Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Category: National Park Service (Page 2 of 4)

Telling a Fuller Story about African American History in Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Earlier this month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) announced a new pilot project with PHMC, PA DCNR, the states of Maryland and Virginia, and National Park Service Chesapeake Bay to identify, document, and map sites and landscapes in the Chesapeake Bay watershed region significant to African American history and culture.

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Not your Grandmother’s Gingerbread House

Tired of the same old gingerbread house each Christmas? Just four (mostly straight) walls and a gable roof? Challenge yourself this year to break out of that mold and make one of Pennsylvania’s landmarks instead!

The inspiration…

I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and noticed a post from the Heritage Documentation Programs at the National Park Service (NPS) about using drawings from the online public HABS/HAER/HALS collections for gingerbread houses or holiday villages!

Brilliant idea!

Picture of small paper house

NPS’ inspirational post on Facebook.

And here is an interesting fun fact that you can use to impress your helpers while you build your gingerbread creation: the term “gingerbread” was used to mean a dessert made with ginger starting in 15th century England.  Gingerbread houses started in 16th century Germany and their popularity rose with the Brothers Grimm tale of Hansel and Gretel.  Check out this link from PBS for more history.


In case you’re not familiar with these acronyms, I’ve give you some quick background.  They stand for:

These three collections are housed in the Library of Congress as part of the Prints and Photographs Division.  The collections can contain one or more of the following types of documentation: measured drawings, large format black and white or color photographs, and data pages with property information and some history.

The collection started with HABS in 1933 as a joint NPS, Library of Congress, and American Institute of Architects (AIA) program to document America’s landmarks and architectural heritage – and help architects, historians, and artists find work during the Great Depression.  It is often considered the federal government’s first preservation program, decades before the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which established most of the programs we use today like the National Register of Historic Places.

Gingerbread house

Drexel students recreate Eastern State Penitentiary in gingerbread! Photo from

HAER was established in 1969 and this time the National Park Service and Library of Congress teamed up with the American Society of Civil Engineers.  This partnership has grown and changed over the years but one thing has remained the same: bridges, as the most ubiquitous historic engineering structures in the country, are among the most common documented structures in the collection.  Ships, steel works, railroads, canals, and other networks are also appropriate subjects to document with HAER.

HALS was the last collection to be added in 2000 and its mission is to record historic landscapes throughout the US and its territories.  NPS and the Library of Congress work with the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) for this collection, which can include a wide range of historic landscapes from a vegetable garden to a cemetery to a nuclear test site(!).

A HABS/HAER/HALS Gingerbread Extravaganza!

So why not browse the collections and find a Pennsylvania landmark to recreate in this holiday confection? Why stick with the same old thing?

Getting started is easy! Go to and type in the name of a building, bridge, place, county, etc. into the search box and click “Go”.  If you go with the basic “Pennsylvania”, you’ll get 36,826 hits, so you might want to narrow your search!


You can search any of the three collections from this page on the Library of Congress website.

Depending on your skill level, creativity, and time, you can look simply look at a photograph or two for inspiration or download the measured drawings. Make sure to take a few minutes to read through the data pages and learn the history behind your choice!

There are lots of places online to find out the basics of gingerbread house building – I typed “build your own gingerbread house” into my favorite search engine and found tons of articles and videos.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are a few of the places I’m considering this year:

Fallingwater in gingerbread

Watch this video of architects designing the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, Fallingwater, in Fayette County, PA.

The real – and gingerbread – places that matter

What’s important about the holidays – and your gingerbread house – is that its about the people and places that are important to you.  There are thousands of places documented through HABS/HAER/HALS for inspiration but the best gingerbread house is always the one you build of the places you love with the people you cherish.

Gather your neighbors and build a replica of your favorite hangout or your family and recreate your great-grandparents farm house.  Whatever it is, make sure its a place that matters to you.

Gingerbread house

Last year, University of Pennsylvania students recreated Frank Furness’ Fisher Fine Arts Library in gingerbread.

Tell us about your creation!

Share your ideas and inspirations with us by commenting on this post or tagging us at #PATrailsofHistory or #PASHPO in your social media post.  Suggestions for other places to replicate in gingerbread? Photos of your own creation? Let us know about it!

Good luck!

Add this to your summer reading list! #preservationhappenshere – PA’s Statewide Preservation Plan – is ready for you

Picture yourself – lounging poolside, lakeside, or on the beach – with your tablet or smart phone (or even good old-fashioned paper) enjoying the hottest summer publication that hasn’t yet made the New York Times bestseller list: #preservationhappenshere, Pennsylvania’s next statewide historic preservation plan. Continue reading

Hazard Mitigation in a Historic Context: Update on Historic At-Risk Properties Initiative

Historic resources inform citizens of their unique local heritage, cultural identity, and the origins of their community.  They are the corner stones of our built environment and they provide a “sense of place”. In the aftermath of a disaster, these buildings, structures, objects, and sites are often associated with the very memories and connections that a community needs to begin to rebuild. Continue reading

Certified Local Government Reboot – Public Comments Welcome

The Certified Local Government (CLG) Program has been part of the national preservation toolbox since the early 1980s.  Like other programs established by the National Historic Preservation Act, the CLG program is administered by each State Historic Preservation Office based on state-specific guidelines approved by the National Park Service.  Pennsylvania’s CLG guidelines procedures were last updated in 2009, but haven’t changed substantially since the program started almost 30 years ago.  That’s all about to change!  The PA SHPO has recently released a draft of proposed changes to the CLG program and will be accepting comments from the public until December 4, 2017. Continue reading

Guidance for the Treatment of Historic Bridges

Wherever you travel in Pennsylvania, you are likely to cross a historic bridge. These bridges are an important part of the cultural landscape and a link to Pennsylvania’s transportation and engineering history. Eventually these bridges need some level of work to continue providing a safe passage, but what is the best way to execute this work without diminishing the bridges’ historic character? By consulting and applying the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties (the Standards) for guidance.

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August’s SHPO Shout-Out!

It’s that time again!

As some of you may know, the National Park Service highlighted Pennsylvania in their #50for50 social media campaign earlier this month.  This initiative is part of their broader effort to celebrate and recognize the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act this year.  Each week, NPS has been promoting the interesting, meaningful, and successful historic preservation work being done in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.  (FYI, this week is South Carolina’s turn!)

Here at PHMC, we participated by adding the #50for50 and #Preservation50 hashtags to all of the preservation-related posts on the Pennsylvania Trails of History Facebook page and @PHMC Twitter feed.   I think NPS could have featured Pennsylvania’s successes for a year and still not have gotten through them all, but alas, we need to share the limelight.  So, I thought it would be a great idea to share with you some of the stories that didn’t get aired that week and that we haven’t covered in previous posts and Shout-Outs.

shout out 4

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Changing the Tide with Disaster Planning

What new challenges will preservationists face over the next 50 years?  It’s clear that the impacts on historic places by hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and other recent tropical storms, combined with growing international concern about rising sea levels, has started to “change the tide” and bring a new focus to preservation professionals.  In April and June 2016,  national and international experts in historic preservation, climate change, emergency management, architecture, and planning gathered in three U.S. states to participate in a series of “firsts” to address the threats facing the nation’s historic coastal and riverine (meaning ‘situated or dwelling beside a river’) communities from flooding and climate change. Continue reading

#FindYourPark: Independence National Historical Park

Several months ago, my colleague Cory Kegerise wrote a blog highlighting his childhood memories visiting Hopewell Furnace as part of the National Park Service’s #FindYourPark campaign .  He inspired me to make sure my kids had the same experiences and appreciated the plethora of historic sites throughout the Commonwealth.  So one Friday in late March when my kids were off from school, we went in search of our own #FindYourPark adventure.  In case you are not familiar with the initiative, Americans are encouraged to share their thoughts, reflections, and aspects about their favorite National Park as part of the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration.  Most of the #FindYourPark stories speak of the National Park System’s natural wonders and green bucolic open space.  Our adventure may seem in contrast, but Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia with its rich civic history really sparks my interest. So we set off to explore the colonial history and the birthplace of America.  Continue reading

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