Blog Post Jennifer Errick Aug 31, 2015

Small Wonders: The 12 Teeniest National Park Sites

National parks encompass vast wilderness areas and grand landscapes, yet so many of America’s greatest treasures come in much smaller packages. Twelve national park sites measure less than one acre each, though they share enormous stories of struggle, leadership, tragedy, and creative spirit in less space than a football field. Here are the teeniest spots, from largest to smallest.

1. General Grant National Memorial, New York

Size: .76 acres

It may be small for a national park site, but the memorial to former U.S. President and Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant, commonly known as Grant’s Tomb, is the largest mausoleum in North America. The site opened in 1897 after an enthusiastic grassroots fundraising effort raised about $600,000 from more than 90,000 people—much of it in pennies and dimes. The campaign was spearheaded by Richard T. Greener, the first African American graduate of Harvard University, who credited Grant with enabling his success by ending the Civil War. When it first opened, more than half a million visitors a year flocked to pay their respects to the popular war hero, including Civil War veterans, many of whom had to be physically carried by park staff up the monument’s many steps.

2. Boston African American National Historic Site, Massachusetts

Size: .59 acres

In the early 1800s, the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston was home to one of the largest communities of free African Americans. Unlike other U.S. states, Massachusetts effectively outlawed slavery in its constitution in 1783, decades before the 13th Amendment abolished slavery nationwide, and no record of enslaved people existed in the state by 1790. Boston became a thriving center for the abolitionist movement and a critical link in the Underground Railroad. The historic site interprets 15 different structures in this storied neighborhood, including a memorial honoring the first regiment of African American troops to serve in the Civil War (shown here), as well as the 1806 African Meeting House, the oldest black church still standing in the United States.

3. Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, Pennsylvania

Size: .52 acres

Get a glimpse into one of the most darkly romantic minds in American literature by touring the apartment once rented by the infamous author and critic Edgar Allan Poe. Though Poe was born in Boston and died at age 40 under mysterious circumstances in Baltimore, he considered his happiest and most productive period to be the six years he spent in Philadelphia. He lived in several homes during that time; this apartment, which Poe shared with his wife and mother-in-law from roughly 1843 to 1844, is the only one that survives. Unlike other historic homes, Poe’s former residence is kept unfurnished, aside from one room where visitors can read and hear recordings of his work. Interpretive rangers bring the empty space to life with insights into the author’s macabre imagination and tragic life story.

4. First Ladies National Historic Site, Ohio

Size: .46 acres

They command the attention of millions and spearhead initiatives that shape our culture, yet for years, no comprehensive resource helped to document and interpret the lives of America’s first ladies. Recognizing this need, enthusiast Mary Regula, wife of a former Ohio congressman, helped establish a bibliography on these leaders. Her efforts led to a National First Ladies Library in 1996 and the historic site in 2000—one of only a handful of national parks devoted specifically to interpreting women’s history. Though the site preserves the childhood home of one individual woman—First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley—it also archives a wealth of information on the diverse lives of dozens of influential women who served in this rare and distinctive role in American politics and society.

5. Federal Hall National Memorial, New York

Size: .45 acres

Few people can do as much in a teeny space as Manhattan residents; still, the amount of history that took place in less than half an acre at this Wall Street location is staggering. The original Federal Hall, built in 1700, served as the administrative offices for the city, the site of George Washington’s presidential inauguration, and the first U.S. capitol building. After the seat of federal power moved to Philadelphia in 1790, the original building was eventually razed, and a second building was completed at the same site in 1842. This newer facility became the nation’s first customs house, as well as one of six federal treasury buildings storing millions of dollars’ worth of precious metals between 1862 and 1920. The memorial now houses a museum on Washington’s administration, including the original Bible from his inauguration.

6. African Burial Ground National Monument, New York

Size: .35 acres

Prior to the Revolutionary War, New York City was one of the largest slaveholding regions in the country, and the labor of enslaved people contributed significantly to the city’s growth. In 1991, workers in lower Manhattan stumbled on a piece of this often-forgotten history when they found this burial ground while excavating a federal office building. The site contains the remains of more than 400 Africans and African Americans, both enslaved and free, who were buried here from the late 1600s until the late 1700s. The monument, a National Historic Landmark, now contains four exhibit areas within its interpretive center to help commemorate the lives of Africans and African Americans in colonial New York. The monument design is heavily influenced by African motifs, including an outdoor area known as the “Circle of Diaspora,” decorated with symbols from different cultures throughout Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

7. Ford’s Theater National Historic Site, Washington, D.C.

Size: .30 acres

History buffs will not want to miss a tour of the fateful theater where Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth assassinated 16th President Abraham Lincoln just five days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered in April 1865, signaling the end of the Civil War. The site includes the compact performance space where the president and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln unknowingly watched the production of Our American Cousin from a box above the proscenium arch. Beneath the theater, a basement museum now houses artifacts from the event, including the president’s greatcoat, the assassin’s diary, and the actual .44-caliber Derringer from the fatal attack. Across the street, visitors can also explore the home of the German tailor William A. Petersen where Lincoln was carried after the shooting and tended to until his death hours later.

8. Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site, Washington, D.C.

Size: .15 acres

Known as “the Father of Black History,” Carter G. Woodson was a scholar, author, educator, and journalist who dedicated his life to documenting and promoting stories of the African American experience. He earned his doctorate from Harvard University while teaching at public schools and went on to serve as the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Howard University. In 1926, he founded “Negro History Week,” a celebration of African American achievement that eventually went on to become Black History Month. The historic site, which has been vacant since the Park Service acquired it in 2005, will ultimately preserve the residence where Woodson spent the last 28 years of his life, as well as the headquarters for the organization he founded to promote scholarly work in African American history, which continues today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. (Note: The site has been recently renovated and is newly open to the public for offers tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays and Saturdays. Learn more on the National Park Service website.)

9. Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, New York

Size: .11 acres

Former President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the nation’s most famous conservationists, known for his exuberant, adventurous personality and his passion for ranching in the wild lands of North Dakota. Yet the celebrated cowboy spent his early years in a much different environment—at the heart of America’s largest city—suffering from debilitating asthma and illness. This rebuilt home is modeled after the brownstone in downtown Manhattan where Roosevelt spent the first 14 years of his life and where he developed a personal fitness regimen that would ultimately create lasting improvements in his health and his outlook. The site contains five rooms decorated as they looked in Roosevelt’s time, as well as two museum galleries and a bookstore. (Note: This site is currently closed for renovations and will reopen in 2016.)

10. John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, Massachusetts

Size: .09 acres

The building where one of America’s most revered presidents began his life was not only tiny but also modest. Eight people shared the home with its small but comfortably furnished rooms and its single bathroom. John F. Kennedy was born in the master bedroom and spent the first three years of his life here with his parents, three siblings, and two live-in domestic helpers. Tours and interpretation at the site focus on the day-to-day life in the household, from the simple details like favorite books and meals, to the rituals that shaped the psyche of the future president and his brothers and sisters, including their mother’s theory of “scientific motherhood” and the quizzes both parents would devise at the dinner table to encourage curiosity and learning. Visitors can take guided tours with rangers or visit in the middle of the day for a self-guided audio tour at their own pace; the site closes during the winter months.

11. Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, Washington, D.C.

Size: .07 acres

Born to former slaves a decade after the end of the Civil War, educator and political leader Mary McLeod Bethune grew up in South Carolina as the 15th of 17 children. Despite a childhood of poverty and hard work, she walked for miles each day to attend the one-room schoolhouse established for African American children in her community. She became the only child in her family to receive an education and began working as a teacher early in her career, eventually founding a school for African American girls in Daytona, Florida, and serving as president of the National Association of Colored Women. In 1935, she became an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on minority affairs and founded her own civil rights organization, the National Council of Negro Women. It is the former headquarters of her organization that is now preserved at the historic site, along with details of her extraordinary life and achievements.

12. Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, Pennsylvania

Size: .02 acres

The memorial honoring freedom fighter and engineer Thaddeus (aka Tadeusz) Kościuszko may be the smallest national park site in the country, but it preserves epic tales of war and freedom. Polish-born Kościuszko helped American colonists win their independence from the British in the Revolutionary War by meticulously designing and fortifying military defenses. After the war, Kościuszko returned to Poland and led an uprising in 1794 in a failed attempt to liberate Poland and Lithuania from Russian occupation. After suffering serious injury and imprisonment, he was forced to live the rest of his life in exile in a number of countries, returning briefly to America in 1797. The memorial in Philadelphia—known as “K House” to locals—is the home where Kościuszko stayed on this second visit to America, years after helping to liberate his adopted countrymen.

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