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Subject: Virginia Historical Inventory Project

Virginia Historical Inventory Project

From: Elizabeth Roderick <eroderic>
Date: Wednesday, June 6, 2001
The Virginia Historical Inventory

The Library of Virginia's Digital Library Program (DLP) is pleased
to announce the availability of the Virginia Historical Inventory
Project, funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 1997.

The Virginia Historical Inventory (VHI) is a collection of detailed
reports, photographs, and maps, documenting the architectural,
cultural, and family histories of thousands of 18th- and
19th-century buildings in communities across Virginia.  Workers for
the Works Progress Administration (WPA) project  documented,
assessed, and photographed early structures (many of which do not
survive today), creating a pictorial and textual prism through which
architects, genealogists, economists, social historians,
journalists, researchers, and the general public can study a unique
record of Virginia's past.

The collection consists of more than 19,300 survey reports
(consisting of approximately 70,000 pages), more than 6,200
photographs, and 103 annotated county and city maps.  The project
was created in the late 1930s by the Virginia Writers' Project, a
branch of the federally funded Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Using a standard format, the field-workers for the VHI prepared
survey reports on each structure, with extensive details taken from
onsite investigation, research in court records and other local
resources, and personal interviews with county residents.  The
reports include such information as descriptions of the buildings
and their surroundings, the history of the building, chronological
lists of owners, architectural features, and historical
significance.  For most buildings, field-workers completed a
standardized "architectural description" form, giving extensive
architectural details such as size, type of building material,
weatherboarding, cornices, shutters, porch, and entryway, and on
interior features such as the stairway, basement, and styles of
doors, layout, and other distinctive features.  Field-workers often
added pencil or pen-and-ink sketches to their reports.  In addition,
they often included photographs of the buildings they documented.

Unlike the more well-known Historic American Buildings Survey, which
documents prominent historical structures, the VHI was specifically
charged with describing the vernacular architecture and history of
everyday buildings: homes, workplaces, churches, and public
buildings. This aspect of the project makes the existence of
photographs that much more valuable (and poignant): many of these
structures no longer exist, and the VHI photographs may be the only
extant visual records of them.

VHI writers did not restrict their reports to structures, however.
There are also reports on cemeteries (often including detailed
tombstone information), antiques, historical events, and personages,
as well as transcriptions of land grants, wills, deeds, diaries, and

The Virginia Writers' Project office in Richmond took the further
step of annotating county and city maps, primarily ones published by
the Virginia Department of Transportation in 1936, by adding numbers
in red ink indicating the locations of documented structures, with
the map number stamped on the corresponding report.

To accomplish the online presentation of the VHI, the DLP has
digitized from microfilm all of the survey reports, scanned from the
original prints all of the photographs, and prepared full-level
cataloging records for each of the reports and photographs.  In
cooperation with VTLS, Inc., the Library has also developed an
interactive digital interface for the maps. Finally, the DLP has
collected together within one interface links to all the material
available for a specific report.

The VHI digital project makes it possible for a user to search the
survey report database, view the image of the report, then retrieve
the corresponding map and the photograph. Or, the researcher may
search the interface to find a specific geographical location, and
then review the specific survey report for that site. Or, a
researcher may search the photographs and retrieve the corresponding
survey report and map to provide a context for each image.  An
additional feature makes it possible for a researcher to choose a
particular locality, then view the locations and reports for
categories of structures, such as churches, dwellings, taverns,
school buildings, cemeteries, commercial buildings, bridges, and
historic sites.

VTLS, Inc., located in Blacksburg, Virginia, provided extensive
consulting, design and technical support for all aspects of the
project, and was instrumental in designing and implementing the
complex interactive interface for all of the project components.

The URL for the Library of Virginia is
<URL:> and the VHI resource is available on
the Digital Library Program Home Page. For more information contact
Elizabeth Roderick, Director, Digital Library Program, The Library
of Virginia eroderick [at] lva__lib__va__us

Elizabeth Roderick
Director, Digital Library Program
The Library of Virginia
800 E. Broad Street
Richmond, VA  23219
Fax: 804-692-3771

                  Conservation DistList Instance 15:1
                  Distributed: Wednesday, June 6, 2001
                        Message Id: cdl-15-1-011
Received on Wednesday, 6 June, 2001

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