Independence to Saratoga with a Landscape Focus

Written by: Morgan Clutter



This week is my fourth week serving at Independence National Historic Park in Old City Philadelphia, PA. As a landscape architecture graduate, my project here focuses on a historic cultural landscape, Washington Square. The end result for my summer is to update the existing conditions and propose treatment options to help maintain the park. It is an incredible opportunity to be here, but let me first give a little recap on how the summer has gone so far.

Moving into Park Service housing, site unseen, in Downtown Philadelphia was a bit of a whirlwind, but it has been an amazing experience. Myself and one other ACE intern share an apartment two blocks from our offices. Everything at INDE is gorgeous, including out original 1802 brick row home with a semi-private courtyard in the back. I don’t mean to talk too much about the apartment, but it has two fireplaces and a formal dining room. The quality of the housing offered to us is above and beyond my wildest expectations. If I am being honest, I expected slightly better than dorm living.

May 23 – May 27

Moving on to the first week of work, the INDE staff are spectacular. They took us on private tours of historic park buildings and the grounds for most of the first week. They truly welcomed us to the park. Our guides were extremely knowledgeable, and obviously loved talking about INDE and the controversies of interpreting history. I have never met so many true experts and passionate people in one place.


Pictured is the Liberty Bell during a tour with Independence Hall in the background. ACE intern Jada Yolich is also pictured on the right.


I, Morgan Clutter, stand on the Independence Hall side of the Liberty Bell


May 30 – June 3

Following the first week, I was introduced in-depth to my project, which included reading the existing 2010 Cultural Landscape Report, meeting with staff members, and getting a tour of Washington Square from INDE’s on staff Landscape Architect. Overall, it was amazing. I loved every second of deep diving into the information of this fascinating landscape, and meeting directly with the people that know the ins and outs of the park. Some other information I learned was how the National Park Service itself is nuanced when it comes to maintenance, historic preservation, and volunteers. The relationships between them are very intriguing, and was something I wasn’t expecting to learn so much about. This week I also had the opportunity to learn about GNSS mapping with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation. This would come in handy the next week, because other associates were trained on GNSS mapping for conducting landscape inventories. Since I already had experience using the equipment, I could help other associates with technical issues.


Left, me, Morgan Clutter holding the GNSS receiver to locate the tree on the GIS map. Right: Kelsey Little, a GIS term staff member with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation typing the tree’s information directly into GIS on an iPad. The Merchant Exchange Building is in the background.


June 6 – June 10

My third week started off with a trip to Saratoga National Historical Park in Saratoga Springs, NY with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation. The purpose of my trip was to attend a training on how to conduct official National Park Service Cultural Landscape Inventories, which is similar to the work I am conducting this summer. It was great meeting all of the other landscape architecture associates and being in a group of likeminded people. I hadn’t ever been in a large group of landscape architects beyond the ones I went to college with, so it was fun to talk about the differences in our education and interests.

The training itself was very informative and needed. We learned about “rephotography” the form of documentation of photographing the same perspective throughout time to document changes, and how to begin assessing a landscape from an objective perspective. I took a lot of notes and when I came back, I felt ready to implement what I learned for my project here at INDE.

The important part about any trip, great food. In this case, several NPS associates got sushi together on our second night of the trip.


A group of landscape architecture associates use a GNSS receiver to locate a cluster of cannons on the GIS map at the Saratoga Battlefield, while a few Olmsted Center staff members analyze the landscape and conditions.


Which brings us to this week! So far, I am working on writing the report for the existing conditions of Washington Square. On Monday, I went out and photographed or rephotographed the entire square. I am excited to see how the comparison photos turn out. Additionally this week, the Olmsted Center, especially Brooke Derr & Kelsey Little, have really put my project in their attention, and are graciously attempting to get a tree survey completed of Washington Square for me, which is a huge undertaking. We spent the entirety of last Friday on it and completed 70% of the survey. I am excited to go out this week and finish it up with Kelsey. It is going to be very valuable for my report.

An example of my “rephotography” comparisons from this week. There were dozens of photos to retake to capture all contributing features.


Pictured is a 2009 photo from the Cultural Landscape Report on Washington Square.

Pictured is a 2022 photo (June 13) taken from a similar perspective. If anything, you can see the tree growth!

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