A History of the Statewide Architectural Survey

To meet the basic goals of creating a lasting record of North Carolina's historic places and encouraging their preservation, the statewide survey program has changed and developed over the years. Working with communities, counties, and regional organizations, with private preservation and historical societies as well as government bodies--and often in public-private partnerships--the statewide survey program has proceeded in a variety of ways. Initial funding for recording selected historic places in 1967 was granted by the Richardson Foundation, and further funds for the survey were obtained from state and federal sources. This first phase of inventory developed as part of North Carolinians' and Americans' growing concern for historic preservation in the decades after World War II, but it built upon the accomplishments of earlier generations, particularly such work of the 1930s as the Historic American Buildings Survey and The North Carolina Guide. During the late 1960s and into the early and mid-1970s, Survey and National Register Branch staff members conducted surveys of several counties' most prominent historic sites with assistance from local preservationists and historians.

Beginning in the late 1970s, a program of matching grants to interested county and town sponsors generated a series of more comprehensive surveys that encompassed a full range of architecturally and historically significant properties. State funds have provided a strong basis for the statewide survey, both as direct funding to local survey projects and in support of the statewide program. Each year the Office is required by federal law to pass through ten percent of its national preservation funding as matching grants to certified local governments, and most of these grants are for architectural surveys or survey publications. In other cases, localities have used local public and private funds for projects that are part of the statewide survey program. In recent years, federal transportation enhancement funding has helped fund a number of county surveys.

As understanding of the richness of North Carolina's heritage and the complexity of its architecture and history has expanded, survey projects have broadened to address the diverse places that make each community itself--from the earliest and most imposing buildings of the distant past to the more typical farmhouses and landscapes, neighborhoods, and town centers of the late 19th century and the 20th century. These strong local studies have enhanced knowledge of local and regional history and the relationship to national and state currents. They offer new understanding of the state's architectural traditions--both the familiar vernacular patterns of the rural landscape and the accomplishments of the architectural profession in growing towns and cities. At the same time these state and local studies, together with others conducted throughout the nation, are building a national body of fieldwork that is yielding new insights into American social and architectural history.

Currently in North Carolina, most municipal and county surveys are supported by state and Federal grants matched with local funds. They are conducted by professional architectural historians employed by the community and working under the auspices of both the State Historic Preservation Office and the community. The strength of the North Carolina survey program has drawn from the combination of state and local commitment to preservation, and the professional knowledge and energy of the surveyors who have created a lasting record of the heritage of towns and counties throughout the state.

County surveys have been completed in 76 of the state's 100 counties, 3 additional county surveys currently are in progress, and regional overview surveys have recorded selected properties in an additional 21 counties. Municipal surveys have been completed in about 65 communities. Several thematic surveys encompass specific types of places statewide, such as truss bridges, county courthouses, and Rosenwald schools. Cumulatively, these surveys compose an important record of North Carolina's historic architecture.

Status map of architectural survey products and survey publications in North Carolina

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