Documenting America’s Architectural Legacy

First created during the New Deal of the 1930s, the heritage documentation programs of the National Park Service have been recording and archiving our national architectural history for over 85 years.  The three programs are the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), and the Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS).  Their collections include more than 43,000 sites.  For each site, large-format black and white photographs, measured drawings, and written historical reports are prepared according to program requirements, collected and reviewed, and then archived with the Library of Congress (LOC). 

As resources allow, materials are also being digitized by the LOC and added to their website, available to the public as an invaluable national resource for both architecture and history.  South Dakota records cover a wide range of historic places, including the pigtail bridges on Iron Mountain Road in the Black Hills, the railroad roundhouse in Lead, decommissioned Minuteman Missile program facilities, Fort Sisseton in Marshall County, the “melting church” at Fort Randall in Gregory County, the Sioux Falls VA Hospital, and Old Main at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. 

HABS/HAER/HALS Competitions and Summer Employment

Annually, HABS/HAER/HALS have prize competitions for records created by students and professionals.  The three national competitions are:

  • The Charles E. Peterson Prize is awarded by jury to the best sets of measured drawings prepared and submitted by student teams of a HABS, HAER, or HALS site.  To date, more than 3,000 students from 75 colleges and universities have participated by completing more than 500 entries and almost 6,800 sheets of measured drawings. The students have worked alone and in groups, in required courses, electives, independent study and summer institutes. They have been, for the most part, architecture students in addition to architectural history, interior design, and American studies majors.  Prizes range from $2,000-$5,000.
  • The Leicester B. Holland Prize, open to both students and professionals, is awarded to the best single-sheet measured drawing of a HABS, HAER, or HALS site.  By requiring only a single sheet, the competition challenges the delineator to capture the essence of the site through the presentation of key features that reflect its historic and its architectural, landscape architectural or engineering significance. The Holland Prize competition is open to all those interested, regardless of experience or professional background.  The winner will receive a $1000 cash prize and a certificate of recognition. Preservation Architect, the online newsletter of the American Institute of Architects Historic Resources Committee, will publish the winning drawing. Merit awards may also be given.
  • The HALS Challenge, open to everyone, awards prizes for documentation of our nation’s cultural landscapes.  The 2019 theme for the 10th Annual HALS Challenge is to document historic streetscapes.  What makes your favorite historic street(s) unique? Does your local Historic Preservation Commission protect the streetscape characteristics and features of historic districts along with the contributing buildings? You may increase historic landscape awareness with your local governments and preservation commissions by documenting historic streetscapes for HALS and illuminating these significant pieces of America’s circulatory system.  Please choose an individual street or a contiguous network or grid of streets to document and pay particular attention to the landscape features.  People from every state are hereby challenged to complete at least one HALS short format history to document historic thoroughfares.

Each summer, the National Park Service with the National Council for Preservation Education also hire students and new professionals to create records for the programs: Duties involve on-site field work and the preparation of measured and interpretive drawings and written historical reports for the HABS/HAER/HALS Collection at the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. Projects last 12 weeks, beginning in late May or early June. Salaries range from approximately $8,000 to $12,000 for the summer, depending upon job responsibility and level of experience. Positions will be located at the HDP office in Washington, DC.  Applications are due March 1, 2019.  Positions are open to currently enrolled graduate students, and to undergraduate students who will have completed three years of course work by the beginning of summer 2019. Recent graduates (degree awarded October 2017 or later) may also apply. Successful applicants will be hired as U.S. Government contractors through NCPE. Positions are open only to United States citizens. Foreign citizens seeking summer employment may wish to look for opportunities via the U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS).

Liz Almlie has worked for the South Dakota State Historical Society as a Historic Preservation Specialist since 2011.  She received her B.A. in History at Augustana College (now University), Sioux Falls, in 2008, and her M.A. in Public History at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, in 2010.

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