Historic Preservation at Home

By Lara Westwood, Librarian with contributions from MHT staff

The Maryland Historical Trust staff — like so many of you — have been spending a lot more time at home lately. We have turned to online resources and our home libraries to continue our education in historic preservation in these unprecedented times. For Preservation Month, here are few of our favorite resources that you can check out from the comfort of your couch.  

#HistoricPreservation on Instagram.

Social Media to Follow:

CheapOldHouses – If you are in the market for a historic fixer-upper, this Instagram account is for you. 

Heritage & Historic Preservation – NPS – Learn more on Facebook about historic preservation efforts led by the National Park Service across the country. 

#HistoricPreservation – A great hashtag to follow on Twitter and Instagram to find out the latest industry news, trends, and projects. 

Maryland Preservation Forum – Request to join this Facebook group to learn more about preservation projects and events around the state.

MdHistoricalTrust – Follow us on Instagram to find out more about our work. 

OldHouseLove – An Instagram account dedicated to the beauty of old houses, especially those in need of some TLC. 

PoplarForestRestoration – This Instagram account follows the restoration of Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s second home and one of the first octagonal houses built in America. 

#Preserve66 – A hashtag initiative on Instagram and Twitter to showcase historic preservation efforts on the famous Route 66. 

Rainbow Heritage Network – Learn more about efforts to preserve and document sites related to LGBTQ+ history. 

SavingPlaces – Follow the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Instagram account for updates on their latest initiatives. 

#ThisPlaceMatters – A hashtag campaign spearheaded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation on Twitter and Instagram to highlight forgotten spaces and neighborhood pride. 

USInterior – The official Instagram account of the U.S. Department of the Interior features photographs of the country’s most breathtaking spaces. 

What_style_is_that – An Instagram account curated by preservationist Karyn Wen that breaks down American architectural styles and features. 

WillieGraham1000 – Architectural historian Willie Graham shares beautiful photographs of his work in Maryland and Virginia on his Instagram account. 

A great resource on architecture and history in the Mid-Atlantic.

Books to Read:

The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg by Cary Carson, Carl Lounsbury, and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation – An in-depth look at the development of the building practices and landscape of the Chesapeake region. 

A Field Guide to American houses: the Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture by Virginia McAlester, Lee McAlester, Suzanne Patton Matty, and Steve Clicque – An excellent reference for both the professional and amateuer architectural historian to learn more about the styles seen in your own neighborhood. 

Identifying American Architecture: a Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945 by John J-G Blumenson – A quick reference for identifying architectural styles. 

An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape by Carl Lounsbury, Vanessa Elizabeth Patrick, and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation – Learn the terms for architectural elements present in colonial buildings down the eastern seaboard.

Preserving African American Historic Places by Brent Leggs, Kerri Rubman, and Byrd Wood – A guide to documenting and preserving spaces that have been often overlooked by mainstream preservation efforts. 

Sah-archipedia.org, a peer-reviewed encyclopedia of architectural terms and images.

Websites to Surf:

ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) Photobank – Explore photographs of sites of historical significance across the globe. 

Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey – Search documentation on the country’s historic places created by the National Park Service since 1933. 

Our History, Our Heritage – The MHT blog where we share stories about our projects, grants, and research. 

Preservationdirectory.com – A one-stop website for all things historic preservation, including a listing of historic house museums, historic real estate for sale, law library, and more.  

SAH Archipedia – A comprehensive online encyclopedia of American architecture created by the Society of Architectural Historians.

Technical Preservation Services – Learn more about the National Park Service’s historic preservation work and find online classes and publications, such as the Technical Briefs. 

UNESCO – Learn more about worldwide initiatives to protect international heritage sites. 

A Visual Glossary of Classical Architecture – An image library of ancient architectural elements. 

Videos to Watch:

Baltimore Heritage Five Minute Histories – Learn more about Baltimore landmarks in these short but informative videos presented by Baltimore Heritage. 

Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans online classes – While focused on the history of the Big Easy, the Preservation Center offers webinars on a variety of historic preservation topics, including wood window restoration and home decor tips. 

Podcasts to Listen to:

99% Invisible – Host Roman Mars explores “the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world” on this podcast. 

Practical Preservation Podcast – Presented by Keperling Preservation Services, this podcast features interviews with industry experts and discusses the importance of historic preservation. 

PreserveCast – Preservation Maryland Executive Director Nicholas Redding conducts interviews on his monthly podcast on all manner of subjects related to historic preservation.  

Please note: appearance on this list does not represent an endorsement by the State of Maryland or the Maryland Historical Trust. Happy exploring!

Architectural Fieldwork

By Allison Luthern, Architectural Survey Administrator

Architectural fieldwork is an important part of understanding and preserving historic places. When MHT staff investigate a site, we look closely at the historic fabric of the buildings to reveal clues about their history, changes over time, and significance. Many of these answers will be found in the building’s form, features, materials, and details. In addition to investigation, we document the built environment, analyze and interpret findings, and archive our discoveries. This process helps MHT’s architectural historians and preservationists to realize the types of historic places that survive or have already been lost. (In fact, past completed fieldwork is one of the only ways we have information about demolished historic buildings!) We use this information to create better plans and strategies for future preservation efforts. Fieldwork helps us to advance MHT’s mission of identifying, documenting, and evaluating Maryland’s diverse cultural heritage.

When possible, MHT’s Office of Research, Survey, and Registration conducts fieldwork at the request of people who want to learn more about their historic buildings. Earlier this year, MHT staff responded to one such request by a property owner in Washington County who had recently purchased a home and discovered that there were three small log buildings located on the property. Log construction was very common in western Maryland from its earliest European American settlement through to the twentieth century, and MHT hoped to help the property owner understand the age and significance of the structures on their property. 

Log buildings in Washington County. Source: MHT staff

On site, MHT staff closely investigated the log buildings, which consisted of one small story-and-a-half dwelling, one summer kitchen with a large stone chimney, and one very small storage building. Architectural historians refer to the form of these log buildings as “single pen” – they are one room enclosures with four walls. This form is associated with modest, simple structures. An important feature to consider when investigating a log building is its corner notching, or the way that the logs lock into place at the ends. Corner notching can reveal the complexity of construction as well as the builder’s regional influences. These buildings were constructed with “V” notching, as illustrated in the photo below. This was the most common notching technique.

A closer look at one of the buildings. Source: Staff photo

We also searched for nails used in the buildings. Because the form of fasteners changed over time with manufacturing technology, they are a very important way to help date a structure. We discovered that wire nails—widely used by the 1880s and still utilized today—were employed in the construction of these buildings. All of our investigation pointed to an early twentieth century construction date.

One of the log buildings examined by the MHT staff. Source: Staff photo

To document the buildings, we took notes, photographs, and basic measurements.

The next steps in fieldwork—analysis and interpretation—may not even occur in the field, but they are crucially important in giving meaning to our investigation. We used historic records to research the property, including land records, census data, maps, newspapers, and community histories. We also read through books, journal articles, and architectural survey reports in the MHT Library. From this research, we determined that the log buildings were constructed in the early twentieth century by a local family for residential use, given their small size and assemblage. The surrounding acreage was likely used for fruit farming around this time.

Fruit farming became widespread in western Maryland as refrigeration, urbanization, and transportation advanced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Historic maps revealed that a trolley (or electric railway) line was located directly adjacent to the log buildings and would have assisted in transporting both people and freight until its dismantling in 1936. It is possible that these log buildings were occupied until the mid-twentieth century when a new, more modern house was constructed, probably by a different owner who used the surrounding land for recreation more than agriculture.

U.S. Geological Survey, Hagerstown [map], 1:62500, Topographic Quadrangle Map, Reston, VA, 1912 Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Our fieldwork will conclude with the creation of a Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) form for the log buildings. The MIHP is a repository of information on districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects of known or potential value to the history or prehistory of the State of Maryland. This final step will ensure that the findings of our fieldwork will be preserved and available to researchers or interested members of the public via our library and our online cultural resource information system known as Medusa.

Fieldwork is a very rewarding process! As time and resources allow, MHT staff would love to help others with their investigations. Please contact staff in the Office of Research, Survey, and Registration with any questions (including Allison Luthern, Architectural Survey Administrator at allison.luthern@maryland.gov).