Heather Slane said matching locations on maps with properties that she actually sees at the end of driveways and through wooded areas is sort of like putting together a puzzle. When the pieces all fit together, the end result is rewarding. But sometimes it can take a while before the picture begins to take shape.
Slane is an architectural historian whose firm, hmwPreservation, has just completed part of Phase 1 of a 3-phase project to update Vance County’s architectural survey.
If the survey were a building, it would be considered historical – the most recent one was completed in the mid-1970’s, she said. And today, the general rule of thumb is that a structure is considered historical if it’s at least 50 years old.
Slane joined host Bill Harris on Tuesday’s Town Talk to discuss the project and the progress being made. The first couple of days, she admitted that she had a bit of a learning curve. “We had to make sure we were looking for the right thing in the right place,” she said about using the maps and lists to match up with the properties they were viewing.
The survey is a result of some federal grant funding distributed to North Carolina to complete architectural surveys in six counties. Slane and her group won the contracts for Vance and Person counties.
There was a survey conducted in the early 1980’s in Henderson, which resulted in the formation of the downtown Henderson Historic District, but Slane said her focus right now is updating the county’s list of historical properties that is maintained at the state’s historic preservation office.
So far, Slane’s work has been to identify the approximately 350 properties previously listed in files, using GIS and other documents to locate the properties.
That part of the work is completed, and she said she and her team plan to return in February to begin Phase 2. Before the work is completed in the spring of 2023, she will have identified properties within the city limits of Henderson, too.
“We drove up and down every road in the county and made a list of all the properties that the state did not already have information on that we can go back and create files for,” Slane said.
She’s mindful of the “No Trespassing” signs, she said, and sometimes just has to photograph from along the roadside. But when a property is in obvious disrepair, showing no sign of being cared for, she said she feels comfortable going in for a closer look.
There are some properties listed that no longer exist, either falling victim to demolition or neglect over the last 50 years. But there are other structures that will find their spot on the updated list, and Slane said schools and churches are two types of architecture that are sure to be included.
“One of the things we always try to document, in addition to the condition of the buildings, are schools and churches,” she said. “Those tend to tell the stories of communities even better than most houses do.”
Something she has noticed in her drives through the county is the abundance of ranch-style homes. Instead of trying to document each individual property, she said she looks for unusual roof lines or other interesting details to include a representative of the style that permeates the rural roadsides.
Slane also is interested in hearing from residents who have a particular story to tell or want to share a remembrance about a particular structure or area.
“I don’t know Vance County all that well,” Slane said, adding that having locals tell her which buildings are important and special for them is a real gift. “It’s always helpful to have people who’ve lived in Henderson for a long time” share information with her. It’s that personal perspective that gives context to the survey.
She will welcome input up until January or February of 2023, just in advance of the completion of the survey. Email her at email@example.com.
“We want something that’s useful, not just something that’s a file for the state,” she said.