About this Collection
The list of building types . . . should include public buildings, churches, residences, bridges, forts, barns, mills, shops, rural outbuildings, and any other kind of structure of which there are good specimens extant . . . . Other structures which would not engage the especial interest of an architectural connoisseur are the great number of plain structures which by fate or accident are identified with historic events. -- Charles E. Peterson
The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) collections are among the largest and most heavily used in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. Since 2000, documentation from the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) has been added to the holdings. The collections document achievements in architecture, engineering, and landscape design in the United States and its territories through a comprehensive range of building types, engineering technologies, and landscapes, including examples as diverse as the Pueblo of Acoma, houses, windmills, one-room schools, the Golden Gate Bridge, and buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Administered since 1933 through cooperative agreements with the National Park Service, the Library of Congress, and the private sector, ongoing programs of the National Park Service have recorded America's built environment in multiformat surveys comprising more than 581,000 measured drawings, large-format photographs, and written histories for more than 43,000 historic structures and sites dating from Pre-Columbian times to the twentieth century.
This online presentation of the HABS/HAER/HALS collections includes digitized images of measured drawings, black-and-white photographs, color transparencies, photo captions, written history pages, and supplemental materials. Since the National Park Service's HABS, HAER and HALS programs create new documentation each year, documentation will continue to be added to the online collections. The first phase of digitization of the Historic American Engineering Record collection was made possible by the generous support of the Shell Oil Company Foundation.
Continuing the tradition of the creators and keepers of these surveys, who have made them accessible through numerous catalogs and publications (see Related Resources), the Library introduced the online HABS/HAER/HALS collections in 1997 to provide digital access to the full range of materials. This site also provides links to the HABS/HAER/HALS Web site at the National Park Service, which administers the HABS, HAER and HALS programs that create the surveys through fieldwork and primary research. See the accompanying explanation of HABS/HAER/HALS Documentation for further information.
Access to surveys by architect, engineer, or subject exists chiefly in card indices in the Prints and Photographs Division Reading Room. Since 1999 the HABS/HAER/HALS programs have been working to systematically review each survey in order to add these terms to the more than 38,600 records in the online catalog, which is also available for full keyword searching by name, features, building type, and so forth. Selected catalog cards have been digitized as supplemental materials. Special reference aids list sites according to frequently requested architects, building types, and styles, and are available by request. Examples of these reference aids, some of which are available online, include Spanish colonial missions and churches, saltbox houses, buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and diners. (For a full list of online reference aids relating to architecture, see P&P's "Lists of Images on Popular Topics - Architecture.") The Highlights page includes one image of a site or structure in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia highlights the depth and breadth of the collections and the great variety of structures recorded.
Physical copies of formal HABS/HAER/HALS records are stored off site. Advance notice is required to consult the photographic prints, reduced copies of measured drawings, and data pages including written histories (to submit a request, please use the Prints and Photographs Reading Room Ask a Librarian service). Generally, original drawings are not served.
The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) began during the Great Depression in December 1933, when Charles E. Peterson of the National Park Service submitted a proposal for one thousand out-of-work architects to spend ten weeks documenting "America's antique buildings." Having operated under various administrative authorities for its first two years, HABS became a permanent program of the National Park Service in July 1934 and was formally authorized by Congress as part of the Historic Sites Act of 1935. The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) was founded in 1969 to parallel HABS, providing for documentation of engineering works and industrial sites. In October 2000, the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) was permanently established to document historic landscapes. The HABS/HAER/HALS collections at the Library of Congress have grown to constitute a unique, valuable, and extensive repository of knowledge about American buildings, industries, engineering works, and landscapes. Today's documentation is produced primarily by students pursuing degrees in architecture and in history, and the HABS, HAER and HALS programs have proven to be an important training ground for several generations of architects, engineers and historians. (See HABS, HAER, and HALS at the National Park Service Web site for additional history of the programs.)
From the beginning, HABS and HAER have operated through formal agreements as cooperative programs between the public and private sectors. The United States Department of the Interior, through the National Park Service, is responsible for the administration of the surveys, creating the documentary records that are transmitted to the Library of Congress for public access and preservation. The American Institute of Architects, which joined with the Library of Congress and the National Park Service in establishing HABS, serves the program in an advisory capacity. The American Society of Civil Engineers played a comparable role in the creation of HAER, and provides similar assistance by giving professional counsel, and other aid to the program, along with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (History and Heritage Committee); the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers; and the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers. The American Society of Landscape Architects fulfills a similar function for HALS.
The Vision of Charles E. Peterson
Although generated in haste, Charles E. Peterson's proposal to create the Historic American Buildings Survey was a carefully conceived plan to document systematically the historic built environment of the United States. A number of features assured that the program would have lasting effect. The Survey would be conducted professionally, using standardized archival and reproducible record formats for the public domain. Peterson wrote:
The plan I propose is to enlist a qualified group of architects and draftsmen to study, measure and draw up the plans, elevations and details of the important antique buildings of the United States. Our architectural heritage of buildings from the last four centuries diminishes daily at an alarming rate. The ravages of fire and the natural elements together with the demolition and alterations caused by real estate 'improvements' form an inexorable tide of destruction destined to wipe out the great majority of the buildings which knew the beginning and first flourish of the nation. The comparatively few structures which can be saved by extraordinary effort and presented as exhibition houses and museums or altered and used for residences or minor commercial uses comprise only a minor percentage of the interesting and important architectural specimens which remain from the old days. It is the responsibility of the American people that if the great number of our antique buildings must disappear through economic causes, they should not pass into unrecorded oblivion.
The list of building types . . . should include public buildings, churches, residences, bridges, forts, barns, mills, shops, rural outbuildings, and any other kind of structure of which there are good specimens extant . . . . Other structures which would not engage the especial interest of an architectural connoisseur are the great number of plain structures which by fate or accident are identified with historic events.
Peterson, Charles E., to the Director, United States Department of the Interior, Office of National Parks, Buildings, and Reservations, Washington, D.C., November 13, 1933. Reprinted in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 16, no. 3 (October 1957): 29-31.
The merits of the original 1933 proposal and the accessibility, popularity, and scholarly value of the documentation thus created have ensured the success and continuation of these programs. Peterson's words continue to guide the ongoing work. Buildings and engineering structures are large objects not easily maintained or preserved once they have outlived their functional or economic usefulness. Documentation becomes an alternative means of preservation when demolition is inevitable. Documentation is also a primary tool for the stewardship of historic structures, whether for day-to-day care or as protection from catastrophic loss.
Peterson enlisted the help of a wide variety of people and organizations. Among them was Leicester B. Holland, who was fortuitously both the head of the Fine Arts (now Prints and Photographs) Division of the Library of Congress and chairman of the American Institute of Architects' Committee on the Preservation of Historic Buildings (now the Historic Resources Committee). The American Institute of Architects, through its national membership, provided early leadership and guidance to the fledgling program, with many prominent historical architects serving as District Officers directing the work from coast to coast.