Dr. Robert James Kapsch Collection – New Records from the National Park Service

Today’s post was written by James Porter, Archives Specialist, in the Processing Branch, Electronic Records Division at the National Archives at College Park

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) serves the nation as the repository for permanent federal records, the vast majority of which come directly from federal agencies. But not all records come in this way and sometimes they take a different journey to the catalog. One such collection of records that came indirectly from its parent agency is the Dr. Robert James Kapsch Collection (KAPS). This collection, the records of 25 years of federal service all within the National Park Service (NPS) of Dr. Robert James Kapsch, came to NARA thanks to work begun at a reception. Conversation with NARA staff revealed Dr. Kapsch still had in his possession the records from his time with NPS. After the reception conversation NARA staff worked to transfer the records in textual and electronic formats to the appropriate archival units. The electronic records have been added to the catalog as item level descriptions with digital objects, arranged in three series and 42 file units. This was part of the electronic records division’s legacy description project for telework, reviewing older accessions and creating item level descriptions to add to the catalog and expanding the public’s access to original electronic records.

b/w photo of an open lock on a canal
C&O Canal, unidentified lock photograph (NAID 203743992)

During his time with NPS Dr. Kapsch held three positions within:

  • Chief of Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER,) – April 7, 1980 to August 31, 1995 (NAID 192795456)
  • Special Assistant to the Director – August 31, 1995 to January 18, 2001 (NAID 192795463)
  • Senior Scholar in Historic Engineering and Architecture – January 18, 2001 to January 3, 2005 (NAID 192795464)

HABS/HAER, and later HAL (Historic American Landscapes Survey, added in 2000), are part of the Heritage Document Programs (HDP) division of the NPS; these programs document historic places in the United States. In the Kapsch series (NAID 192795456) the files are centered on the program’s yearly publications and include detailed plans of historic buildings. Although most items of the digital collection are reports, this is a way to take a technical tour of historic American architecture. The reports include architectural drawings and writings on historic preservation and restoration work. A full run of the program’s publications can be found at the Library of Congress.

Photograph of construction on the Monocacy Aqueduct, part of the C&O Canal (NAID 203744174)

The Special Assistant series (NAID 192795463) contains a tighter focus on the D.C. metropolitan area with an emphasis on park service stabilization and restoration work on historic structures. Ever wonder how NPS maintains an aqueduct for the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal? Or how about a Civil War era post office? This series contains several scopes of work reports and comments for projects carried out during the late 1990s. The C&O Canal is emphasized in this series with notes on the original construction process, the workers involved, and a large number of photographs. An example project is the work conducted on the Great Falls Tavern, part of the C&O Canal National Historic Park. The purpose of the project as outlined in the report was “to assess the existing conditions at Great Falls Tavern and make recommendations for correcting deficiencies observed during the investigation.  All proposed work will respect, preserve, and restore this important historic building complex.” The report itself outlines the field survey findings, recommendations, and cost estimates for the preservative and restorative work NPS later carried out on the property. Each project is a file unit in the catalog; due to how the files came to NARA some project reports are broken into individual sections or a single document.

Cover of the Architectual/Engineering Investigation for Great Falls Tavern (NAID 203743994)
stone cabin in a snow covered field with trees in the background
Photograph of the Mary Locher Cabin on the Antietam National Battlefield (NAID 196772371)

The last electronic series, Senior Scholar (NAID 192795464), continues the focus on canals. Dr. Kapsch published four books on the history of canals (Over the Alleghenies: Early Canals and Railroads of Pennsylvania; The Potomac Canal: George Washington and the Waterways West; Canals; and Historic Canals and Waterways of South Carolina) during his time with NPS along with a number of articles. A quirk of this accession coming directly from Dr. Kapsch is that NARA received digital copies of these books. This adds an extra hurdle to NARA staff and researchers with questions of copyright joining the procession. Pages and pages of notes documenting canals across the United States represent the bulk of this series. From the Illinois and Michigan Canal to the Lehigh Canal and the Bald Eagle Cross Cut Canal research materials abound, all filled with detailed citations including which repository maintains the record. If you have any interest in canals perusing the published material, research notes, and NPS projects will provide more than enough information to get started on your own canal history project.