Mobile App for Historic Resource Survey in Alexandria, VA

Preservationists are moving forward in 2013! Are you looking for a way to help or are you interested in how the preservation field can incorporate mobile devices & apps for our work. Wouldn’t it be nice to conduct survey with your smart phone or tablet and transfer that information to a database without many in between steps?

You’ve probably heard about the app FieldNotes LT, which can geo-reference your resource and combine it with photographs and notes as a .kmz file. However, the file is dependent on whatever outside platform you’re using to open it (Google Earth in my experience) and you can’t really store it in a database. It’s useful, but not flawless.

So what’s better? What is a new digital & preservation initiative? Read on for news from Alexandria, VA (information adapted from correspondence with Mary Catherine Collins, a preservation planner with the city):

The City of Alexandria’s Historic Preservation division is seeking volunteers to assist with an architectural survey of the Old and Historic Alexandria District. This survey will be the first of its kind in the country using an exciting new GIS-based mobile application designed to expedite the surveying process and facilitate data sharing between the City of Alexandria and other cultural resource organizations.

Like FieldNotes LT, it will geolocate all of our survey data and photos, but more importantly by using a geodatabase format, we will be able to easily transfer our data to VDHR and NPS’s databases. The outcome of this survey is a set of digital transfer standards as well as digital update to our National Register and Landmark listings. Additionally the app will be made available for free on ESRI’s website once the project is complete.

Alexandria is a great place to begin this since, like many of the first designated historic districts, the NR nomination is entirely inadequate at only three pages!

Surveying will begin in early March, with training taking place in late February. We anticipate 2 days of training and approximately 5-10 days of field surveying. Please contact Mary Catherine Collins at preservation@alexandriava.gov if you are interested or for more information.

This is a great opportunity for anyone in the DC area to not only be part of an exciting project, but also to network with other design professionals and preservationists in the area!

Preservationists in the area, including Mary Washington & GW preservation students, I hope you’re listening. Get out, have some HP fun and learn about the digital age in preservation. If you do participate, report back to PiP.  Thank you Mary Catherine for providing this information. Good luck!

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Buy Local Advertisements

Yesterday’s image, “You Can’t Buy Happiness, But You Can Buy Local and that’s Kind of the Same Thing,” was well liked, so I thought you might like additional graphics. Who doesn’t love a good design, right? These “Buy Local” advertisements have probably been floating around the internet for a while, but some are so creative and fu that they warrant sharing with as many people as possible. Does your town or city have a similar poster or logo?

via Seed Designs. Click for source and original.

Infographic by elocal.com. Click for source and original.

Buy Local First Utah. Click for source.

Brookhaven, MS. Click for original source and additional images.

Clinton County, OH. Click for source.

Marshfield, WI. Click for source.

A nice main street block with such potential! BUY LOCAL so this doesn’t happen to you. Click for source.

Infographic via Columnfive Media and Intuit and Mind Body Green. Click for source.

Clearly, this could go on forever. Point being, the next time you are looking for some local shopping inspiration, take a look at these images. Share them (with proper credit to their original sites, of course) and get out to support those local businesses in whatever way you can. Have an image to share? Send it along. Enjoy!

Preservation Month: GSA Posters

Historic Preservation Month: it’s like a month long holiday. Sweet.

Holidays need decorations, so I searched around for some preservation posters to share. And I kept returning the GSA collection. The GSA is the U.S. General Services Administration. A brief history (from the GSA website):

GSA was established by President Harry Truman on July 1, 1949, to streamline the administrative work of the federal government. GSA consolidated the National Archives Establishment, the Federal Works Agency, and the Public Buildings Administration; the Bureau of Federal Supply and the Office of Contract Settlement; and the War Assets Administration into one federal agency tasked with administering supplies and providing workplaces for federal employees.

GSA’s original mission was to dispose of war surplus goods, manage and store government records, handle emergency preparedness, and stockpile strategic supplies for wartime. GSA also regulated the sale of various office supplies to federal agencies and managed some unusual operations, such as hemp plantations in South America.

Today, through its two largest offices – the Public Buildings Service and the Federal Acquisition Service – and various staff offices, GSA provides workspace to more than 1 million federal civilian workers, oversees the preservation of more than 480 historic buildings, facilitates the purchase of high-quality, low-cost goods and services from quality commercial vendors, and had about $39 billion in federal assets at the end of fiscal year 2010.

GSA Public Buildings Heritage Program has a collection of 100+ of its most significant buildings. You can download these posters in PDF and read the history about each building when you click on its link. Each building page is filled with images, significance, architectural descriptions and more. It is a terrific resource. They are beautiful posters. Back in 2004 at the National Trust Conference in Louisville, KY, the GSA was giving out many for free. I have a bunch, including this one framed. But browse in a variety of ways (including architectural style) and choose your favorite.

U.S. Pioneer Courthouse in Portland, Oregon. Click for history and source.

They are all beautiful buildings. Take a look at this Old Post Office and Courthouse in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Little Rock Post Office. Click for source and history.

And I’m going to have to refrain from posting too many (as a matter of practicality), but here are a few more.

Lafayette Square in Washington DC. Click for source and history.

The Richard Bolling Federal Building in Kansas City, Missouri. Click for source and history.

Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Sioux City, Iowa. Click for source and history.

Find one you need? Contact the Historic Buildings Program. Happy Preservation Month! Happy weekend!

Historic Preservation Month, Big Box Stores, Preservation Tools

{Author’s note: an earlier version of this post has been altered for the purpose of education and advocacy rather than partial rant. This method – as in, not a rant – of writing is much more effective for the mission of historic preservation; I apologize for straying from the PiP mission on such important issues. I hope that the information in this post will encourage you to consider historic significance of our built environment and how to engage your community members along with how to appreciate and employ preservation regulations where appropriate.}

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May is National Historic Preservation Month. This year, four of the largest big box chain stores – Walmart, Target, Kmart and Kohls, turn 50 years old. These chain stores have changed the face and culture of America, so Preservation Month seems like a fitting time to discuss some related issues, including: (1) big boxes reaching 50 years in age and potential significance; (2) big box and chain store sprawl; and (3) the power that citizens have through historic preservation regulations to fight sprawl and poor development.

{This is a long post, but such length is necessary for this discussion.}

From the National Trust Main Street Center’s Facebook page. Click to visit.

First: Big box stores? 50 years old? Wouldn’t that mean they are old enough to be evaluated for significance and eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places? Technically, yes. Don’t get too excited, however. While the original stores may be eligible for evaluation, this does not mean that every single big box chain store is or will ever be historic. You will recall that a determination of historic significance is based on an evaluation of the seven aspects of integrity as related to criteria of eligibility. In other words, these original stores would need to have a high level of integrity in order to be historically significant. So, it is my opinion that yes, the flagship stores of chains that changed America, might be historically significant. Why? Because significant resources are not limited to the rose-colored-glasses-view standard. As for the hundreds and thousands of subsequent chain stores? Probably not. What do you think?

Ironically, the first Walmart store – Waltons five and dime – now serves as the Walmart visitors’ center in Bentonville, AK, which is a historic district.

Related to big box stores, though different, are strip malls. I’ve recently come across blogs, such as Pleasant Family Shopping, that are dedicated to preserving the history of strip malls. An interesting concept, yes? America would not be the same without strip malls, for better or worse. I’d venture to say that the history of the strip mall is more important than the physical building itself. Do you agree? When is history more important than the actual place? Thus, those thousands of big box retail giant buildings are not significant, even though the story is. In the case of defunct and empty box stores, the argument for reuse is best left in the environmental and sustainability playing field.

Second: Big boxes exist and will continue to exist for a while; but, let’s hope that the National Trust Main Street Center analysts are correct and main street businesses will find resurgence in the next 50 (or fewer!) years. Small business ownership, local economics and downtown shopping are gaining popularity in conversation and practice. Unfortunately, big boxes and sprawl continue to invade and threaten our towns, villages and cities across the country, whether you live in Vermont, Montana, California, Iowa — anywhere.

The Vermont Forum on Sprawl defines sprawl as, “Dispersed development outside of compact urban and village centers along highways and in rural countryside.” If you live in an area where village and town centers remain intact and distinguishable from sprawl and strip malls, then consider yourself lucky. Many people are not so lucky. Read more sprawl definitions on the Sprawl Guide from Planners Web.

Sprawl includes big box retailers such as the big four mentioned above who turn 50 this year; drugstores such as RiteAid, Kinney Drugs, Walgreens, CVS, Duane-Reade, etc.; other large retailers such as Best Buy, Toys R US, Dicks Sporting Goods, Staples, Dollar General, Family Dollar, etc. Currently, dollar stores are threatening Vermont left and right. Why are these stores contributing to sprawl? Simply put, most insist on constructing their own building and parking lot on undeveloped land, outside of village centers, targeting areas with weak zoning controls. Seldom will you see a box chain store nicely fitting into a historic downtown or village center.

The thing about sprawl is that anyone who has studied community development, land use planning, historic preservation, local economics or any related field, can automatically tell you that sprawl causes negative impacts to historic downtowns and local businesses. There is no question about it. And it is completely avoidable. So why are we still fighting the same issues? Do a quick web search; you will find countless studies, such as this one from the Sierra Club or this listing of reports from Planners Web.

Third: How can we prevent sprawl and big box development that destroys the vitality and vibrance of our historic downtowns, those same downtowns where Main Street is starting to find its resurgence? You and I can shop in local businesses religiously (as we should!), but there is absolutely no guarantee that development pressures do not exist or will not arise. Big box stores and outside-of-downtown development does not come because of a lack of downtown. It comes because a developer wants to, some people agree and local politicians agree.

Sprawl and poorly planned development near a historic district will negatively effect the downtown business district. In fact, a big box store/super center may eventually kill the local businesses and the local (as in locally owned, small business) economy. And then what? People are forced to shop at that store. Downtown is abandoned. The buildings are neglected. Quality of life and sense of place decrease. The historic business district is dead, and yet another, rare, formerly successful downtown is no more. Successful, sustainable downtowns are so critical to our economy and quality of life, and big box development can ruin everyone’s hard work in a matter of months or years.

How can you fix this? How can you preserve your town’s vitality?

The answer you will hear time and time again – because it’s true – is to insure that your town/city has proper zoning regulations. In brief, zoning classifies parcels into use categories (commercial, residential, industrial, etc.). Zoning can also dictate the size of a commercial establishment, which is often what precludes big box development out of a particular area. Unfortunately, many municipalities do not have updated zoning (out of date zoning can be just as bad as no zoning) because it has never been an issue or because people are misguided and are not in favor of zoning. How do you work around this? You have to start at the local level. Talk to your local officials. Use the Big Box Tool Kit website as a reference: it is one of the best of its kind.

The greatest changes happen at the local level.

Aside from local policies, our country is shaped by state and federal policies and laws, which include historic preservation regulations, particularly Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, both 1966 (see HP Basics No.2 for overview). The nuances of each vary, but it is important to know that state and federally funded projects must consider the project effects to historic resources and avoid, minimize or mitigate those effects. Both protect historic properties.

In addition to knowing the function of the laws, it is important to know that, as member of the public, you can be involved in the process of Section 106 and Section 4(f) through public and community meetings.  The Citizen’s Guide to Section 106 produced by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation is incredibly helpful and is easy to understand if you are unfamiliar with such regulatory processes (see page 12 for public involvement).

Working with Federal Agencies – page 12 of the Citizen’s Guide to Section 106, produced by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation. Click for original source.

Section 4(f) does not have quite the reader-friendly print edition as Section 106; however, the interactive Section 4(f) training website, produced by the Maryland Department of Transportation, is user and reader friendly (with only the necessary amount of regulatory speak). Enjoy both!

The federal regulations protect historic properties. In other words, proper building infill, appropriate building renovation, sensitive roadway improvements — all federally funded projects in, through or adjacent to a historic property are required to be reviewed by qualified professionals, in order to prevent adverse effects. These laws are effective.

Do you disagree with a project or an aspect of the project? How can Section 106 and Section 4(f) apply to you? Here are some important sections of the laws that relate to determining effects of a project:

As part of Section 106 regulations, step one is to identify the Area of Potential Effect, which is defined as: “The geographic area or areas within which an undertaking may directly or indirectly cause alterations in the character or use of historic properties, if any such properties exist. The area of potential effects is influenced by the scale and nature of an undertaking and may be different for different kinds of effects caused by the undertaking” (36 CFR 800.16(d)).  “Effect means alteration to the characteristics of a historic property qualifying it for inclusion in or eligibility for the National Register” (36 CFR 800.16i). An “adverse effect” has a longer definition, but “Adverse effects may include reasonably foreseeable effects caused by the undertaking that may occur later in time, be farther removed in distance or be cumulative” (36 CFR 800.5(1)).

Section 4(f) is more complicated, but essentially says that a transportation project cannot “use” a historic resource (or recreation resource, waterfowl or wildlife refuge) if there is a feasible and prudent alternative to doing so. An intriguing “use” under Section 4(f) is constructive use, meaning, “A constructive use occurs when the transportation project does not incorporate land from a Section 4(f) property, but the project’s proximity impacts are so severe that the protected activities, features, or attributes that qualify the property for protection under Section 4(f) are substantially impaired. Substantial impairment occurs only when the protected activities, features, or attributes of the property are substantially diminished” (23 CFR 774.15(a)).

When my UVM classmates and I first learned about 4(f), we thought it was the golden ticket. Proximity impacts?! That sounds like everything, we said. Only not. We learned that what we may consider an adverse effect in our academic bubble, was not necessarily articulated in the law. In other words, sprawl didn’t exactly apply for the application of this law. Every law has its place. Think of it as checks and balances; we need laws to work together, no matter what field or sector. Obviously, right? After all, no one resource is in a vacuum. Everything is interconnected. Are you with me?

So, for issues such as sprawl; let’s assume that it is clear that there are no historic properties in the project area. Therefore, no historic properties are affected, adverse or otherwise, under application of the laws. How will you protect your community from sprawl now? Where would protection against strip malls and poor development apply? In such a case where historic preservation laws do not reach, you need to employ other regulations. After all, one set of laws cannot solve everything, no matter how badly some of us might want them to.

The best protection of the economics of your community and the health of your community are local ordinances and local zoning (with concerned, dedicated citizens working in front of and behind these regulations). See how important this is?! Combined with historic preservation regulations, zoning and planning will preserve your historic properties and districts, which will preserve the economic sustainability and health of your community.

Can you make the argument that sprawl = negative impacts to your community? Of course. Learn how to prevent the negative impacts of sprawl. The answer: zoning, planning, community involvement, education! Our country, our states, our municipalities follow regulations and laws. It is important to understand the full strength and applicability of our laws to protect historic resources (and other resources). Where one set of laws does not meet your needs or does not apply to your concerns, you have to go other routes. Be an informed citizen and you will have a better quality of life and sense of place.

What do you think, about any or all of this?

Measuring Sense of Place

Last week, the Sense of Place mini-series began by discussing how to define the concept “sense of place.”  I wrote that asking questions relating to the five sense can help you to understand and define a place, and commenters added their own thoughts. It’s a topic open for scholarly and casual discussion, one that is gaining popularity and understanding. While preservation includes discussions of sense of place, the topic of sense of place could be its own dissertation. Therefore, I’m letting you know that I’m not an expert; I enjoy pondering the concept, learning about it and talking with you about sense of place. So let’s continue.

Beyond defining sense of place, how do you measure it? How do you classify this somewhat abstract concept? How do you know if a place needs a sense of place improvement?

First, ask yourself if you can define sense of place for your locale. It may seem obvious, but if you cannot identify this particular place, then it probably lacks a sense of place. Typically, I think of many suburban locations as lacking a sense of place. If you have driven along Long Island highways, particularly central Long Island, you probably know what I mean. Basically, the highways looks like Anywhere, USA filled with car dealerships and chain stores and restaurants, all with the same, standard plans. (This isn’t to say Long Island is the only place that looks like this; it is just what I am familiar with.) However, imagine my pleasant surprise when I came across Build a Better Burb, an organization dedicated to improving sense of place on Long Island through Main Street revitalization, regional planning and housing solutions. Finally!

While one community may have a stronger sense of place than another, I’d say that it isn’t something necessarily up for traditional comparison. The idea isn’t to give every place the same feeling and measure it by the exact same standards. Perhaps a good way to measure is by cultural/social feeling (mentioned by Karri). If a community hosts events, has people out and about in all forms of transit (depends on location) with daily interactions, features a variety of businesses and has a welcome vibe, then it must have a strong sense of place. Right?

We preservationists talk about local businesses over and over, but for good reason. An important measure of sense of place could be the ration of locally owned, independent businesses vs. chains of corporate America. Common sense will say that the more local businesses = a stronger sense of place.

Another measurement could be the overall happiness  (though measuring happiness is another difficult subject) and level of involvement from community  members and frequency of events. A town with residents who care and want to create a home will shine and be a welcoming place and appear as a nice place to live. And since individuals compose a town, when they are involved, they will shape the town and sense of place.

How to measure sense of place is a good question. It’s one to which I do not have an answer. For now, I’ll leave my opinion on this matter as: understanding how to define sense of place, allows you to recognize the strength of a place and to empirically measure sense of place. This paper from the University of Queensland, Australia suggests empirical studies, for example. But, as for the charts and graphs type of measurements, I don’t believe it’s that kind of concept.

And while these may be subjective measurements and opinions, perhaps sense of place is a concept best understood and measured subjectively, in order to maintain the individuality of places. Maybe a measurement is based on how in depth you can define the sense of place for the community. What do you think? What would you like to add to measuring sense of place?

The 1940 Census

Today, April 2, 2012, marks 72 years after the 1940 U.S. Census and the first day that the public will have free online access to the entire census via the National Archives and Records Administration. At 9:00 a.m. EST, the census will be released via a live webcast. You can start watching the webcast at 8:30 a.m.

1940 U.S. Map - all 48 states. Alaska and Hawaii were not states at the time. Click for image source.

If you follow news any of the many archivists, archives or libraries on Twitter or Facebook, you may have heard that the release of 1940 U.S. Census is a big deal. This clip from NPR provides an interesting perspective about the census:

This lifting of the veil takes place every 10 years, but William Maury, chief historian at the U.S. Census Bureau, says this census offers some particularly interesting information. “The 1940 census was very close to the end of the Depression, but it was also right at the beginning of all the uncertainties associated with World War II,” Maury says. “The census itself tells terrific stories about what we were as a people and what we are as a people now.

Why 72 years later? The simple answer is that U.S. Law requires a 72 year privacy mandate. The date for the 1940 census was set at April 1. Since April 1 was a Sunday this year, the release is April 2.

Currently, the census information will not be searchable by names, but you will be able to search by enumeration districts. An enumeration district is essentially an area covered by an enumerator (census worker) in a certain period (two weeks in urban areas of one month in rural areas), and these districts were created for record keeping purposes. And the information you can learn? The 1940 Census asked many more questions than previous censuses. It will also include if people worked for the CCC, WPA or NYA. Additionally, there is a question that asks where the person lived in 1935. That adds a much deeper layer to research. See a blank 1940 census form here or here’s an easier version to read.

AP Photo/Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

According to Ancestry.com, the 1940 census will be available (and free) in searchable form in mid April.  Check out a comparison between the 1940 Census and the 2010 Census. Read a good blog post from The History Blog about the history of the census and the importance of the  1940 Census.

If you’re not a genealogist, why should this matter to you? While you may not be researching many people, you’ll be able to find your great-grandparents, grandparents or your parents documented in this census with more information than ever before. Imagine your grandparents and great-grandparents being interviewed by the enumerator walking door to door in the city or walking and driving down dusty dirt roads from farm to farm. Of course, it sounds much more exciting than the boring forms we fill out today. Regardless, all of the information is critical to understanding the composition of the United States.

Obviously, the country looked much different in 1940; the census will augment historical records and research that we  have, and will aid future researchers.

I am excited research my grandparents, all of whom were very young for the 1930 census, but will be at least of working age in 1940. This extra decade of census information will add greater detail to my family’s history, which is important to me as it allows me to understand my place in history and my family. If you’re researching, have fun!  Read this information from the National Archives about how to get started.

Friday’s Quiz Answer

The Preservation Pop Quiz from Friday March 16 asked if you could identify this architectural material:

Quiz subject.

This is located in the bathroom of my 1920s bungalow, and at first glance it looks like subway tile (most people think it is, and with a fresh coat of semi gloss paint, it continues to look like subway tile).  There is a chair rail about 4′ up on the bathroom walls; what you see in the picture is below the chair rail, and above is the regular plaster surface. However, the peeling paint gave it away; this was not tile.

The truth is, until yesterday, I was not entirely certain as to this material. It looks and sounds like plaster, but without any holes in the wall, it is hard to accurately compare it to the plaster walls. I was not going to do any exploratory destruction. However, after some searching, I’ve learned that plaster scored to look like subway tile was fairly common for a 1920s bathroom. And it’s the subject of some online discussions (see This Old House).

After reading more on plaster, I came to the conclusion that my plaster walls have rock lath/plasterboard/gypsum board of sorts, meaning that there are only two coats of plaster necessary (brown and finish), as opposed to the typical three of earlier plaster (scratch, brown, finish). From NPS Preservation Brief 21: Repairing Historic Flat Plaster by Mary Lee MacDonald:

Rock Lath. A third lath system commonly used was rock lath (also called plaster board or gypsum-board lath). In use as early as 1900, rock lath was made up of compressed gypsum covered by a paper facing. Some rock lath was textured or perforated to provide a key for wet plaster. A special paper with gypsum crystals in it provides the key for rock lath used today; when wet plaster is applied to the surface, a crystalline bond is achieved.

Rock lath was the most economical of the three lathing systems. Lathers or carpenters could prepare a room more quickly. By the late 1930s, rock lath was used almost exclusively in residential plastering.

So, the answer? The picture shows plaster walls in my bathroom scored to imitate subway tile. The brown and finish coats are scored; beneath them is the rock lath.

Does your house have anything like this? I had never seen it before (or it was done so well that it fooled me into thinking it was tile).

Abandoned Vermont: Fair Haven Depot

Looking northeast on the tracks at the Fair Haven Depot.

A train depot is a type of structure that is easily recognizable by many people, partially because it is adjacent to railroad tracks and partially because of its form and massing. Tell tale features to look for include 1) a bay window or projection from the building that would offer a better line of sight, 2) a long, narrow building, usually with a gable  or hipped roof, 3) large freight doors on one end and pedestrian sized doors on another, and 4) infrastructure for signals on and near the building.

This depot in Fair Haven,VT was constructed c. 1890 in order to service the nearby slate quarries in addition to passenger traffic. It is a historically significant structure. The railroad owns the building and was an Amtrak stop (not station) until 2010, when Amtrak left Fair Haven in favor of Castleton, VT (located five miles east). Currently it sits abandoned and neglected. Well, I consider it abandoned because of the neglect. Officially, this building has an owner. The painted plywood windows and doors serve as a detraction from its neglect, but the building is suffering from masonry deterioration.

Quite the sunny, warm January day in Fair Haven.

Here you can see the bay window projection and freight doors at the end of the building. Also note the slate shingle detail in the gable above the bay projection and the beadboard beneath, used as siding.

The gable above the bay and the former location of the signal arms.

Extensive masonry deterioration on the south wall.

One of the largest piles of railroad ties that I have ever seen.

The gateway to the depot is a 1938 concrete bridge.

Aside from neglect, the good news is that the building appears secure (save for lots of critters). The bad news is that there are no plans by the railroad or by the town to do anything with the depot. (I could be mistaken, however, and I hope I am.) Train depots are iconic buildings that all people can connect to whether due to memories or movies or the lure of trains. If you have a train depot in your area, contact your local officials and potentially interested organizations – get your town geared up for a rehabilitation project! Need some success stories? Check out the Swanton Railroad Museum, the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Cafe or the South Londonderry Depot. Find others here.

Transportation related structures benefit immensely from the Transportation Enhancements Grants program, which is severely at risk right now. Please tell your legislators how important TEs are to your community. Remember this post? The Importance of Transportation Enhancement Grants to Historic Preservation.

How to Photograph a Bridge

In the world of transportation and preservation, I spend a lot of time around bridges, conducting resource IDs, evaluating the historic significance of these bridges and reviewing projects for any adverse effects to our historic bridges and adjacent historic resources. Anyone who conducts resources IDs in the field knows that photographing the project area and the resource is a vital part of documentation and research. Why are photographs important? By photographing particular elements of structures – whether buildings or bridges – it is possible to date the historic resource by construction methods and materials used. Architectural styles date buildings, but also date bridges. Railings, deck systems and truss types allow for dating bridges.

Most often, preservationists photograph buildings and districts, but not necessarily bridges.  Just as it is important to properly photograph a building (all elevations, 3/4 shots, details, context), there is a correct way to photograph bridges. The Historic American Buildings Survey and the National Park Service have similar guidelines (your State Historic Preservation Office has likely adopted these same guidelines) for photographing architectural structures. HABS/HAER documentation includes (1) historical research, (2) measured drawings and (3) photography.

The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) provides four main guidelines (see page 4) for photographing bridges. While these are somewhat vague, it is a good starting point and basic checklist. All bridges are different, so it would be hard to have one comprehensive list.  Want some preservation jargon? We usually say “photo-doc” for short – obviously for photographic documentation. Up for some photo-doc? Let’s go through these four HAER guidelines with a variety of examples.

1. General views of all sides.

Photograph all sides/elevations of a bridge.

The Windsor-Cornish Covered Bridge, connecting Windsor VT to Cornish NH. Actually, this is from NH, so it's the Cornish-Windsor Bridge. This photograph is not ideal because it doesn't capture the entire bridge; it should. Smaller bridges are much easier. If I were documenting this one, I'd have to find a better view or go for a swim in the river.

The bridge openings count as sides and should be photographed, too, along with the approach to the bridge and the contextual surroundings. Context is important for determining the significance of a bridge. This is also helpful for an approach detail photo.

2. Detail views of portals, portal connections, upper chord connections, vertical members, traffic deck, bridge plates, manufacturer’s badge and any decorative features.

Truss bridges are more complicated to document (I think) but again, take note and photograph the connection details like on this pin truss.

Photograph the connection details. This picture shows the hand cut connection for the metal baluster and the bolt connection to the concrete post.

Photograph the railing connection to the endwall or post.

Many bridges have the date stamped on the endwall and have a state bridge plaque. These are important historic features of the bridge.

Of course, make sure to photograph the truss members in order to identify which type of truss. This a Town Lattice Truss covered bridge. On some bridges, you will be able to photograph this detail from the outside (e.g. on metal truss bridges). If not, photograph the details inside.

Photograph truss bridge chords and diagonals and connection bolts.

Railings! Photograph the railings, whether concrete, metal, cable or other.

3. If accessible, the traffic deck support system (such as floor beams and stringers viewed from underneath the bridge).

Underneath the bridge you can see the connections of chords, joists, floor beams, etc.

If you can safely access the bank adjacent to the bridge, photograph the bridge piers. This photograph shows the center pier, one abutment, and a general view of the deck support.

This photograph shows the detail of the pier, deck support, and the railing in addition to the steel girders.

4. Abutments and approach details.

This photograph shows the railing and endwall connection and the barely visible wood & cable approach rail.

Under the bridges you can see the abutments (that massive concrete abutment is not original to this covered bridge) and the floor beam system.

This photograph shows the abutment (new concrete abutment faced in dry laid stone. You can see the concrete on the bottom left of this image and above the top row of stone on the far side of the bridge).

Photograph the approach to this bridge to show the height of the portal (opening), the type of guardrail (weathered W-beam mounted on wood posts) and other details such as the narrow single lane approach.

And there you have it. In review, when photographing a bridge, remember to include

(1) all sides of the bridge; 

(2) details such as connections, railings, plaques;

(3) the deck and piers – what supports the bridge from below; and

(4) approach details: the abutment, guard rail, endwall.

By all means, you do not have to be a professional to photograph bridges. Some bridges are beautiful and make quite the statement on the landscape and built environment. I don’t claim to be an expert; I’m always working to improve my documentation skills.  Hopefully this gets you more familiar with bridges and ready to practice your photography on more than buildings. Enjoy!

Sometimes you have crawl on the abutments to really see what's going on with the bridge.

P.S. A few safety notes. Climbing over, under and around bridges can be dangerous. Do  not do this alone. Abutments, wingwalls and all sections of the bridges can be slippery and treacherous. Beware of swiftly moving waterways below. If you park on the side of the road, leave your flashers on and wear reflective gear. Do not trespass. If you photographing deteriorated or abandoned bridges, beware of holes in the deck and unsafe structures. Basically, use your common sense and be safe.

The Bungalow: Paint Chatter

How about some homeowner fun on this Monday morning? Let’s talk paint.

All houses have their mysteries, and ours is no different. One of the things that we loved most about this house was the minimal updating. In fact, the paint colors even gave the impression of decades ago and the shadows on the walls showed where picture frames and shelves had hung for those same decades. We placed “painting the entire interior of the house” on our list of aesthetic priorities. There’s just something so satisfying about a new coat of paint suited to your own tastes.

I love to paint. Honestly. Give me some work lights, good music or Gilmore Girls for the background, and I will paint all night long (I don’t really have time to paint during the day). Prepping and priming aren’t my favorite tasks, but I’m warming up to them. But I love colors: thinking about them for days or weeks, matching them, choosing lots of different colors, etc. And the end result is always worth all of the effort and the paint that somehow ends up on my face.

So far I have painted three rooms (living room, bedroom, guest room) with four to go (dining room, kitchen, bathroom and office).  The guest room, which is the smallest room, took the longest amount of time and the most effort because of peeling paint on the plaster ceiling. And then I was inspired to paint horizontal stripes (which, by the way, sound scary and require a lot of painters tape. but turned out great). I owe a great deal of thanks to a few flamingos and my sister Sarah for their help.

Now I am moving on to my next project: the office. It is currently a pretty shade of blue, but there is one big problem: the paint is chipping everywhere in this room. By chipping, I mean something akin to alligatoring. See below.

The chipping blue paint.

Another angle of the chipping or about-to-chip paint.

And that is only one small section of this room.  See here:

Most of the room looks like this.

More chipping. It’s on every wall. And some ares of the ceiling.

Fun, yes? Good thing I like a historic house puzzle. However, this one is driving me crazy. Why is the paint chipping like that? It is the only room in the house where this is happening. For reference, aside from the wall with the windows, all of the walls are interior walls. I’ve asked everyone who walks through the door, but no one has come to any conclusions, yet. Perhaps you can help. Here is what I know about the paint in our house (with thanks to the sellers who were kind enough to answer my questions):

The upstairs rooms have only been painted once, probably with one coat. Downstairs rooms have been repainted in the same color, except for the kitchen (new color). Any room that was repainted was done in the 1970s. The house was built in 1928. In other words, there is very likely lead paint in this house (pre-1978 as all preservationists know).

My questions relating to this information: How has one coat of paint lasted 83 years? Why is the blue room chipping and the other rooms are not? And, how am I supposed to remove that chipping paint? And will this happen again when I repaint?

Regarding the one coat of paint: it’s good to know now that some rooms have been repainted. But was lead paint that durable to have one coat last 83 years? Isn’t that impossible? So far in my paint endeavors I have not found evidence of multiple coats. Others have suggested that the house was wallpapered, then stripped of its wallpaper and painted. (I would not want that job.) Others have suggested that the house (the walls) froze last winter when it was unoccupied and unheated. And others have suggested it’s just a bad application in the blue room. That was my first instinct, but I’m still amazed at the other rooms that have had only one coat of paint.

Regarding paint removal: scraping creates dust particles and scratches the smooth plaster. Chemical stripping or something like citrus stripper is not effective.

While I love colors and painting, I am not an expert. If you have experience with chipping paint or can help me solve the old paint questions, I’d be very interested to chat. This room will take a while to finish; but, I will share what I learn and the end results.