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When the 4th of July was Flag Day too! A Birthday Celebration for Stephen Tyng Mather

Within a trunk at the rear of the attic in the Homestead is a small blue box. In the box is a handwritten note from Bertha Mather McPherson (Stephen’s daughter) saying simply “Flags of Nat. Parks put on birthday cake for STM in one of the parks one year.”

And within the box are 19 2-1/2”x 1-7/8” cloth flags on pencil-like wooden sticks each 6” in length. The flags represent 19 National Parks and offer a historical perspective on subsequent changes in the names and status of some of these Parks.

Stephen T. Mather was born July 4th 1867. And we can guess that this birthday celebration was after 1921 (when Hot Springs became a National Park) and before 1926 (when Shenandoah became a Park.)

Thirteen flags represent National Parks we still recognize. With their founding dates they are:

Crater Lake-1902 Glacier-1910 Grand Canyon-1919

Hot Springs-1921 Lassen Volcanic-1916 Mesa Verde-1906

Mt. Rainier-1899 Rocky Mountain-1915 Sequoia-1890

Wind Cave-1903 Yellowstone-1872 Yosemite-1890


Three of the parks were later renamed. Mt. McKinley-1917 became Denali. Lafayette-1919 became Acadia. And Hawaii National Park became two Parks: Hawai’i Volcanoes Park and Haleakala.

The remaining three? Platt-1902 became the Chicksaw National Recreational Area. General Grant-1890 became part of Kings Canyon National Park in 1940. Sullys Hill-1904 was transferred to administration by US Fish and Wildlife in 1931.

If “one to grow on…” is a traditional birthday wish, the vision of Stephen Mather has fulfilled that wish many times over. On December 27, 2020 New River Gorge in West Virginia became America’s 63rd National Park .

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