Surveying for the Historic District

1976 Survey Research PHW became serious about documenting the town in 1974. As we saw in the Simon Lauck house post, the 1966 survey of worthy buildings was what you would call a “windshield survey,” or the kind of quick visual determination a researcher would make based just on what could be observed from a site visit.(1) (2) The term windshield survey is derived from the typical practice of driving through neighborhoods and looking at the buildings through the windshield to form an overview of the area and its character. Obviously any information gathered from this work is preliminary, and Winchester’s 1966 survey was no exception. It contained no history, no attempt at dating structures, nor even any attempt at recording the architectural style of the building in question.

Omission from the 1966 list was part of what made the fight to save the Simon Lauck house so difficult to justify to the regional Salvation Army – without documentation, it is easy to dismiss sad-looking houses as expendable and historically worthless, particularly if the historic significance is of local interest or hinges upon unique architectural features. Although today we generally talk about the financial incentives behind a National Register listing, the broader goal is to raise awareness of the historic resources we should preserve in our own backyards.(3)(4) That was the primary motivation for the 1976 survey, as well as providing PHW direction for areas to work on for the Revolving Fund and a tool to aid the Board of Architectural Review with applications.

First, a class of UVA graduate students – Julia Henley, Samuel Klingensmith, Nancy Recchie, and Royce Yeater – completed survey work for approximately 300 buildings. They focused on the northwestern portion of the current historic district. A small group of PHW volunteers took up the remainder of the 1060 properties where the student researchers stopped. Katie Rockwood coordinated the group, consisting of field workers Pat Zontine, Joanna Berg, Sandy Lee, Virginia Miller and photographer Ben Ritter. John G. Lewis reviewed the forms and corrected information as the architectural historian. The survey took two years to complete, and was acknowledged as often being a “best guess” based on the exterior details and historical information available at the time of the survey. The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of 1897 were used extensively in the research, with volunteers color-coding the maps by construction materials.

The survey forms included basic information such as the address, present owner, historic name and/or original owner where available, construction date estimated by decade, architectural style based on exterior visual clues, and a sliding scale of architectural significance from “excellent” to “none.” The “none” category included modern construction and on occasion older buildings that had been inappropriately altered, often with notes on what alterations could be made to improve the appearance. Many, but not all, properties included a written architectural description to supplement the photographs, which can be used in situations like the Noakes House project, when a cornice needed to be recreated but no good visual image of the cornice was available. The written description could give some indication of what it “should” have looked like. In some cases, deed research or historical descriptions were also included to back up construction dates or original owners.

Although now superseded by the 2008-2011 survey, the work from the 1976 survey continues to be used in BAR applications today due to its easy to read “at a glance” format and now historic photographic documentation.

1976 Architectural Survey

Scanning of the original photographs of the 1976 survey is ongoing, but completed areas may be viewed in the Picasa album. Copies of the 1976 inventory and the summary report of the survey, which was used heavily for constructing this blog post, may be obtained directly from PHW.