A Brief History: The Smallest National Park Site Forget the walking shoes and bug repellant. The Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial is a mere 0.02 acres and is inside a Philadelphia row house. Kosciuszko, an American Revolutionary War hero, spent seven months in the room that serves as the main exhibit area.

A Brief History: The Smallest National Park Site

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Yosemite, the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Teton - these are some of the national parks you've most likely heard of. Well, today, as part of our series on the national parks, we're going to visit some lesser-known locations, parks we've picked out for their size - the largest and the smallest.

First, NPR's Robert Smith takes us to the smallest.

ROBERT SMITH: This is going to be a very short tour. America's tiniest national park is up here on the second floor of an old house in the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia. And I'll show you how small it is.

I can walk across it one, two, three, four steps. What's - I'll ask the ranger here, what's the exact size?

NORRIS: 0.02 acres.

SMITH: The name may actually be longer than the actual park. It's the Thaddeus Kosc--?

NORRIS: Kosciuszko National Memorial.

SMITH: Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial.


SMITH: I guess I shouldn't worry too much about it. Ranger Andrew McDougall tells me that everybody mangles this park's name. The important thing is that you come away with the sense that it's named after a bona fide hero. Kosciuszko came over from his native Poland, he was a military engineer, and he fought in the American Revolutionary War, and to list all of his accomplishments would take like, I don't know, six minutes, which is the length of the movie they play here.


U: Who is this Polish general that Americans cheer? He was a son of land-owning gentry, and a friend of peasants.

SMITH: Or it could take 12 minutes if you watched the movie again in Polish.


U: (Speaking in Polish)

SMITH: Kosciuszko was like the George Washington of Poland, and Polish Americans have plastered his name on everything - it's on bridges, monuments, mountains, there are cities in Texas and Mississippi named after the guy. This place, this tiny room, was the place Kosciuszko rented for seven months while he was appealing to Congress for his back pay. I mean, it's no Mount Vernon, but in the 1970s, a Polish-American businessman bought the place and donated it to the National Park Service.

NORRIS: So we kind of just set the room up to look the way it would've looked on any given day that Kosciuszko would've been here, so that, you know, it's a little sloppy in the room, there's some papers scattered around.

SMITH: Now let's be honest, this is no Liberty Bell, there are not lines around the corner. How long can you go here without anyone stopping by?

NORRIS: Well, that varies depending upon the time of the year.

SMITH: Have you gone days, weeks?

NORRIS: No. There's at least one visitor per day.

SMITH: Okay. If we get bored, we can always play with the interactive displays here.


U: This is such a small room, such a small room for such a great man. But it was typical of Thaddeus Kosciuszko...

SMITH: So you've been open for a while and nobody's coming through the door?

NORRIS: We've had no visitors yet, but that's not uncommon.

SMITH: It's a waiting game.

NORRIS: It can be.


SMITH: All right. Clearly, if I'm going to interview a visitor to this place, I'm going to have to pull one in myself.

Excuse me. You guys interested in going into the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial?

NORRIS: I think maybe a Polish revolutionary hero is probably more at the bottom of my list.

SMITH: Fair enough. But Thomas Campbell does say that the next time he comes by, he will try and stop here.

Back inside, ranger Andrew McDougall is still waiting patiently. It's actually one of the easier gigs in the Park Service.

NORRIS: We have no shuttle bus, we have no food service, we don't have any camping facilities. Maybe we could look at it as more quality visitation than quantity. The people who are going to make the point to come to this site are people who are going to be very interested.

SMITH: And sure enough, in the midafternoon, the opens and in walks Yolanta Cartiche(ph), she's Polish American, and she is not going to miss this tiny little corner of the National Park System.

NORRIS: He came to America and fought for liberty because that's what he stood for, he believed in it. In Poland, everybody knows him.

SMITH: She watched the movie, she peers into the exhibit, and then she tells me I've been pronouncing the man's name wrong.

NORRIS: Thaddeus Kosciuszko.

SMITH: Kosciuszko.

NORRIS: It's a sweet name for a military man.

SMITH: Ranger McDougall tells her that she might want to come back again. The whole place, all 0.02 acres of it, is going to be rehabbed with all new exhibits and cool new artifacts like the man's sword and a lock of his hair.

NORRIS: The exhibit will really showcase Thaddeus Kosciuszko as an international freedom fighter or, as Thomas Jefferson termed him, the purest son of liberty he had ever known.

SMITH: It's a lot of praise to fit into a very small park.

Robert Smith, NPR News, at the Thaddeus Kosciuszko...

NORRIS: Kosciuszko.

NORRIS: Kosciuszko.

SMITH: ...Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia.

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