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The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society

Also known as ASHPS, Trustees of Scenic and Historic Places and Objects in the State of New York, and The Society for the Preservation of Scenic and Historic Places and Objects

The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, formed in March of 1895, was New York’s first organized preservation lobby.

Location: New York, NY
People: Andrew Haswell Green, Edward Hagaman Hall, William Pryor Letchworth, John Pierpont Morgan, Robert Moses, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Organizations: New-York Historical Society
Places: Billop House, Castle ClintonFraunces Tavern, Hamilton Grange, Inwood Hill, St. John’s Church, Letchworth State Park, Varick Street
Above: Castle Clinton, Battery Park, New York; Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society (ASHPS) was created “as a national organization of men and women for the protection of natural scenery and the preservation of historic landmarks in city or country, made beautiful by nature or art; to preserve landmarks, objects and other records of the past or present; to erect historical memorials, and generally to promote popular appreciation of the scenic beauties of America and respect for the history of the nation, its honored names and its physical memorials.”1

May 1941: Three months after Robert Moses announces his plan to demolish Castle Clinton, the ASHPS, along with the New-York Historical Society, announces that they would hold a meeting to discuss "The Preservation of Historic Sites and Buildings in the City of New York”

June 1948: When Moses attempts to complete the demolition of Castle Clinton that had begun prior to World War II, the ASHPS filed a suit against him, under the name of Alexander Hamilton, one of its officers

Andrew Haswell Green founded the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society (ASHPS), New York’s first organized preservation lobby, in March of 1895.2 "Capitalizing on the centralization of power and state building that characterized the Progressive Era," the Society was originally chartered by the New York State legislature under the name "Trustees of Scenic and Historic Places and Objects." In 1901, it adopted the moniker of American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society.3

The ASHPS was founded on the traditions of the "wilderness preservation movement.”4 It served as an umbrella and gathering point for the informal network of preservation advocates. The ASHPS's platform signified the marriage of "historic" and "scenic" values to be protected. The Society designated a broad range of objects and places for preservation.5 The ASHPS sought to impose order on the landscape and to harmonize the urban population in an effort to keep the parks and nature as natural as possible. Its main tactic was to acquire and maintain scenic areas and historic sites, as well as make them publicly accessible. At the time of its founding, the ASHPS controlled only six parks, and thanks to its efforts, 41 parks were opened to the public by the mid 1920s.6 The ASHPS was also interested in the narratives surrounding the sites they sought to preserve, and placed special emphasis on patriotic stories.7

The Society relied upon the involvement of a group of New York society's active elites, as well as a "nascent" middle class, and counted a significant number of politicians, representatives, and legislators as influential allies. Members such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., John Pierpont Morgan, and William Pryor Letchworth added to the organization's prestige. However, even with this influence, by the 1930s, Robert Moses blocked the ASHPS from continuing management at one of its most treasured sites, Letchworth State Park.8

ASHPS's preservation efforts focused on a range of interests, varying from individual buildings, historic sites, statues, plaques, and parks, to battlefields and open spaces.9

The ASHPS was involved in the fight to save the old St. John’s Church after it was marked for destruction to enable the widening of Varick Street.10 Also, the Society "fought to make public parks of those rare remnants of the revolutionary past: such as the Billop House, Fraunces Tavern, Hamilton Grange, Castle Garden, Inwood Hill’s virgin forest and Indian remains, the ruins of Fort Washington and the old Hall of Records in City Hall Park.”11 In addition, the ASHPS played a role in the debates surrounding Central Park.12

Furthermore, the ASHPS took an active stance against Robert Moses's plan to demolish the historic Castle Clinton. In May of 1941, three months after Robert Moses announced his plan to terminate the Castle, the ASHPS, along with the New-York Historical Society, announced that they would hold a meeting to discuss "The Preservation of Historic Sites and Buildings in the City of New York.”13 Later, in June of 1948, when Moses attempted to complete the demolition of Castle Clinton that had begun prior to World War II, the Society filed a suit against him, under the name of one of its most prestigious officers, Alexander Hamilton. By the time the court had reached a final decision, the assembly and the state senate in Albany had already passed the legislation required to cede Castle Clinton to the Federal Government.14 The ASHPS was involved with the effort to advance the notion that under police power, New York City should have the authority to regulate on aesthetic grounds.

On another note, the ASHPS was involved with the Commission to regulate billboards.15 Dr. Edward Hagaman Hall, the paid executive secretary of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, testified before several of the Commission’s hearings, and helped draft a report on the subject.16 In the report, entitled "The Poster Nuisance: An argument against the abuses of outdoor advertising," Hall argued against outdoor advertising. He emphasized the public’s right to be free from advertising and questioned the effectiveness of outdoor advertisements. He also pointed out that in an educated, literate culture, outdoor advertising is an unnecessary nuisance, and a blight upon a city's aesthetics.

  • American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society Records, 1895-1971
    The New York Public Library, Special Collections Department
    Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
    New York, NY 10018-2788
    Tel: (212) 930-0830

    Please note a finding aid for this collection is available within the repository as well as online.
  1. 
”Scenic and Historic America: Bulletin of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society,”ASHPS 2.1 (March 1930): page 3.
  2. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1994), page 331.
  3. 
Jonathan Anzalone, “From Inspiration to Recreation: The Creation of the New York State Park System, 1885-1930,” presented at the New York State History Conference on 11 June 2007, page 6.
  4. 
Ibid.
  5. 
Max Page and Randall Mason, Giving Preservation a History (New York: Routledge, 2004), page 133.
  6. 
Jonathan Anzalone, “From Inspiration to Recreation: The Creation of the New York State Park System, 1885-1930,” presented at the New York State History Conference on 11 June 2007, page 6.
  7. 
Max Page and Randall Mason, Giving Preservation a History (New York: Routledge, 2004), page 137.
  8. 
Jonathan Anzalone, “From Inspiration to Recreation: The Creation of the New York State Park System, 1885-1930,” presented at the New York State History Conference on 11 June 2007, page 6.
  9. 
Max Page and Randall Mason, Giving Preservation a History (New York: Routledge, 2004), page 133.
  10. 
”Old St. John’s Church is Marked for Destruction,” The New York Times, 25 May 1913.
  11. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1994), page 331.
  12. 
Max Page and Randall Mason, Giving Preservation a History (New York: Routledge, 2004), page 137.
  13. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 60.
  14. 
Ibid, page 81.
  15. 
Ibid, page 28.
  16. Ibid, page 29.