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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On 10:49 AM by Rachel Preston Prinz in
Sharing some of the internship assignments we give all our interns...

A great deal of what we do involves documenting historic properties. In every state, there are variations of forms you'll want to know how to fill out so that you can document historic structures, sites, buildings, and/or objects.

In New Mexico, they are called Historic Cultural Properties Inventory Forms. The state has a manual for filling out those forms, that explains almost everything you could ever want to know about what is needed in this process - and this is the same information needed in every other state. The manual is available here.

The manual also gets into an abbreviated description of the styles of architecture in New Mexico.


1) Download and read the manual to be come familiar with the process.

2) Pick a building in your community that you want to document  for practice.

3) Find the forms for your state. They should be available online. If they are not available, call your State's Historic Preservation Office to get digital copies.

4) Fill in the forms for the building you chose. To get a history of the structure, you might want to coordinate with your city planning manager (just tell them you are an intern and this is your assignment) and see if someone has done that part already. They may give it to you. Or, you may choose to go to the archives at your local library to research the structure... or complete an oral interview with the owners of the building to create one.

5) Send to us for review!

6) Once they are completed and reviewed, you might want to call your city or town's planning manager to see if they'd like a copy.

7) Put this in your portfolio!

Postscript and extended learning opportunities:

One of the interns taking this course sent in images from his project, befuddled where to fit  the building in within the contexts of American architectural history. He chose a unique project... a historic train station in South Carolina.

I used to work on a lot of historic train stations when I was in Virginia, so I can tell you more about these buildings that you'll ever want to know. But that's my institutional knowledge. That doesn't help YOU answer the question. And I want you to be able to.

But there isn't a style called "American Railroad" in the state. So what to do?

Each state typically has an online listing of all their National Register properties, usually available through the website of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). This list usually has links to nomination forms for each property. As in the case of railroad buildings, you can search the archives for few properties like yours using search terms like "railroad" and "depot" and often find some guidance to see what others have done in this case.

In South Carolina, for instance, the SHPO's website has a link to their archives and a new window takes you a searchable database. A search for "depot" comes up with no entries, however a search for "railroad"comes up with 28 records. On the far right are links to the individual nomination forms. When you get to the entries for your state, check a few of these out and see what style(s) they used. Then choose one or two and put them on the HCPI form (or whatever your state calls it). Remember, if you are doing these forms, you'll be submitting them to the SHPO, who will review them and verify that you suggested the style they want.  ALWAYS put one in. Even if you are wrong. It is better to guess, be wrong, and learn from the experience than to put your job in someone else's hands. And, you may well learn something in the process. From one of these forms, we can verify that a railroad structure with two waiting rooms was used during segregation. The one on the end of the building, with all the natural light and pretty views, was for whites. The one on the other side, before the loud freight room and much darker inside, was for blacks. This is an important thing to know about American history. And it helps us date the structure to post-railroad and pre-desegregation. That's a smaller time window in which to perform archival research to get the actual date of construction...