Every building tells a story:
Architectural Surveys Collection

Author: Jessica Efron, Cataloging Librarian

If you are interested in architecture and history and are planning a day trip this spring or summer, we recommend you check out our newest NC Digital Collection: Architectural Survey Reports. This collection highlights the work of the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (HPO) as they document historic architecture across the state. This digital collection is slowly growing to supplement the HPO’s own digital collection of Architectural Survey Records & Reports, another rich source for learning about North Carolina’s past.

The classical brick façade of Broughton Hospital, the historic Western North Carolina Insane Asylum.
Broughton Hospital was built between 1875 and 1886 and housed the

Western North Carolina Insane Asylum.

(Photograph from Worth Saving, December 2018 issue).

What is an architectural survey?

In order to preserve buildings and areas of historic importance, it is necessary to first inventory them. The HPO works with communities, local governments, historians and preservationists, and businesses to begin these inventories of important places.

North Carolina’s population has grown dramatically in the last fifty years. Increasing population and changes in industry have made indelible marks on the state’s landscape. Old farms are replaced by industrial areas. Roads and suburbs stretch far from formerly sleepy towns. Downtown areas, once the social and mercantile hub of most communities, are being replaced by big box stores, movie theaters and chain restaurants. Formerly vibrant sites are at risk of falling into disuse and disrepair, or even of being destroyed in redevelopment.

Each architectural survey may include historic maps and photographs of its area showing the site evolving through time. Additionally, hours of research go into each report. The result is a rich narrative of the architectural styles, neighborhood fashions, and cultural expectations of the past. Reports also describe broad changes that took place as king tobacco and other industries came and went, railroad lines were filled in and automobiles took over the landscape, and towns generally expanded outwards.

Why reports?

Often architectural surveys are compiled during the process of nominating a building or an area to the National Register of Historic Places.  This official registry was created as part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is maintained by the National Park Service. The federal program can provides funding for local historic preservation efforts, which may be matched by state and local government grants as well as other grassroots funding.

Research and documentation of these locations creates a snapshot in time for at-risk structures and areas. The Raleigh Water Tower report from 1971 tells the story of the 1886 development of Raleigh’s first municipal water system, and how the structure was erected on Morgan Street downtown. The building now houses an escape room facility. And the Pine State Creamery (former) report tells the story of the Art Moderne style building on Glenwood Avenue near North Carolina State University (NCSU) campus that was originally a creamery working closely with the NCSU Agricultural Extension Programs to research and develop new dairy techniques for local soldiers after WWI. The business (and building) grew and went on to supply the region for 70 years! It is now a steak house.

Want to learn more?

There might be a hidden architectural or historical gem near you. Check out the North Carolina listings in the National Register of Historic Places to locate maps, view historic photographs, and read about the architectural grandeur, historic figures, and cultural history associated with your home county or town. Or browse back issues of Worth Saving, the HPO’s newsletter. Worth Saving includes a lot of great before-and-after photographs and might inspire anyone to see the potential in historic buildings that just need a little care.

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