Saturday, April 20, 2024

Colonial Williamsburg Partners with Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

Bundy House, Essex County, Virginia; 2012 (The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

WILLIAMSBURG — The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has joined a national preservation effort by making a collection of historic architectural documentation available to the public as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) housed in the Library of Congress.

HABS, administered by the National Park Service, is the federal government’s oldest preservation program, according to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Started in 1933 to document America’s architectural heritage, the collection contains records on more than 45,000 historic sites and is utilized by architectural preservationists across the nation as a primary resource for historic architecture.

“It’s a true honor to contribute some of the foundation’s research and documentation to the HABS collection,” said Matt Webster, Colonial Williamsburg’s executive director of architectural preservation. “Research is the bedrock of everything we do here at the foundation — it informs not only the way we preserve and reconstruct buildings, but also how we portray historical figures and present evidence about historical events.”

Colonial Williamsburg said its architectural research collection is vast, spanning three centuries of construction and including structures ranging from estates to agricultural buildings.

For the collaboration with HABS, Colonial Williamsburg is sharing more than 570 drawings representing nearly 200 structures built primarily between 1750 and 1850, most of which were documented by Colonial Williamsburg architectural historians starting in the 1980s under the direction of Ed Chappell, former Shirley and Richard Roberts Director of Architectural Research, the foundation said.

Chappell was particularly interested in studying outbuildings, not only to better understand the enslaved and free individuals who lived and worked in them, but also to gain a fuller understanding of properties as self-contained economies in which many different buildings served distinct purposes in service of a common goal.

“The foundation’s Agricultural Buildings Project was created at a time when many important everyday buildings were disappearing. Thanks to this project, many of these buildings were documented before they were lost, providing a wealth of information for future researchers that will now be forever preserved thanks to the partnership among The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, HABS and the Library of Congress,” said Jennifer Wilkoski, the foundation’s Shirley and Richard Roberts architectural historian.

Edward Chappell and Harry Bradley recording the stair at Mason House, Accomack County, Virginia. (The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

The Colonial Williamsburg collection is currently being digitized by HABS and shared with the Library of Congress where they will be available, along with related written and photographic documentation, to the public as research resources.

“HABS was intended to represent ‘a complete resume of the builders art’ to include not just high style and architect-designed buildings, but also the humble vernacular buildings that speak to the everyday lives of individuals from the past. The Colonial Williamsburg collection is exactly that. It is a remarkable addition to the HABS collection,” said Catherine Lavoie, chief of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

While The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is among the first private entities to contribute a major collection of historical documentation to HABS, both organizations hope that more will follow suit.

“It’s a wonderful way to build the HABS collection and to present to scholars and the general public important archives such as this that might not otherwise be readily accessible,” Lavoie said.

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