Identifying Rural Heritage Assets

Neighborhoods have individual indentities. Surveys should include the features that make each place special. This map sign in rural western MA helps travelers find farmstands and contributes to the sense of community and rural heritage.

Credit: Rebecca Williams, NTHP - Northeast Region

Before you can protect the historic character of a rural place, you have to know what historic assets you have. Conducting a survey is a great way to start. Surveys can be elaborate and detailed, or they can be as simple as a ‘windshield’ survey to get an initial overview of what types of buildings, structures, landscapes, or landscape features make up the character of a rural landscape, neighborhood or town. Completed surveys can form the foundation for National Register nominations, contribute to the development of a town-wide preservation plan, help inform planning decisions, and identify historic places that may warrant additional investigation and documentation.

Surveys might be conducted by a non-profit organization, preservation consultants, a preservation organization, volunteers, or staff from your state's State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Most SHPO offices have standard, state-approved survey forms that can be used.  More specialized survey forms, tailored to agricultural properties for example, are also available from a variety of organizations. Click here to see the National Barn Alliance survey form that can be used to identify historic barns and farmsteads.

A good survey will typically include photos (taken from the public right of way unless owner permission is granted to enter property), a sketch map, location information (street address as well as GPS data), and a narrative. Depending on time and purpose, additional research can reveal oral histories, historic images, historic maps, census data, and other information that can help round out the stories.

For a list of sample surveys click here.