One thing that does not come immediately to mind when I think of the National Park Service (NPS) is the performing arts. I have been attending concerts at the Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts for decades. It is my favorite outdoor concert venue in the Washington, DC area. However, I am always a little confused when I see all these people in National-Park-Service uniforms. Then I remember that I am actually in one of our National Parks. It never occurred to me that there may be other National Parks whose purpose is the preservation and celebration of our culture through performance. That is, until I came across the moving images from the Harpers Ferry Center Collection relating to the Blue Ridge Music Center.
The records of the Harpers Ferry Center (HFC) are a relatively new addition to the moving image holdings of the National Archives. These records came to the National Archives from the Harpers Ferry Center located in West Virginia. HFC opened its doors for business on March 2, 1970 and its primary function is providing interpretive assistance tools for NPS field interpreters to fulfill the mission of the National Park Service to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” These tools include, but are not limited to audiovisual programs, historic furnishings, museum exhibits, and publications. As well as these tools, HFC also provides a variety of services including graphic research, interpretive planning, and assistance with media development strategies.
I have the privilege of making these moving images from HFC available to the public. When I think about the natural resources of our national parks places like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite come to mind. On the other hand, when I think about the cultural resources of our national parks I think of places like the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania or the Frederick Douglass House in Anacostia, a neighborhood located in South East Washington DC. While the Harpers Ferry Collection includes films from these iconic parks, it has also opened my eyes to some unexpected gems.
The Blue Ridge Music Center was established in the mid-1980s. The Center is located near Galax Virginia: milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Shortly after its establishment there were plans to create a film on the music of the region to be included as part of the park’s exhibits. Sadly, the film was never finished. However, about ten original camera rolls remain and are now part of the permanent holdings here at the National Archives.
I am passionate about the records from these sites because I love both being in nature, and learning about the history of my country. Much like the NPS’s mission, the National Archives’ mission is to preserve and “provide public access to Federal Government records.” Therefore, while these records appeal to me personally, I am also proud to contribute to their preservation so others will benefit in the future. Moreover, while Civil War battlefields, homes of civil rights leaders, and picturesque landscapes are important parts of our natural and cultural history, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the cultural scope of our national parks also includes the performing arts. I am looking forward to visiting the Blue Ridge Music Center sometime soon. For now however, I will need to be content to experience these Blue Ridge musicians’ performances from the 1980’s, preserved at the National Archives.
Many of our films come to the Archives with production files that have detailed notes. While this film does have a production file its notes are limited. If you are able to identify any of the musicians here please leave a comment so that we can give them due credit.