Making History Accessible Online

A view of the Pinehurst Historic District in 1973

Hannah Southern, an intern with the State Historic Preservation Office, is a sophomore at Grinnell College, studying biology and art history. This summer she is working primarily with National Register nominations.

As I sort through mounds of documents, it's easy to forget what I'm doing. The forms seem exactly the same, the names run together, photographs look identical. I'll start thinking about lunchtime or why the Department of Cultural Resources building always needs to feel like an igloo. I sort and scan, completely unaware of the papers I'm holding in my hands. 

And then it'll hit me. A familiar name, the hometown of a close friend, a place I've visited, or just an interesting old photo, and I'm jerked back to the present – I'm preserving years of history, making it available for everyone to see. There are 2,777 National Register listed historic places in North Carolina. Before I started working, only around 300 of the National Regisiter nomination documents from those 2,777 places had been digitalized and posted online.

Learn More About the National Register in North Carolina

If anyone wanted to view a nomination or do research, they had to come to the Department of Cultural Resources to view the original document. This is where I fit in. My job is to scan and transform all of those original National Register nominations, along with photos and maps, and turn them into PDF files to be posted online. The goal is to eventually have all of the National Register nominations scanned and accessible to the public in an online database.

Historic Districts A First Priority

Already, we have scanned a majority of North Carolina’s approximately 500 historic districts. Historic districts include residential neighborhoods, commercial districts, rural farming districts, industrial districts, archaeological districts, mill villages and more – larger areas with more than one historical building.The National Park Service estimates that more than 66,000 historic resources in North Carolina are listed in the National Register as contributing properties within districts or as individually listed properties.

Now, we are slowly but surely working our way alphabetically through the counties, scanning the individual nominations. We will have a little over 1,000 nominations posted by next week.

See the National Register Listings Available Online

National Register Highlights State's Architectural Diversity

Though scanning documents all day does get monotonous at times, each day I am surprised by the nominations and the people behind them.

The most memorable nomination I've scanned wasn't the Biltmore Estate or any other well-known building, it was the Saluda Main Street Historic District which lies in the small town of Saluda in Polk county. As I looked through the file, I found handwritten letter after letter, all from citizens of Saluda supporting the National Register listing. The most touching were the letters from the students at the Saluda school, written in the large handwriting and poor spelling of young students, which spoke of their love for their home and their desire to preserve the historic elements of the town.

In a world that is constantly upgrading, it is wonderful to see that the younger generation takes pride in their heritage and expresses a want to preserve it.

Scanning these documents not only makes it easier and faster to search through North Carolina's National Register listed places, but it also preserves these one-of-a-kind documents so they can be viewed for years to come. Creating digital copies of these documents opens the door for a broader range of people to access and research these important, historic places.

Explore North Carolina's National Register Properties On This Interactive Map

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