American Archives Month: Discovering Archives and Repositories in the Records of the National Register of Historic Places

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service. 

Transfer of Charters of Freedom to the National Archives in 1952 (National Archives ID 5928179). The “Charters of Freedom” include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, which are displayed at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC

October is traditionally designated as American Archives Month with events celebrated around the country to highlight the work of archival repositories. Of course, in this new world in which we live there are limitations and restrictions on in-person visits to archives, libraries, and museums, and fewer seminars, conferences, or archives fairs. But we can certainly visit virtually a number of archival institutions that exist in the United States through the records represented in the National Register of Historic Places. So, grab your acid-free folders and your fastener remover and come along for a tour. You may want to grab a sweater, as those vaults are temperature and humidity controlled. 

Photograph of National Archives Seal (National Archives ID 35809802).     
Constitution Avenue Side of Archives Building (National Archives ID 102252722).

The first stop on our tour is the National Archives of the United States, which is on the National Register (National Archives ID 117692357) and “designed in the Neo-Classical manner by John Russell Pope and part of the Federal Triangle, is located on hexagonal tract bounded by Constitution Avenue, 7th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and 9th Street . . . The Archives Building has been described as a building within a building. The outer structure with its Corinthian columns and porticos enclose the inner core which rises above it in the form of a monumental attic.” Of course, as archivists, we tend to shy away from storing records in attics.

Also found in Washington, DC are the many museums of the Smithsonian Institution, including the “Castle,” located on the National Mall. The Castle is also part of the National Register, designated as a National Historic Landmark ( National Archives ID 117691871).

The Smithsonian Castle with Washington Monument in the background (National Archives ID 6346106)

“The Smithsonian Institution Building on the Mall in Washington was built between 1847 and 1855 to house the Smithsonian Institution. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 under the theme Science and Invention.” The building is of “major architectural importance as the finest remaining example of Norman Revival civil architecture in the country,” designed by the “architect James Renwick who also designed Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and the Old Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington.” In the National Historic Register file you can read more about the building’s history, see layouts of the building as well as additional photographs.

Going from Federal to State institutions, you can search for state archives represented in the National Register files, including the Virginia State Library and Archives in Richmond (National Archives ID 41682862). “The Old State Library building is a massive government structure rendered in “Stripped Classicism,” a style popular for public works in the 1930s and ’40s, both in America and Europe. The style is characterized by the monumentality and proportions of Classical architecture but is devoid of its ornamentation . . . Constructed in 1938-40, the Old State Library building ranks among the Commonwealth of Virginia’s principal architectural projects in the Capitol Square complex. It was built to serve the dual purpose of housing the collections of the State Library and Archives as well as the offices of Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and the Office of the Attorney General.”

Photograph of Virginia State Archives ( National Archives ID 12169671).
Photograph of Illinois State Archives (National Archives ID 12169461).

If college and university archives are more your thing, you can travel to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York to visit the site of the Herring Library and Cole Reading Room (National Archives ID 75321900), which “stands on the old part of the St. Lawrence University campus to the west of Richardson Hall midway down the tree-lined “collegewalk.” At one time it was balanced on the south side of the “collegewalk” by Fisher Hall (built in 1883 and burned in 1951).

“Built of Potsdam sandstone to house the college library, Herring-Cole contrasts with the nearby Richardson Hall in almost every detail. Smaller in dimensions and yet fortress-like and monumental in character, Herring-Cole Hall appears to crouch defensively in the shadow of its elegant tall, almost willowy neighbor on the top of the hill.”

There is also the Koren Library (National Archives ID 75340314) on the grounds of Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa. “Koren Library is a brick walled, reinforced concrete framed building of two principal floors (with four-level stacks) which served as college library from 1921 to 1969, and then did duty as music hall, chapel, and faculty office building. The building is located on a modest slope at the southeast corner of the campus. It forms a pivot at the main entrance to the college, and is across the street from “Campus House,” a mid-nineteenth century brick house now containing the president’s office.”

You can also virtually visit a number of smaller archival repositories and historical societies around the country, including the John Paul Jones House (National Archives ID 77844594), which is now the site of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Historical Society. “The John Paul Jones House was built by Captain Gregory Purcell, mariner and merchant, in 1758 and here he resided until his death in October 1776. His widow, Sarah, then took in roomers until she sold the house in 1783 . . . The John Paul Jones House was acquired by the Portsmouth Historical Society in 1919 and serves as their headquarters. Furnished as a historical house exhibit, the building is open to visitors.”

Home of John Paul Jones, now the home of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Historical Society (National Archives ID 135803370).

There’s also the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Building (National Archives ID 75315734), site of the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 (and the location of William McKinley’s assassination). “In 1900 plans for a New York State building were opened to competitive design,” and architect George Cary was selected to build the building.  “Cary planned a structure faced and corniced in white Vermont marble to emulate the Parthenon in Athens . . . The structure is so positioned on a natural semicircular decline that ends in the North Bay of Delaware Lake that, on still days,- the whole structure can be seen reflected [as seen in the picture below].” 

Great Lakes Seaway Trail – Buffalo and Erie County Historical Center (National Archives ID 7718787).

Once things return to a new normal, we can look forward to welcoming our researchers back to our reading rooms around the country. For now, continue to believe in the work we are all doing and the importance of archives.

Visitor in the National Archives Library (National Archives ID 122213576).
Fifteenth Annual Institute on Preservation and Administration of Archives (National Archives ID 74229325).

If your archival bent is national, state, local, or even smaller than that, you can find lots to look at in the National Register records. This is serious work as exemplified by the people shown above. You never know what you’re going to find hidden in the archives or which VIPs you’ll run into in the stacks. Have a Happy Archives Month!

President Barack Obama jokes with personal aide Reggie Love, Trip Director Marvin Nicholson and others backstage, prior to his remarks at a Small Business Administration event at the Metropolitan Archives in Hyattsville, Md., Oct. 21, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza). (National Archives ID 176552238).

By clicking on any of the hyperlinked National Archives ID numbers above you will be taken to the fully digitized records in the National Archives Catalog. The digitized files of the NRHP are detailed and include additional photographs, architectural drawings, and maps.