Why is a National Historic Landmark so important and affirming?

A National Historic Landmark (NHL) is a very special, foremost, and difficult distinction to achieve. It is also a task that anyone can undertake. All one needs is to find a place of distinction, a place especially important to American history. A NHL is a building, site, structure, object, or district that is officially recognized by the United States government for its outstanding historical significance. Of over 85,000 places listed on the country's National Register of Historic Places, only 2,600 are recognized as National Historic Landmarks. The program is coordinated by the National Park Service.

National Historic Landmarks include some very impressive places: Hoover Dam, Hearst Castle, the New York Stock Exchange, the Alamo, Mount Vernon, and the United States Air Force Academy. And also on this impressive list is Drakes Bay Historic and Archaeological District. It commemorates and acknowledges the 1579 landing of Francis Drake and the 1595 landing of Sebastián Ceremeño and their encounters with the area's inhabitants, the Coast Miwok people.

To attain the lofty NHL status, sites need to first satisfy at least one of the following prerequisites to even be considered for application:

  • Sites where events of national historical significance occurred
  • Places where prominent persons lived or worked
  • Icons of ideals that shaped the nation
  • Outstanding examples of design or construction
  • Places characterizing a way of life
  • Archeological sites able to yield information

If a nomination site idea meets one of the requirements, the applicant may begin the process. This is not a time for speculation, notions, or half-baked theories. Ideas based on mediocre research don't stand a chance. Notoriety–even through books, articles, web-sites, blogs, or videos–are irrelevant. Any site without hard, irrefutable, and demonstrable facts will be rejected out of hand. All nominations endure a formidable, lengthy process with demanding standards.

NHL applicants need to accumulate exhaustive documentation and evidence before submitting it for rigorous and multiple reviews, critiques, and examinations. The NHL process began in 1994 for New Albion and lasted until 2012. By any measure, this was an extraordinarily thorough assessment.

As a regular part of its review of the Guild's nomination, the NPS obtained independent, confidential comments from a wide range of professional historians and other scholars. The NPS staff not only concluded that the probability and likelihood of Drake's Cove site being Drake's 1579 landing site and New Albion claim, they also determined that the likelihood was so clear-cut and compelling that it was most appropriate for the United States to commemorate Drake's accomplishments there. After this, the National Park System Advisory Board Landmarks Committee sought public comments on the Port of Nova Albion and received more than two dozen letters of support. There were none in opposition. Those who disagreed with the findings had a chance to challenge it to the Landmarks Committee, but no one rose to the occasion.

At the Committee's meeting of November 9, 2011, in Washington, DC, representatives of the government of Spain, spokespersons from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and staff representing Congresswoman Lynn Wolsey all spoke in favor of the nomination. National Park Service staff and the Drake Navigators Guild's president, Edward Von der Porten were presenters. No one publicly challenged the Guild's findings in front of this panel of experts. Consequently, the nomination was strongly endorsed by Committee Member Dr. James M. Allan, Archaeologist and the Committee as a whole, which unanimously approved the nomination.

Since agreement as to the validity of the DNG's findings were affirmative from all of the experts and authorities at each step of the process, the nomination was passed on to the Secretary of the Interior. If any Secretary of the Interior deems a Landmark nomination worthy and the process valid, then he–and he alone–makes the final decision to grant landmark status or not. In the case of New Albion, the Secretary acted favorably.

On October 17, 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed the nomination of the Drakes Bay Historic and Archaeological District, formally announcing it as a new National Historic Landmark. No Drake anchorage anywhere in the world has endured so much examination and analysis or seen the amount of field study and research as has this location.

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DNG President Ed Von der Porten at the November 2011 Washington, DC presentation. He is holding a photograph of fellow Guild member, Sir Simon Cassels who wrote in support of the NHL designation.


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A fringe-theory enthusiast at work.

As you can see, the actual application and nomination is a demanding and involved process, so much so that most NHL work and document writing is done by paid consultants, supported by private or government interests. The cost of each of these is often in the range of $100,000.

Not so this one. The entire application for the nomination was formulated, prepared, and presented by members of the not-for-profit Drake Navigators Guild with its members paying their own costs. Other scholars contributed to the Nomination in their fields of specialization, and their work is deeply appreciated by many. Additionally, the NPS staff in Washington, DC, in particular Mr. Kevin Foster and Dr. Erika Martin Siebert, was extraordinarily helpful in shepherding the NHL application through the process.

Through all the years of this process, from the submission of the application to the public hearings, there was no opposition–written or spoken–that was presented to the Department of the Interior or the NPS as every naysayer avoided objecting to the Guild's research and scholarship. They knew the Guild's findings were superlative.

Even so, know that any person or group who currently wishes to promote their version of New Albion as a National Historic Landmark may do so. The process of a new application is perfectly open to all, who may at any time challenge the conclusions and claims made by the Department of the Interior and their consulting experts by making their own nomination. No one has bothered to do so. Their evidence will not hold up to the deep scrutiny of the NHL process.