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Article

Margaret Moore Booker

The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) constitute a public archival collection consisting of more than 556,900 measured drawings, large-format photographs and written histories for more than 38,600 historic structures and sites in the US dating from Pre-Columbian times to the 20th century. Maintained by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the HABS collection is one of the largest national surveys of its kind in the world. It serves as a vital resource for students of American architecture and is a crucial aid to historic preservationists. Its success reflects the importance and great need to document America’s surviving architectural and engineering masterpieces, particularly those that might be threatened with alteration, demolition or development.

In 1933, during the Great Depression, HABS was initiated by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a short-term, federal relief project. Under the program—the brainchild of architect Charles E. Peterson—unemployed architects and draftsmen were hired to record systematically historic buildings through accurate, scale, measured drawings and photographs and written historic documentation. The program was (and continues to be) co-sponsored by the National Park Service (NPS), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the Library of Congress. Unlike most Depression-era federal assistance projects that disappeared once federal emergency funding ended, HABS survived and flourishes today....