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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Historic Preservation & Archaeology > County Survey Program County Survey Program

S. Mears House
S. Mears House
Deer Creek Valley Rural Historical District
Delphi, IN

History of the Survey Program

The Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory (IHSSI) of historic/architectural resources has been a continuing program of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (DHPA) since the mid-1970s. It is the responsibility of the DHPA’s Survey and Registration Section to administer and maintain the survey data that have been collected on all above-ground resources identified since the program began. The archaeology portion of the inventory is maintained separately by the Archaeology section at DHPA.

The major impetus for a comprehensive inventory of Indiana’s cultural resources came from the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The Act declared it the policy of the federal government to foster the preservation of our cultural resources in partnership with the states, local governments, and the private sector. In order to carry out this policy, the Act established the National Register of Historic Places, composed of buildings, sites, structures, objects and districts significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering and culture. It also established a partnership between the federal government and the states, whereby each state developed a state historic preservation program to be approved by the U. S. Secretary of the Interior. To gain approval, the governor of the state appointed a State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and a state review board. The DHPA serves as the State Historic Preservation Office for Indiana. Two of the responsibilities of the SHPO are directly related to the survey program. One is to conduct a comprehensive statewide survey of historic properties and maintain inventories of such properties for the purpose of locating, identifying, and evaluating cultural resources. Another responsibility is to protect such resources by ensuring that historic properties are considered in planning and development through the environmental review process.

In 1971, the Indiana State Legislature authorized creation of a state preservation program within the DNR and the DNR director was designated as the SHPO. The first full-time staff was hired in 1973 and the comprehensive survey program began in 1975. In 1978, an initial five-county survey project was completed by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana (now Indiana Landmarks) using federal grants-in-aid administered by the DHPA. Until 2008, the DHPA awarded federal grant money to local governments and non-profit organizations to undertake all city or county surveys of historic resources that occurred. On average, three counties were inventoried each year.

In 2008 the survey program underwent two major changes. The first was that the DHPA started overseeing the survey program. Instead of relying on outside entities to plan, undertake, review, and complete county surveys, the DHPA hired a staff person to manage this program. This change coincided with the move to electronic survey instead of paper survey. This programmatic shift was completed with financial assistance from the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. Now instead of using paper survey cards, the surveyors use tablet computers that are equipped with electronic survey cards that they complete in the field, can be downloaded and reviewed electronically, and then converted directly into the DHPA’s online database. We are gathering the same information as paper surveys, but technology allows for easier and faster access, better ability to correct and update records, and expanded mapping capabilities.

What are Historic Resources?

What makes something historic? Age? Design? Not everything that is old is historic, so how does DHPA decide what is and what isn’t? It really boils down to making a judgment about what is important to our history and culture at a local, state, or national level. A resource that is important to your community, but might never appear on a list of nationally significant places, can still be historic.

Castalia entry New FormalismSome resources are important because they are wonderful examples of architecture or engineering. Others are important for their connection to past people or events. While age is a factor (most historic properties are more than 50 years old), it isn’t a hard and fast rule, and some newer resources (dubbed the “recent past”) already have proven their importance.
It is easiest to understand “historic” in relation to buildings, but a bridge, a neighborhood, or a great piece of sculpture can also be historic. A historic resource might be a site where nothing above ground currently exists but where something important like a Native American village, a factory, or a battle once did exist or take place.

In addition to having importance, historic resources also must have what preservationists call “integrity.” That is nothing more than the resource’s ability to tell its story. A locally important author’s home that looks much as it did when he or she wrote can still give us a glimpse into that writer’s world. By contrast, if Mount Vernon now were sheathed in stainless steel and tinted glass, it would still be important as George Washington’s home, but we would have great difficulty understanding how Washington lived from looking at Mount Vernon because the integrity would have been compromised.

What it basically comes down to is a historic resource has something important to tell us about ourselves and our past plus enough qualities to tell that story well.

The DHPA works to help identify above-ground historic resources through its Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory (IHSSI)—a county-by-county survey of historic resources throughout the state. This program began in the mid-1970s and continues today.

Electronic Survey Process & Methodology

In Indiana above-ground surveys of historic resources are conducted on a county-by-county basis. County selection is based on the county’s location relative to gaps in survey information, known developmental pressures that might affect historic resources, and anticipated results based on staff knowledge of the state’s development. Other factors such as funding also enter into the selection process.

Survey and Registration staff completes initial planning for each county survey, including the evaluation of previously identified historic districts and identification of new historic districts. Preliminary research into a county’s history initially guides the field surveyors to understanding a county’s particular development. Once the historical research is complete, the county is systematically surveyed, township-by-township, by driving every public road. Every building, cemetery, and bridge or other above-ground resource that is at least 40 years old is surveyed. Surveyors complete a survey form, take photographs, and record a geographic reading via GPS for every property that meets these requirements and retains enough of its historic materials to be identified as historic construction. Each form records basic geographic information including county, township, city/town, address; architectural information including estimated date of construction, architectural type or style, building materials, changes/alterations for that building or structure; potential areas of significance and rating, and a site plan. The surveyor does not research the history of a property.

Once a surveyor completes records, they electronically submit them for review to the survey coordinator at DHPA. The coordinator reviews records for accuracy and either accepts records or returns them to the surveyor for revisions. Once all the records for a township are complete, they are added to the DHPA’s online database, SHAARD. If the township is a small, rural area, the entire survey process many only take a week. In larger, more populated cities, it can be months before the records are complete and in SHAARD.

With paper surveys, a report was completed with a catalog of information for every property surveyed in the county along with information about the survey program, the process, and historical information specific to the respective county. As of 2011 all of Indiana’s counties have been surveyed and have associated interim reports. From this point forward there will be a county summary compiled for all newly surveyed counties. These provide the same information about the survey program, the process, and historical information and also include photos of all Outstanding-rated properties and maps for identified historic districts. The summaries do not include a catalog of data on the surveyed properties. SHAARD now serves this function.

The DHPA uses the survey in two major ways. The first is determining whether a property is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The survey form indicates which properties are likely to be eligible for the National Register and provides information that can be used in preparing nominations. When National Register applications are prepared by owners or other interested citizens, the DHPA uses the survey data to evaluate the property’s significance relative to others that have also been recorded in the inventory and to check the completeness of the information provided.

Under the requirement to protect historic resources, the DHPA uses survey data when reviewing state and federally funded projects to determine the impact of such projects on historic properties. The survey allows for more-thorough investigations of the historic resources within the proposed project areas.

Accessing Survey Information

All survey records are filed at the DHPA for public access. To date there are approximately 250,000 paper records for above-ground resources. Those counties that have been surveyed electronically do not have paper forms, and that data must be accessed through SHAARD. In addition to our county survey program, the DHPA also has themed surveys on resources such as round and polygonal barns, New Deal resources located on state properties, historic buildings on state college and university campuses, historic bridges, train depots, Lustron houses, and state-owned historic sites and structures. These records are only available by visiting the DHPA. To schedule a records check appointment, go here.

As of 2011 all 92 Indiana counties have now been surveyed and the majority of those have published reports, known as Interim Reports; however, there are a few that do not have a published report (only available electronically) and there are others that simply are out of print and not available. The DHPA has a complete set of printed Interim Reports accessible to the public. Other repositories include the State Library, federal and state agencies, regional planning agencies, city governments, and libraries throughout the state. To find out if the county you live in has a published Interim Report, go here. This list simply means that one was published, it does not mean that it is currently available outside of the DHPA or one of the above listed repositories. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of a particular county interim report, please contact Indiana Landmarks at (317) 639-4534.

All of our county survey information is being entered into our SHAARD database. While not complete, new data is entered into the database every day, so check back often for updates. It is anticipated that all above-ground survey data will be entered into SHAARD by 2017.

SHAARD also includes data from the Indiana Cemetery and Burial Registry, on historic bridges, from properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and on historic theaters in Indiana.

Non-DHPA Sponsored Surveys

Some local entities conduct their own architectural surveys for a neighborhood or city. Such surveys can be useful to local governments, professionals, citizens, and residents. They can aid in planning, development, allocation of funding, and increasing local support, appreciation and pride.

While the DHPA supports such efforts for local purposes, such surveys are not part of the SHPO-mandated survey program and, therefore, will not be consulted when evaluations and reviews are conducted for federal or state programs such as the National Register of Historic Places, Indiana Register of Historic Sites and Structures, environmental reviews, and eligibility for state or federal grants/tax credits.