Watchman – 16 Physical History – 1930-1939

National Park Service Cultural Landscapes Inventory: The Watchman, Crater Lake National Park, 2001

Physical History



Further site analysis was essential in establishing the new observation station on Watchman Peak. Consideration was given to aesthetics and programmatic needs. The new trail and building were to embody Naturalistic and Rustic architectural principals of design, while also serving as a fire watch/educational opportunity for park visitors. The General Development Plan influenced the construction of the Watchman’s trail and observation station. The cohesive plan was conceived to incorporate these design theories at Crater Lake. The General Development Plan was considered “essential in the late 1920s and was viewed as a way to manage park resources as a whole. When Stephen T. Mather became director of the NPS in 1917, he helped formulate the Service’s policy statement of that year to the effect that all roads, trails, buildings, and other improvements be carried out with their ultimate harmony with the landscape in mind” (Greene, 1984, 185-187).

Rustic architecture and Naturalistic landscape architecture espoused a harmonious relationship between structures and their natural surroundings. This concept was highly influential in the design of the Watchman Observation Station and Watchman Trail. This was achieved primarily by using “natural” materials including native wood and stone in an effort to seamlessly integrate structures with their surroundings. Specific aspects of the style included use of native materials, simplicity in design, avoidance of overly perfect construction lines, use of exterior colors such as brown and gray to blend with the settings, and a general look as if the structure was built by pioneer craftsmen. Structures were to be subordinate to their surrounding environment, creating the overall feeling that the structure was less important than its setting (Greene 1984, 185-6). As site planning for the Watchman Observation Station continued in the early 1930s, Thomas C. Vint, Chief NPS Landscape Architect, espoused this design philosophy saying: “all buildings on the Rim of Crater Lake should be very inconspicuous, in order that one viewing the crater from any point would not feel the presence of buildings. This is, of course, in accord with the principles of any landscape development in the National Parks” (Vint, 1930, n.p.). Additional programmatic elements included an outside stairway sited close to the terrace for visitor convenience and a platform surrounding the tower to allow “…better visibility…and…space for visitors” as well as a comfort station proposed to better accommodate the expected “great number of people” (Hall, 1930, n.p.). Construction was set to begin in 1931 with sketches provided by Charles E. Peterson in 1930 and working drawings by Francis G. Lange in 1931.

Construction and development projects at Crater Lake were put in jeopardy, however, in the early 1930s when budgetary constraints developed due to the Great Depression. Funding provided by the Hoover administration, however, infused the NPS with funding for additional day labor, allowing the Watchman project to proceed. By 1933, Watchman Observation Station was completed by government emergency public works funding designed to counter the effects of the depression. Without this federal funding made possible through the Emergency Conservation Work (ECW) and Public Works Administration (PWA), projects associated with the Crater Lake General Development and Master Plans would not have been completed. The 1933 construction season was the first at Crater Lake to be affected by such appropriations (Unrau, 1988, 479-83).