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Identifying Minnesota's Historic Agricultural Landscapes
Phase II Report

Contents: Chapter 2

2.  Methodology Used for Previous Rural Surveys

    National Register Nominations and Historical Surveys

    Guidelines and Manuals for Establishing Historic Districts

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2.  Methodology Used for Previous Rural Surveys

Mead & Hunt conducted an extensive literature search to identify the methodology used to identify and nominate rural historic landscapes nationwide. Their search included NRHP nominations; landscape, cultural and agricultural surveys; and publications that describe how to identify and evaluate historic landscapes.

Many of the nominations reviewed focused on an ethnic group, the group's culture, and the landscape in which they lived and worked. The landscapes they investigated in Carver and Goodhue Counties were, likewise, shaped by the ethnic groups that settled there in the late nineteenth century. Goodhue County has an exceptionally rich ethnic history, having been the preferred settlement of many first-generation Norwegians after 1860.

From the review of the literature, they learned how to better approach the study area. The six NRHP nominations and two surveys discussed below were particularly valuable in informing the methodology. Two manuals -- one prepared for the National Park Service (NPS) and the other for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) -- also offered direction to the investigation of the selected historic agricultural landscapes. Finally, National Register Bulletin 30 provided a framework for considering the NRHP eligibility of the targeted Carver and Goodhue County landscapes.

National Register Nominations and Historic Surveys

The NRHP database yielded a list of about 100 historic districts related to agricultural or rural landscapes. For review, they selected those districts that were most closely related in size, property category, and resources to the Minnesota landscapes included in this study. Our review of the literature focused on nominations prepared during the late 1980s and early 1990s, because more recent nominations are generally more detailed than earlier nominations. Their analysis of the nominations most applicable to this project follows.

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Worth/Jefferis Rural Historic District, Chester County, Pennsylvania

The Worth/Jefferis Rural Historic District, nominated in 1994, encompasses 1,800 acres of agricultural land in rural Chester County, Pennsylvania. Documented by Robert J. Wise, Jr., the district has an unusual ratio of contributing to noncontributing buildings, with only 47 contributing resources as compared to 74 noncontributing. Most of the noncontributing houses are located in higher-density, suburban tracts that are not visible from the main roads. Other noncontributing resources include recent outbuildings, which are associated with contributing farms, and new and altered houses. Many of the noncontributing outbuildings -- especially barns -- were constructed on historic foundations and have the same size, shape, and orientation of their predecessors. As a result, they are not intrusive to the historic district.

This particular part of Chester County has become increasingly suburban, with subdivisions penetrating the once agricultural area. However, the groupings of new homes are set back from the roads and are generally not visible from the historic buildings and landscape. The district's ten historic farms, all on major roads, are the district's most prominent features. The placement of the features within the district is more important than the number of contributing resources. Older buildings are positioned to take advantage of natural landscape features, whereas, new construction has altered the landscape by cutting hillsides and trees. Landscape features that define the district include roads, hedgerows, fields, and farmsteads.

The western and southern boundaries of the district follow William Penn's 1688 land grant. Some of this landscape's oldest properties lie within these boundaries. Other boundaries, including forested land, hedgerows, and roads, exclude most of the suburban sprawl. Some suburban areas are located within the district, but natural and man-made landscape features shield these areas from the viewshed of the historic properties.

The period of significance for the Worth/Jefferis Historic District extends over two centuries from 1707 to 1943. The pattern of the farmsteads, fields, and rolling country separated by hedgerows and small tree groves has remained constant over the period of significance. Each of the contributing farmsteads still has its farmhouse placed at the center of the complex. The buildings on each farm retain sufficient integrity to be considered contributing resources within the historic district. The district contains a significant and distinctive collection of rural Pennsylvania agricultural buildings. However, the district is also significant because it reflects a pattern of exploration and settlement representative of original English Quaker settlement.

This nomination demonstrated an essential contrast between urban and rural districts. Generally, urban districts are eligible when a concentration of contributing resources outweighs noncontributing resources and demonstrates significance in one of four areas. However, rural historic landscapes are assessed and evaluated for characteristics that include transportation networks, vegetation, types of land use, and spatial organization. Rural historic districts include many characteristics -- such as landscape features and the presence of cultural traditions -- that cannot be counted in the same manner as buildings and structures in an urban area. This nomination proves that the traditional resource count should not be the only method used to assess the overall eligibility of a landscape district.

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Historic Farming Resources Multiple-property Listing, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

This multiple-property nomination uses a somewhat different methodology and boundary demarcation than would be used for a rural historic district. Instead of a district boundary, several smaller areas are defined. The nomination includes farmsteads that meet a specific property type definition. According to the nomination, a contributing property is:

...commonly a family farm, operated by the members of a family working as a cooperative unit. The farm includes a combination of natural and cultural or man-made features, such as cropland, woodland, wetland and waterways with different topographical and soil characteristics, as well as fences, roads, lanes, bridges, lime kilns, walls, springs, ponds, contour strips, ditches, terraces and groups of buildings for domestic and agricultural use.
The period of significance for this multiple-property listing extends from 1710 until 1945 and encompasses all major phases in the agricultural history of Lancaster County. Nominated properties are restricted to those within the present geographic boundaries of Lancaster County and associated with the processing and technology of farming.

The methodology used in this multiple-property listing is both similar and different from that used for more traditional districts. The listing employs a common first step of identifying a large survey area and investigating the resources within it. In the subsequent steps of this Lancaster County Project, properties that fit the definition of "contributing" were surveyed more intensively and then documented within the multiple-property listing. This approach differs from the one traditionally used in documenting districts, in that noncontributing properties were eliminated from the intensive survey pool and excluded from the multiple-property listing.

The listing suggests a way to deal with rural areas that have modern buildings scattered in the midst of historic farmsteads. In this case, only contributing resources were recognized through listing on the NRHP.

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Rural Historic, Architectural, and Landscape Resources in the Willow Creek Area, Gallatin County, Montana

This multiple-property nomination recognizes resources in the Willow Creek area of Montana. One of the associated property types is a rural historic landscape district that contains over 100 buildings built between 1863 and 1940. The district's significance derives from the high degree of integrity of its agricultural land-use patterns and its historic design features. The edges of the valley establish an obvious historic boundary. This area includes portions of homesteads and ranches established during Gallatin County's second period of agricultural development. The only nonagricultural sites included within the district are those that relate to the county's agricultural beginnings and its subsequent success, including mills and a grave site of a founding citizen.

This nomination resulted from a 1991 rural historic landscape survey of the Willow Creek area of Gallatin County. An extensive windshield survey helped identify three relevant historic contexts within the county:

  • Initial period of settlement
  • Irrigation-based agricultural development
  • Subsequent phase of intensified and diversified agriculture

A historic district related to agricultural and ranching, one rich in associated buildings and structures, was subsequently identified. To determine which resources were contributing, properties were evaluated against the historic contexts. The boundary for this rural historic landscape district follows the ridges enclosing the valley on the east, south, and west and relies upon land-use changes to define its north edge.

The boundary for Minnesota's Sogn Valley landscape is similarly defined, with ridges offering a geographic boundary that correlates with a decline in the integrity of the historic resources. As demonstrated by the Gallatin County example, analyzing properties within the framework of historic contexts is an important component in identifying a rural historic district.

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The Moosup Valley Historic District and Clayville Historic District, Providence County, Rhode Island

The Moosup Valley and Clayville Historic Districts are both located in Providence County, Rhode Island. Each district has a hamlet at its center, with surrounding agricultural lands. Boundaries for the districts follow current and historic property lines.

The Moosup Valley Historic District includes approximately 1,760 acres and 121 contributing resources and 60 noncontributing resources. The district centers around the small agricultural hamlet of Moosup Valley. This hamlet was the center of community life for the surrounding agricultural settlement. The district's period of significance extends from 1704 to 1938.

The boundary for the historic district follows recorded property lines of farms that developed on each side of the valley and along the Moosup Valley Road. In areas where acreage is no longer in agricultural use, an arbitrary boundary line was drawn. New construction was excluded from the district by restricting the district boundary to the road right-of-way near newer houses. The road right-of-way has been virtually unchanged over 200 years.

The Clayville District is considerably smaller than the Moosup Valley District, comprising only 81 acres with 109 contributing resources and 30 noncontributing. Though Clayville is a larger community than Moosup Valley, it has more commercial, educational, governmental, and residential properties than it does agricultural buildings.

These two districts, although important in the agricultural development of Providence County, Rhode Island, are different than the landscapes evaluated for this project. At Moosup Valley and Clayville, the importance of the district stems from its development as a commercial center within an agricultural area. The Carver County and Goodhue County study areas included only agricultural land and farmsteads with no central hamlet. The definition of boundaries that exclude new construction in Providence County offers suggestions for both of the Minnesota study areas.

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Honey Creek Swiss Rural Historic District, Sauk County, Wisconsin

This NRHP nomination, prepared by William Tishler and Jane Eiseley, listed a 12-square-mile area in Sauk County, Wisconsin, that was predominantly settled by Swiss immigrants. The district holds significance as an extraordinarily compact and homogeneous settlement of German-speaking Swiss from the Walser area of Canton Graubuenden.

The methodology used to identify the district's boundary has several components. First, overlays of land ownership in 1859, 1877, and 1893 were combined with overlays of soil and slope suitable for farming and extant historic resources. This helped to define a core area of Swiss settlement. The district boundary was then narrowed through an analysis of natural features, present ownership, roads, towns, and section lines of the area. A contiguous area of Swiss settlement was identified. Built features and landscape elements were then examined to determine their historic significance and integrity.

The period of significance was based on historical research and the same historic maps used in the boundary study. The maps indicated the core area of farms settled by Swiss immigrants during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Research determined that Swiss settlement extended well into the 1890s. However, the period of significance extends from 1842 to 1919, a period that reveals a continuous adaptation and development of Swiss settlement.

Once the period of significance was identified, buildings were classified as contributing or noncontributing based on whether they were built within this period. Structures built after 1919 were counted as noncontributing, as were those that did not exhibit sufficient historic integrity. This nomination offers a clear explanation of the steps taken toward defining its period of significance. The sample may guide the definition of the period of significance for an area with strong ethnic ties, such as the Sogn Valley of Goodhue County.

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The Architecture and Landscape Characteristics of Rural Belgian Settlement, Northeastern Wisconsin

During the 1980s, William Tishler and Erik Brynildson conducted a survey to identify sites, structures, and objects related to Belgian settlement in northeastern Wisconsin. The initial study area included nine townships in Door, Brown, and Kewaunee Counties. Fieldwork helped to define the extent of settlement and to identify existing resources related to this settlement. The resulting report documents the steps taken in conducting the survey, determining eligibility of sites, and preparing a NRHP nomination.

Before beginning fieldwork, Tishler and Brynildson completed background research. Records studied included censuses, tax assessments, homestead filings, and immigration listings. This led the investigators to a survey pool of almost 500 sites. Each site was then documented on a survey form accompanied by photographs. Twenty-two of the best examples were chosen from the three counties for intensive survey documentation. These properties were photographed and mapped, and a site map and floor plans were prepared. Later, the 500 initial sites were reconsidered and a potential historic district was defined.

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Namur Belgian-American District, Door County, Wisconsin

The nomination of the Namur Belgian-American District to the NRHP resulted from William Tishler's careful analysis of the integrity and location of 500 historic sites within a three-county area. Selected as the best concentration of Belgian-American resources, this district retains the overall character of a Belgian farming community. It is significant for its distinctive Belgian architecture and as an example of the establishment and maintenance of a rural ethnic enclave.

Approximate boundaries for the district were selected after more than 500 sites were documented and the integrity of each site was assessed. Intensive on-site inspections of the area helped determine the most suitable edges for the district. The resulting boundaries encompass the largest collection of buildings related to Belgian-American settlement.

The period of significance extends from 1880 to 1930. Buildings constructed outside of this period are considered noncontributing to the district. The district contains 186 contributing properties and 77 noncontributing properties within a 3,500-acre area.

The district is notable for its distinctive architecture, brought to the area from Belgium by settlers. Red-and-cream brick gabled-ell and front-gable houses are common in the district. Some houses feature decorative, brick window hoods and half-circle windows at the gable peak. Each farm is quite small with a few outbuildings, typically including a bank barn. The Namur Belgian-American District has national significance as the largest collection of Belgian-American buildings in the United States and was given National Historic Landmark status in 1989.

Though Goodhue County was largely settled by Norwegians, its buildings are not distinctive to this ethnic group. However, the survey and nomination of the Namur Historic District demonstrate an approach to defining a rural historic district within a large study area of similar resources. Like the Door County Peninsula, southern Goodhue County has numerous similar buildings. The Namur nomination suggested how we could focus our survey efforts on one part of the broader landscape.

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Ebey's Landing Cultural Reserve, Puget Sound, Washington

In 1983, the NPS surveyed the landscape and buildings of Ebey's Landing Cultural Reserve to expand the existing NRHP nomination, and provide a tool for managing the reserve's resources. To obtain the best results, two different surveys were conducted -- one of the landscape and the other of buildings. The results were evaluated collectively.

The initial phase of the landscape survey was conducted by canvassing the 17,400 acres of Ebey's Landing. Based on the initial search, the area was divided into ten areas of natural land features and cultural patterns. Natural features included ridges and woodlands; cultural features included roads, settlement patterns, and political boundaries. The second phase of the landscape survey involved fieldwork to document existing landscape components.

The entire reserve was divided into survey areas the size of one-half of a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) quadrangle. Documentation of the landscape features included writing a brief description of the survey area that addressed the broad relationships between material components and predominant land forms. Those relationships were then separated into six general land-use categories. These general patterns were further subdivided into specific land-use categories. Natural and man-made boundaries were noted.

For the building survey, preliminary research was conducted to find information on building patterns and architectural styles. The field survey crew conducted a windshield survey to identify possible, pre-1940 sites. Next, they searched county assessor records to help confirm construction dates. Finally, an intensive survey was conducted of all pre-1940 sites. Survey information included the architectural style, building type, photographs, a description, and any historical information.

The two-volume survey offers a unique approach to documenting landscape features within a large study area. In developing the Minnesota methodology, the surveyors looked at the approach used for landscape and topographic features in the Ebey's Landing survey.

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Guidelines and Manuals for Establishing Historic Districts

State and federal agencies have contributed to the literature on historic landscapes by publishing guidelines designed to help agency employees and consultants with program implementation. Generally, these resources outline broad steps for establishing a rural historic district. Some of the guidelines are specific to certain types of surveys, such as those completed for transportation projects. These manuals were helpful for the development of a methodology specific to Minnesota's historic agricultural landscapes. Three different resources were particularly useful and are summarized below.

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Cultural Landscapes: Rural Historic Districts in the National Park System

Cultural Landscapes, authored by Robert Z. Melnick, A.S.L.A., is a manual for managers of historic sites within the NPS system. This publication offers a method for identifying, documenting, and managing the country's historic landscapes. The manual is divided into various chapters, including an introduction, purpose and intent, planning, identification, evaluation, and management. For the Minnesota project, the consultants focused on the discussion of identification and evaluation of historic landscapes.

Melnick defines a two-step process for identifying rural landscape districts. The first step is to locate the district, and the second is to identify its landscape components. To fulfill the first phase in the identification process, the physiographic, ecological, and historic and cultural contexts need to be identified and evaluated. Once these are identified, the boundary of the district can be determined. General cultural, political, and natural boundaries can be identified to define a core area that may serve as a rough boundary for further study.

Once the study area is determined, the next step is identification of landscape components. The components include:

  • Overall patterns of landscape spatial organization
  • Land use: categories and activities
  • Response to natural features
  • Circulation networks
  • Boundary demarcations
  • Vegetation related to land use
  • Cluster arrangement
  • Structure: type function, materials, construction
  • Small-scale elements
  • Historical views
  • Other perceptual qualities

The landscape components are then studied to determine which resources can be included within the boundary. After the study of the landscape components, the final boundary is determined. Four steps should be followed to determine the rural historic district's context:

  • Identify the concept, time period, and geographical limits.
  • Assemble existing information about the historic context.
  • Synthesize the information collected.
  • Define the property types.

The remaining steps in the evaluation of the district include identifying its significance, evaluating integrity, and applying criteria considerations.

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National Register Bulletin 30: Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Rural Historic Landscapes

National Register Bulletin 30 describes the characteristics of a rural historic landscape in terms of eligibility for listing in the NRHP. The bulletin outlines 11 landscape characteristics divided into processes and components. These 11 characteristics provide a checklist of landscape features to document during the survey of a landscape:

  • Land uses and activities
  • Vegetation related to land use
  • Circulation networks
  • Patterns of spatial organization
  • Buildings, structures, and objects
  • Boundary demarcations
  • Response to the natural environment
  • Clusters
  • Small-scale elements
  • Cultural traditions
  • Archeological sites

The bulletin defines a three-step process for identifying a rural historic landscapes:

  1. Develop a historic context.
  2. Conduct historic research.
  3. Survey the landscape.

Once a potential historic landscape is identified, the bulletin outlines a procedure to evaluate its eligibility for the NRHP. Evaluation of historic landscapes is completed through three activities:

  1. Define significance through the application of NRHP criteria.
  2. Assess historic integrity.
  3. Select boundaries.
The bulletin offers a solid, basic approach for looking at rural historic districts. However, the nuances of a particular district may not fit the bulletin's more generic guidelines. Resource counts are particularly problematic in rural historic districts. Many features do not readily fit into the NRHP's guidelines for counting resources.

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Caltrans Guidelines for Identifying and Evaluating Historic Landscapes

Although the California Department of Transportation's (Caltrans) guidelines were prepared to help consultants identify and evaluate the NRHP eligibility of historic landscapes encountered during transportation project planning, they offer general guidance in the identification and recognition of historic landscapes.

The definition for a historic landscape used by this guide differs slightly from the NRHP definition. According to Caltrans, a potential historic landscape is:

...a geographic area which has undergone past modification by human design or use in an identifiable pattern, or is the unaltered site of a significant event, or is a natural landscape with important traditional cultural values.
The Caltrans guidelines for recognizing, classifying, and describing historic landscapes are based on National Register Bulletin 30: Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Rural Historic Landscapes and Robert Z. Melnick's study, Cultural Landscapes: Rural Historic Districts in the National Park System. The guidelines provide a good synthesis and interpretation of these two sources that can be applied to the identification of historic landscapes.

The Caltrans guidelines suggest a report format that incorporates landscape characteristics into a discussion of historical overview and resource descriptions. The outline incorporates the 11 landscape characteristics defined in National Register Bulletin 30 and supplements them with three additional topics: design, historic events, and visual character and intangible qualities. The Phase II report outline follows the Caltrans example dividing discussion of the historical development and resources into two sections -- historical overview and description of resources.

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