Research Tools

The Bureau for Historic Preservation as the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) seeks to provide to the public, a framework for identifying and evaluating postwar resources. While the "Researcher's Guide for Developing a Context for Evaluating Post World War II Suburbs Development for National Register Eligibility" is to be used to define the property types associated with postwar development, the assessment of their significance and integrity, and a broad anaylsis of how each property type may meet the National Register of Historic Places Criteria for Evaluation, it is a tool for all researchers interested in postwar development in Pennsylvania.

The Postwar Suburbs website has been developed as a companion piece to the Guidelines; thus each webpage offers keyword research suggestions and primary resource documents that may aid in further research efforts.

Across the United States the challenges for evaluating post World War II housing are common: the sheer numbers involved, the uniformity of types, the lack of common experience in evaluation, the "youth" of scholarship on the subject, and lack of awareness of primary and local sources are only a few of the hurdles confronting us. Because National Register Criteria are subjective, every state may set different recordation standards and different benchmarks for measuring significance.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register Bulletin Historic Residential Suburbs outlines the broad parameters of suburban housing in the United States and identifies four major periods characterizing that development. The more recent NPS publication Multiple Property Document Form (MPDF) Historic Residential Suburbs in the United States, 1830-1960 identifies associated property types and outlines methods and sources for research and fieldwork. These are broadly defined and leave considerable room to assess local and regional character and significance of broad national patterns. The MPDF focuses on defining historic residential suburbs as cultural landscapes and identifies the elements to document. The MPDF does not offer guidance on the evaluation of individual residential resources - either single family homes or apartment complexes. It also does not address alternative housing such as trailer parks. Already SHPOs in different states are taking varying approaches in applying the NPS guidance.

Over the last two years the Pennsylvania SHPO (PASHPO) has addressed the challenges of documenting and evaluating post-World War II housing on a project-by-project basis, with the end goal of establishing a workable methodology to ensure consistent and defensible evaluations for National Register eligibility. To this end, PASHPO has undertaken statewide consultation with PennDOT, FHWA and Cultural Resource Management (CRM) consultants in an attempt to cooperatively develop test documentation and policy procedures. Additionally, the PASHPO staff has presented to two NTRB/ADC50 conferences outlining our approach and encouraging feedback, held summit meetings with potential constituencies, is testing creative mitigation strategies for documenting postwar resources, and has developed this website with tools to assist researchers.

While researching postwar suburbs, the BHP staff came across many websites devoted to the cultural phenomenon of the recent past, Cultural Resource Management articles published by the National Park Service, and additional articles and websites, that while are not listed on our bibliography page, are very informative, some of which have been included on the links page.

Pennsylvania Week October 10-17, 1954
Pennsylvania Week, October 10-17, 1954
Image Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg; Record Group 31; Records of the Department of Commerce; Office of the Secretary; General Correspondence (series 31.1)