge, where refuge staff and Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge use it for frequent educational and cultural activities.  More here.


Passport in Time volunteers learned excavation skills at Fort Ruby. A flag-raising ceremony inaugurated the opening of the Fort Ruby Interpretive Trail in 2015. (Photos: Lou Ann Speulda-Drews)

The 3rd Infantry of California Volunteers built Fort Ruby in Nevada in 1862 to protect the Overland Stage and Pony Express routes.  The fort included officers’ houses, hospital, barracks, a blacksmith shop, a brig and a stable. Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge acquired a ranch on the site in 2002. Volunteers helped uncover foundations and artifacts. The Fort Ruby Interpretive Trail opened in 2015. Here's the timeline.


The Great Dismal Swamp once contained a thriving community of slaves seeking freedom. (Photo: USFWS)

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is the largest remnant of a million-acre swamp that once covered southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. For 200 years, the swamp was home to maroons, escaped slaves whose story is told in the refuge’s Underground Railroad Education Pavilion, in this brochure and in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.


The lighthouse and lifesaving station on Plum Island in Lake Michigan guided ships through the Porte des Morts (Death's Door) until well into the 20th century. (Photo: James Myster/USFWS)

When the lifesaving station was built on Plum Island in 1896, such facilities were common on the Great Lakes. Today, this may be the only one left.  Little wonder then that a group of people formed the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands in 2007 to help restore, preserve and manage the islands’ historic and cultural resources. A year later, Plum and Pilot Islands were added to Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.


From this cabin at Ash Meadows Refuge, NV, Jack Longstreet made his living as a prospector, rancher, saloon keeper, trail-blazer and hired gun. (Photo: USFWS)

In late 19th and early 20th century Nevada, Jack Longstreet settled “arguments with a gun and championed those who could not protect themselves.” In 1896 he built his cabin into the side of a mound, giving him private access to an underground spring and food storage area. The stone cabin was restored and opened to the public in 2005.  Take a video walk along the boardwalk from the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge visitor center to the cabin, which is now open to the public for interpretive programs.


These CCC crew members are replacing a tramway on the trail leading to Jacks Bay at Dale Bumpers White River Refuge, AR. (Photo: USFWS)

At the height of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), 64 CCC camps employed 13,000 men in Arkansas – some of them at Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge, which had just been established in 1935.  The refuge housed the nation’s only floating quarter boats as living quarters for CCC crews.  Several CCC-era buildings still stand at the refuge.


One of only two B24Ds known to exist in the world, this aircraft flew in at least 18 combat missions before it went down in bad weather on Atka Island, AK, where it remains today. (Photo: Steve Hillebrand/USFWS)

The Battle of Attu, fought in 1943 on land that is now part of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, was the only World War II land battle fought in what are now the United States. This B24D Liberator bomber played a significant role in the battle before the plane crash-landed on Atka where it remains in federally designated wilderness.  The Aleutian islands of Attu, Kiska and Atka are now part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, established in 2008. The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Attu was commemorated in 2013.


Compiled by, October 26, 2016