Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) – Part 2

In the last post, we looked at a little bit of background about the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and some of the guidelines for taking measurements for a HABS quality map in a historic structure. In Part 2 here, we will look at the guidelines for how the final drawings should be completed and look at an example from the Missoula Historic Underground Project.

When producing the final drawing of a HABS map, it is best to first use graphing paper. For the Missoula Historic Underground Project, we typically used 8 squares per inch. If the drawing will be submitted to the Library of Congress for adding to the collections, pre-printed sheets of HABS standard mylar are available from the HABS office upon request. The drawing can then be transferred onto this mylar paper to remove the graph paper lines for a cleaner look. Some of the other requirements are:

  • use of archival pens, lines in black, and measurements in colored pencil (generally red) to set them apart from the sketch;
  • measurements are placed outside the lines, not inside the drawing and are written perpendicular to the dimension line;
  • the drawing must be centered on the sheet both horizontally and vertically;
  • the use of standard architectural symbols is required for consistency;
  • room breaks should be delineated.

Even the text and legend/title box has guidelines that must be followed:

  • All text must be in uppercase letters with no abbreviated words;
  • When using a pre-printed HABS sheet, the title box is already set up but it generally includes such information as- project name, building name, address, site number, map title, date, and who the drawing was completed by.
  • The drawing should include a north arrow as well as the scale box in metric and English.
Plan map for the basement of one of the MHUP sites. (Image is scanned in B&W but the dimensions would be in another color besides black.)

Plan map for the basement of one of the MHUP sites. (Image is scanned in B&W but the dimensions would be in another color besides black.)

Above is an example of a HABS quality map from the Missoula Historic Underground Project.

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Historic American Building Survey (HABS)

Documenting the spaces when surveying a site for the the underground project is one of the most important steps in the survey process. Maps are carefully drawn in order to understand the scale of the spaces being examined and also to know precisely where features, such as underground doors and windows, are located. Accuracy and attention to detail is critical so we use guidelines that are set up in the Historic American Building Survey (HABS).

Historic American Building Survey Brochure from the National Park Service

Historic American Building Survey Brochure from the National Park Service

The Historical American Building Survey was established in 1933, during the Great Depression, as a means to supply 1,000 architects who were out of work with jobs. What began as a 10 week project has since functioned as a guideline in a standardized format for recording and documenting historic structures. The HABS program is operated by the National Park Service, the Library of Congress and the American Institute of Architects. HABS drawings, as long as they meet the guidelines, can be submitted to the federal database held by the Library of Congress.

The history and collection of HABS documentation can be viewed on the Library of Congress website here.

For the Missoula Historic Underground Project, the standards were followed as closely as resources and the documentation process would allow. For instance, these guidelines for measurements:

  • Measurements should be taken with metal tape measures, to avoid slack in the measurements;
  • Measure in as long and continuous line as possible;
  • Measure to the outside of walls, door and window frames, etc.;
  • Record measurements in metric;
  • Horizontal measurements should be taken 4 feet above the floor.

In the next post, HABS Part 2, we will look at the guidelines for how the final drawings should be completed and look at an example from the Missoula Historic Underground Project.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

These maps were originally created for assessing fire insurance liability in U.S. cities. Today they serve as an important resource for geographic, historic, and urban archaeological research. In 1867 the Sanborn Company began creating these maps by employing the skills of surveyors who performed field surveys for the purposes of recording building footprints and details about each building including property boundaries, building materials, number of floors, and other construction information about the urban infrastructure surrounding the buildings.

Using Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for historic research is not without challenges. Inaccuracies and omissions based on the cartographer’s point of view make it difficult to make certain conclusions with certainty. Other issues such as map style changes over time, illegibility, and scale variation affecting spatial accuracy are all common issues. While they are indispensible as one resource, caution must be exercised when using these and any type of map in understanding a site’s history.

Sanborn maps for Missoula, Montana document the town’s development for the period spanning 1884-1957. Three representative samples of the same downtown block show the changes to the built environment and urban landscape from 1884-1912.

1884 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for the city block encompassing the north side of West Front Street and south side of West Main Street.

1884 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for the city block encompassing the north side of West Front Street and south side of West Main Street.

1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for the city block encompassing the north side of West Front Street and south side of West Main Street.

1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for the city block encompassing the north side of West Front Street and south side of West Main Street.

1912 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for the city block encompassing the north side of West Front Street and south side of West Main Street.

1912 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for the city block encompassing the north side of West Front Street and south side of West Main Street.

Digital Sanborn map 1867-1970 by Proquest UMI, online at http://Sanborn.umi.com; Sanborn: Total Geographic Information by the Sanborn Map Company, Inc., 2003. http://www.Sanborn-map.com/default.htm

Door to….?

This door is rather large, measuring one meter across and 2 meters in height. Inside the wood frame door is a brick archway. The opening is sealed with wide wooden planks on the inside and concrete on the other side of that. It is believed that the wood planks likely provided the barrier when the void was filled.

The door itself is wooden with two windows in the top half (one of which is broken), a single decorative panel across the width of the door below those, and two more decorative panels under that. The door also has a decorative brass door knob. There are three steps leading up from the basement floor to this door.

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The most puzzling part of this feature is the door buzzer to the east of the door, inside the basement. Its location inside the door suggests that one had to take action to access something on the other side of the door or whatever was going on or being stored on the other side – presumably within an underground feature, such as a sidewalk void.

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What exactly is “the underground?”

When the Missoula Historic Underground Project began we had the same question. We didn’t really know exactly where to go (other than…down?) and what to look for when we got there. After about a year of visiting spaces, which were for the most part under downtown businesses, it was possible to determine that we were working with primarily four units of analysis.

Units of analysis in research are the primary items being studied and they provide the basis for data gathering.[i] The four underground units of analysis that we have dealt with on this project so far are: 1) steam tunnels; 2) non-steam tunnels; 3) basements; and 4) sidewalk voids. Further research could result in the discovery of additional units of analysis.

The term underground has many connotations, the most common being in reference to anything beneath the surface of the ground (subterranean space). Of course, the term also conjures up images of secret activities and delinquent persons committing acts they prefer to be hidden from authorities and the rest of the community. Most often these are of a religious, social, cultural, political or illegal nature, and sometimes more than one of these factors could be involved. The underground spaces in many cities are assumed to be linked to much more nefarious activity than data generally supports. At the same time, the lore exists for a reason. The primary definition we work with is the simplified definition of any “subterranean space.”

Steam tunnels are man-made tunnels that run under the city streets with the intended purpose of providing steam to downtown buildings for heat. For this project, steam tunnels are those that either still include steam pipes, designating their intended purpose, and/or those indicated on the city steam tunnel map.

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Steam tunnel access. Photo: Jared Fischer, 2012.

Although there are rumors of a network of tunnels beneath the city streets, other than steam tunnels, only two other tunnels have been discovered. These are referred to as the non-steam tunnels. There is a lengthy tunnel that extends from the basement of a historic building that was explored but has not yet been recorded. While the date of construction and actual usage is unknown, it appears to have been last set up during the 1960s as a Cold War fallout shelter. It includes small supply rooms still containing U.S. Department of Defense fallout shelter supplies and water rations from 1964. The walls and ceiling are constructed of massively thick concrete, and there are minimal lighting fixtures. It is very different from steam tunnel construction. More of this type of tunnel may exist in the downtown area. Another non-steam tunnel was discovered and documented in the basement of the historic Missoula Mercantile.

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Supplies from the Department of Defense for 1960s Cold-War fallout shelters. Photo: Author’s Collection, 2013.

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Another non-steam tunnel located in the basement of a building. Photo: Author’s Collection, 2013.

Basement spaces are any subterranean spaces containing archaeological and architectural features, particularly those that connect to steam tunnels, sidewalk voids and/or where arched or non-arched doorways “to no where” have been found. Basement spaces are located under most businesses in the downtown Missoula area. While the basement spaces themselves are not unusual, particularly in an urban business district, the features consistently found within them are of interest, including those with doorways that once led or still lead into rooms under the sidewalks and other unknown locations.

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Sealed door and windows that once led to a now filled sidewalk void. Photo: Bethany Hauer, 2013.

These rooms under the sidewalks represent the fourth unit of analysis, sidewalk voids, sometimes referred to as sidewalk vaults. The voids are particularly significant, as they represent some of the more mundane realities (i.e. storage) of underground features that have somehow become rather sensationalized as opium dens and prostitution cribs. There is evidence, however, that some of these sidewalk voids contained small businesses and that some of the larger ones were at one time structurally connected from business to business within a city block. The bulk of sidewalk voids with doorways have been sealed; many of the voids themselves have been filled in for safety and structural reasons.

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Example of one of the larger sidewalk voids seen so far. Photo: Bethany Hauer, 2013.

[i] Ann Felice Ramenofsky and Anastasia Steffen, Unit Issues in Archaeology: Measuring Time, Space, and Material (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1998).

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Image

Underground Doorway

This bricked-up doorway can be found in the basement of a property in Downtown Missoula. The door leads underground and according to the building owner may have once led into a small tunnel connecting this basement with the basement of a building approximately 10 feet to the south.  All rights reserved. Reproduction or sharing of images on this site are strictly prohibited without written consent from the blog owner.

This bricked-up doorway can be found in the basement of a property in downtown Missoula. The door once lead underground and according to the building owner may have once opened into a small tunnel connecting this basement with the basement of a building approximately 10 feet to the south.
All rights reserved. Reproduction or sharing of images on this site are strictly prohibited without written consent from the blog owner.