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State to survey historic properties

JACKSON – This past week kicked off the beginning of historical and architectural surveys of Hertford, Bertie, Northampton and Beaufort counties.

Jim Gossip, president of the Northampton County Museum and mayor of Jackson, said, “A historic and architectural survey for Northampton County has long been needed.”

The surveys will be conducted by the State Historic Preservation Office, Office of Archives and History.

This particular survey project will be funded by two grants: $75,000 from Preserve America and $75,000 from the Golden Leaf Foundation. Approximately $22,000 was also added from a federal grant.

According to Rebecca Spanbauer, the Historic Survey Consultant for Northampton County, Northampton’s survey will be completed within the next year and a half to two years. She said the surveys for the other counties will probably cover that same amount of time.

Spanbauer will survey around 675 properties in Northampton County. She will take field notes, snap photographs, map the parcels and compile a list of properties to be nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of buildings, structures, objects, sites and districts that are worthy of preservation for their significance in American history, architecture, archaeology and culture. The National Register is a federal program, but the nominations are submitted by the states through their historic preservation offices.

Three other consultants will be working on the other counties: one each in Hertford, Bertie and Beaufort.

Spanbauer said to think of it as four separate projects in four separate counties going on at the same time, but funded from the same source.

Scott Power, the regional supervisor and Historic Preservation Specialist for the eastern office in Greenville, said each county will have between 500-700 properties.

Power said that a historical survey inventories historic resources and records information on historic buildings. Each survey provides a local base of information about community history and architecture.

He added that the survey will concentrate on the earliest type of architecture; only properties that are 50 years old and older will be surveyed.

Claudia Brown, the supervisor for the Survey and Planning Branch of the Historic Preservation Office, said the survey is not a cemetery survey.

However, Power added that if the house is standing and the cemetery stones are significant architecturally, then the stones can offer great information about the history of the house.

“We are not just looking for grand and glorious properties,” said Brown. “A vast majority of the properties will be modest, but important historically.”

“All of the properties tell a story,” added Power.

According to Power, the agency has recorded information in 70 of the 100 counties in North Carolina.

Brown said all of the information Spanbauer records will be linked into North Carolina’s Geographic Information System (GIS). All of the information and photographs will be available to Northampton County.

Brown also said the files Spanbauer creates will be archived in the survey file room in Raleigh where people can use them for research.

She added that the information is beneficial for local planning purposes.

According the Brown, the report can be the basis for a publication.

“A hallmark number of surveys have been published,” she said. “Over the years the books have become more elaborate, such as hardcover books and books with graphics. They sell well.”

However, according to Brown, books are not part of the project funding. She said that if a local historic preservation commission is established and becomes certified, then the project may qualify in order to receive matching grant money for a manuscript from the Historic Preservation Office.

As a certified preservation commission, the group would actively designate properties to be certified and conduct surveys.

Spanbauer said the first four to five weeks of her survey will be a reconnaissance and initial phase of the project. Starting in September, she will schedule the second phase of the project and will be surveying five days a week.

“I am thrilled to start the project,” she said. “I need people to help, to offer their knowledge about the properties.”

Brown echoed these sentiments.

“Success in this project depends on local deport, historic resources and assisting in entry to certain properties,” she said. “The citizens are a fountain of knowledge.”

“We are very grateful to Scott Powers and the Division of Archives and History for stepping up to the plate and securing the two grants to bring this process to fruition,” said Gossip. “It is difficult at best for Tier 1 counties to find the necessary funding for historic and architectural surveys and yet it is so necessary to help preserve the history, heritage and material culture that is unique to our area.”

Dennis Babb, who is on the Board of Directors of the Northampton County Museum, said that the survey will be a resource of information for historical genealogy.

“Many of the people who visit the museum are interested in their genealogy,” he said. “Everyone wants to know about their grandparents and about how it was in past times; it gives them a sense of being grounded.”

Babb said he enjoys history because of the oral traditions.

“Sometimes I find oral traditions to be untrue; there may be just a grain of truth in them,” he said. “You have to do research and document the truth; I enjoy finding out the truth about oral traditions.”

“Northampton County possesses a substantial inventory of historical assets and this survey will identify the location, condition and significance of these assets,” added Gossip. “This process should ultimately lead to the preservation of these assets and will also identify properties that would qualify for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.”

The Preservation Office sponsors and co-sponsors, assists and guides dozens of local and regional architectural surveys throughout the state. This is all a part of the statewide program whose mission is to identify, record, and encourage the preservation of North Carolina’s historic and architectural heritage.