Cultural Resources & Archeology: April-May, 2009

National Archive photograph of Captain Shrewsbury House, Madison, Indiana.

James Rosenthal and his predecessor Jack Boucher (who took this photo of the Captain Shrewsbury House in Indiana) use multiple flashbulbs to evenly light building interiors.

Library of Congress archive photo.

Recording the past: photographing the former splendor of Elkmont

During April, James Rosenthal, a photographer from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)/Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) traveled to the Smokies from Washington, D.C. to document historic Elkmont structures awaiting demolition. Hundreds of buildings—from modest cabins to elaborate resorts—are still standing at Elkmont. Many will be preserved, but others—those that have been remodeled and therefore aren’t considered historically significant, or those outside of a main housing cluster that have not weathered the Smokies’ damp climate well—have to be torn down. Their demolition will make the area safer for visitors who are tempted to wander in, and will allow Park maintenance staff to concentrate their resources into preserving and restoring the remaining buildings.

Photographing the historically significant buildings—and all such structures around the country —is a precise art that James said he learned from his predecessor, Jack Boucher. James uses a large format camera to take archival photos of building exteriors, interiors, and special features.

Large frame camera to take photographs for National Archives.

Photographers from the Historic American Buildings Survey use large format cameras such as this on in Elkmont.

NPS photo.

For a week, James, accompanied by cultural resources staff and by Americorps volunteers who are spending their spring in the Smokies, stepped into dozens of houses to capture their characters. Many houses had collapsing floors and roofs, but using several flashbulbs James was able to document as much of the original architecture as possible. Look for more about this documentation in a Cultural Resources feature in a future issue of “Dispatches.”

Recording the present: photographing culturally significant comfort stations

You may have seen coffee table books full of photographs of quirky outhouses. In the Smokies, we also take pictures of our restrooms, but for a different reason. Many of the bathrooms—or comfort stations, as they’re called—were built during a National Park Service refurbishment period called “Mission 66.” During the 1960s, funds helped parks around the country to build much needed infrastructure; many had not had new buildings since the flurry of construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. When you travel to parks, you may notice a similar architectural style in park housing, visitor centers, and, of course, comfort stations. Low, stone, and natural colors such as browns and tans predominated in this construction era. The comfort stations are a relic of this day, and Historian Dianne Flaugh and other Cultural Resources staff took photos at Chimneys picnic area in early May. The photographs will go to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Return to Resource Roundup: April-May, 2009.


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