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Kicking Off PA SHPO’s Baseline Survey Effort

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PA SHPO is kicking off a three-year effort to collect baseline survey information about thousands of older and historic places across a huge part of Pennsylvania.

Why survey?

Survey is the process of identifying and gathering data on a community’s historic resources. It is more than field survey (the physical search for and recording of historic resources on the ground); it also includes public engagement, planning and background research before field survey begins.

AECOM team member Jennifer Robinson records data on an Android tablet for the circa 1862 Reynolds House in Hamilton Twp, 2015.

Survey is fundamental to historic preservation because it acknowledges that older and historic places add value to our communities and help tell Pennsylvania’s many stories. 

Conducting surveys and creating an inventory are important steps toward preserving resources important to our heritage:

  • Surveys help Pennsylvania’s communities, agencies and organizations identify the older and historic places that are historically and culturally significant and prioritize their preservation.
  • Surveys inform decision making and aids in all types of planning at local, state, and national levels.
  • Surveys provide insight into a community’s past, helps tell a more complete story, and increases public awareness and understanding that a community’s older and historic places are assets.   

This baseline survey effort is one of the many ways in which we are implementing Goal 2 of the current statewide historic preservation plan, #PreservationHappensHere. This goal addresses the need for survey as a basic building block of preservation planning.

Brief Look at Survey in Pennsylvania

Historic resource survey has been a key component of the PA SHPO’s – and its partners’ – work since the inception of the bureau in the 1970s.  PA SHPO awarded its first grants for historic resource surveys in 1970, long before the days of standardized survey forms and data collection.

From the late 1970s through the 1980s, the Bureau for Historic Preservation (the former name of the PA SHPO), organizational partners, and communities across the commonwealth collected a significant amount of information related to the built and natural landscapes of Pennsylvania.

PA SHPO file photo from about 1980 showing a surveyor at work documenting a property using paper and pen.

Roughly 90,000 of the approximately 150,000 records currently held in the PA SHPO’s database of resources were first documented and inventoried during this time.

Since the end of the 1980s, we have continued to add new resources and update information for existing records in our database.  Much of this information was collected by PA SHPO’s partners, consultants, and community groups.

In 2018, we started the PA Above Ground Survey (PAGS) program to refocus our survey program and to add new and updated data to the PA Inventory of Historic Places. This statewide inventory is currently available through CRGIS and soon through PA-SHARE, which is expected to come online in late February 2021.

Plan for Baseline Survey in Pennsylvania

This baseline survey initiative aims to document a significant number of above ground historic resources across a vast geographic area of Pennsylvania quickly and efficiently.

We have set the goal of adding approximately 27,000 newly-identified resources (meaning they are not currently captured in CRGIS) in 52 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to the PA Inventory of Historic Places between 2021 and 2024. This will add a significant amount of information to PA-SHARE in the years to come.

Highspire Hunting Lodge in Former Schoolhouse along Route 120, August 31, 2016. Photo provided by AECOM, Ben Buckley, photographer.

In the context of this project, the term “baseline” is synonymous with the PA SHPO’s minimum record, meaning that only a minimum amount of locational and physical data and photographs are collected for a property.  Surveys included in this effort are for identification purposes only, not evaluation for eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

To guide this effort, we have identified several survey priorities. Priority resources for survey are those that reflect themes underrepresented the PA Historic Places Inventory and those that are identified by local stakeholders.

These priorities are:

Baseline survey efforts will also collect information about these types of places:

  • Recreational properties
  • Urban redevelopment projects
  • Fraternal buildings
  • Representative mid-20th century resources
  • Industrial resources
  • Representative commercial and residential properties of local vernacular 
Undated file photo of the pool at Bendigo State Park in Elk County.

You can learn more about the survey priorities and survey methodology in the Plan for Baseline Survey in Pennsylvania, 2020-2024.

Getting Started

A huge effort like this one requires some careful planning and lots of teamwork between PA SHPO, the project manager and many survey contractors.

PA SHPO hired Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson (JMT) to serve in the Project Manager role of this baseline survey effort. JMT’s role focuses on managing survey contractors’ completion of survey work, initiating public engagement in each survey county, and liaising between the PA SHPO and survey contractors.

Approximately five survey contractors will be hired for each year of this baseline survey effort to complete survey work in the identified counties for a total of 15 contracts. The number of survey contractors and contracts issued is subject to change.

We’ve divided up the 52 counties we identified for survey into Years 1, 2 and 3.

Each year’s survey counties were grouped by geographic proximity and priority given to those that that are within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, to align with PA SHPO’s documentation partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

We will soon bring the first contractor on board to start the Year 1 survey work in Lycoming and Sullivan counties. Once this survey is underway and the methodology tested and tweaked where needed, we’ll begin to let other contracts for the remainder of the Year 1 counties.

We are selecting survey contractors from PHMC’s Preservation Services ITQ. If you are a consultant interested in this, and other, consulting opportunities with the PA SHPO, please pre-qualify for the Preservation Services ITQ. You can find information about that process here: https://pahistoricpreservation.com/shpo-itq-contract/.

Local Engagement

Engagement with local stakeholders is an important component of this – and any – survey effort.

Not only will it provide an opportunity to build relationships and educate a broader audience on the importance of survey but will also help PA SHPO document the places and spaces Pennsylvanians value in their communities.

For this project, a stakeholder is defined as someone having expert or in-depth knowledge of the history, development, and/or administration of the area being surveyed. This can include local historians, members of a local or county historical society, users and caretakers of a building or place, members of a community, and others.

This photo from the February 2020 Historic Preservation Board meeting includes advocates from PA Hallowed Grounds (center) and Shippensburg’s Locust Grove Cemetery (right). Groups like this are important local stakeholders with valuable knowledge that can help with survey efforts. 

Local stakeholders in our target counties and municipalities and others are welcome to tell us about places in their communities using this link.

Many will be receiving an email from the survey project manager asking for input. If you receive one of these emails, please take a few minutes to complete the form and share it with others in your network.

Author: Shelby Weaver Splain

Shelby Weaver Splain is the Education and Special Initiatives Coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office. Shelby is a native of Bucks County and holds a Masters degree in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Historic Preservation from Goucher College.

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