From the ADAH Collections: Alabama Historical Commission

The Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) periodically adds historically valuable records to its government collections from the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC). In Fiscal Year 2021, the AHC transmitted 94 cubic feet of materials to the ADAH, enriching an already robust collection. These records chronicle the Historical Commission’ work, including contractor files, drawings, photographs, surveys, blueprints, and subject files. Read on to learn more about the AHC and the agency’s records available at the ADAH.

In response to the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the Alabama Legislature created the AHC on August 16, 1966. The NHPA marked the United States’ commitment to preserving historic resources across the country. Supported by federal funding, the NHPA established partnerships with state, tribal, and local governments. One such partner organization, the AHC, spearheads and supports preservation efforts in Alabama. In addition to operating programs to assist local preservation activities, the agency also preserves and promotes state-owned historic sites, currently managing fifteen historical sites across the state. These sites include historic houses and museums, forts, battlefields, archaeological sites, and the Alabama State Capitol

In 1984, the AHC created the Black Heritage Council (BHC), who advocate for and advise on preserving historical African-American places in Alabama. The BHC was the first African American advisory council created nationally and remains the only statewide organization whose sole mission is to preserve African-American Historic Places. Some of the sites promoted by the BHC include the Town of Hobson City, Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, and the First Baptist Church in Selma, as well as the Slave Ship Clotilda. Records transmitted to the ADAH by the AHC represents the work of the BHC.

Records Pre-dating the Alabama Historical Commission
Researching and managing historic resources around the state of Alabama, the AHC collects both original and copies of records created before the Commission’s formation in 1966. These earlier records that date from as early as the late 1830s are found in many AHC records transmitted to the ADAH. 

The AHC’s architectural history program architectural drawings and sketches series contains several photocopies of architectural drawings and maps from as early as 1842, while floor plans, elevation drawings, and drawings made by AHC field staff represent some of the original records available in this series. The fragility of these documents limits researcher access. Please contact the ADAH’s reference archivists to make an appointment to view this series. 

Other pre-1966 materials include AHC records documenting the Capitol Building’s architecture and restoration in the form of photographs, sketches, plans, blueprints, and more. Items of particular interest are Daniel Pratt’s 1851 proposal for the capitol building and a 1939 drawing of the first floor of the capitol by the Historic American Building Survey. 

Section 106, Site Surveys, Contracts, and Documentation, 1953-2020

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that an agency identify and assess any project’s effects on historic buildings or sites and minimize or mitigate impacts on historic resources. This requirement extends to projects carried out by local government and private individuals which use federal funding. As Alabama’s State Historic Preservation Office, the AHC reviews proposed projects, advises on the presence of cultural resources, and may determine that a cultural resources survey is required before the project can proceed. Researchers at the ADAH can access construction project mitigation files containing correspondence, architectural drawings, maps, reports, and agreements related to Section 106.

An architectural or archeological survey identifies, documents, and evaluates historic physical resources within a town or county. These resources include schools, houses, archeological sites, cemeteries, and other types of historic resources. On their website, the AHC explains that “A survey is the basic step in creating a realistic preservation program.” Accepting and reviewing these surveys allows the AHC to carry out its work managing historically significant sites. Site survey reports from 1977 to 1983 are available at the ADAH. The reports, which were filed in either bound books or loose paper format, give detailed descriptions and analyses of the historical or archaeological significance of geographical locations in Alabama. 

Complementing the survey reports are contracts between the AHC and individuals or companies. Contracts available at the ADAH date between 1976 and 1980. The majority of the contracts are with professional archeological service companies. There are also contracts for historic restoration work and emergency repairs to historic properties in the wake of Hurricane Frederic’s devastation of the Alabama coast in 1979. 

The 94 cubic feet of materials transmitted to the ADAH in Fiscal Year 2021 were survey documentation files. Researchers to the ADAH can access 107 cubic feet of survey documentation files dating from 1953 to 2020 and representing all sixty-seven Alabama counties. The documentation files include field drawings, photographs, sketches, maps, and reports of areas and buildings of possible historical significance. 

Administrative Records and Awards 1966-2012
The AHC’s administrative records transmitted to the ADAH include several types of materials, including but not limited to the following: 

  • Meeting agendas and minutes packets
  • Correspondence
  • Files about proposed legislation regarding historic preservation
  • National Register Tax Act certification files.

Audits represent other administrative records within the AHC’s collection at the ADAH. To ensure proper funding expenditure, programs such as the AHC are routinely audited. Within the collection, federal audits from 1966 to 1984 provide summary financial information and explanations of findings. 

Other administrative records include a series of materials from the BHC’s annual preservation forums; this series is available to researchers at the ADAH. The BHC has also transmitted meeting agendas, minutes, and packets from 1993 through 2009.

In the past, the Alabama Historical Commission has presented awards to individuals, organizations, and institutions for their contributions to restoration, preservation, and legislation related to Alabama’s architectural, archaeological, and historic resources. Records for merit awards from 1975 to 1978, including photographs, nomination forms, and certificates, are available for research at the ADAH.  

Records from other Agencies 
Researchers to the ADAH can learn about AHC’s work by consulting the records the agency has transmitted but also by reviewing records from other agencies in the Archives’ government collections, as the AHC’s mission often involves working closely with other Alabama State Agencies.

For instance, executive orders can provide information about the expansion of the AHC’s work throughout the years. Governor Lurleen Wallace’s executive order, seen below, grants sole power to the AHC to supervise the functions of the Federal Historic Properties Preservation Act within Alabama. 

Additionally, the 1984 restoration project for the Alabama Capitol building and grounds was a joint effort of several Alabama state agencies. During this project, the AHC worked closely with the Department of Finance. Records from the Department of Finance, which complement the drawings and photographs found in the AHC records, include an architectural history of the Capitol’s interior and project bids for the restoration project. 

You can explore a selection of photographs and drawings from the AHC from the comfort of your own home by visiting the ADAH’s digital collections. To view the full selection of AHC records, including textual documents and fragile maps, please schedule a visit to the ADAH Research Room. Additional information about researching at the ADAH is available on the department’s website under the Research tab: https://archives.alabama.gov/research/reservation_requests.html

Resources

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
achp.gov

Alabama Historical Commission
https://ahc.alabama.gov/

Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/newdeal/habs.html

National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers https://ncshpo.org/

United States Department of the Interior, National Register of Historic Places https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/index.htm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s