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Identifying Minnesota's Historic Agricultural Landscapes
Phase II Report

Farmstead along Mn. Hwy. 50


Contents: Chapter 3

3.  Methodology Used for Current Survey

    Windshield Survey
    Historical Research
    Resource Documentation
    Evaluation

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3.  Methodology Used for Current Survey

A review of previous rural landscape surveys, NRHP nominations, guidelines prepared to identify rural historic districts, and the survey guidelines of the Minnesota SHPO provided the foundation for the survey methodology. In developing the approach, the consultants attempted to account for conditions and resources specific to Minnesota's agricultural landscapes. The resulting survey methodology provided a means to document and assess potential NRHP eligibility of the two rural agricultural landscape study areas. The methodology involved four steps:

  1. Windshield survey
  2. Historical research
  3. Resource documentation
  4. Evaluation

Windshield Survey

They survey team began by conducting a windshield survey of the Southwest Carver County and Sogn Valley study areas from the public right-of-way. During the surveys, they identified elements -- landscape features, historic buildings, concentration of resources, roadways, and modern development -- within the landscape that either enhance or detract from the area's rural character.

Within each of the two study areas, they identified a concentration of historic resources and natural and agricultural features that collectively evoked and demarcated a potential rural historic landscape district. The Southwest Carver County study area boundaries were delineated to exclude major intrusions on the rural landscape, including:

  • Major roadways, such as Highway 212
  • Modern residential development not in keeping with the rural character of the study area
  • Scattered ex-urban development
  • Communities of newer homes and businesses, such as Bongards and Gotha

For the Sogn Valley, the study focused within the topographic boundary offered by the valley's ridges. Our finding that the quality of historic resources diminished and the number of modern buildings increased beyond this boundary confirmed its appropriateness. The initial fieldwork resulted in two study areas of manageable size on which to focus additional research and documentation efforts.

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Historical Research

Archival research into the settlement, agricultural practices, and ethnic associations supplemented the selection of study areas. Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Goodhue County Historical Society, and the Carver County Historical Society were investigated. Resources reviewed included county histories, historic plat maps, agricultural census records, ethnic studies, and previous architectural and historical surveys.

For Goodhue County, the research focused on the ethnic traditions of the Norwegians that primarily settled in the county. Historical accounts and ethnic studies were important to answering the following research questions:

  • Why did Norwegians settle in Goodhue County?
  • Were they first- and/or second-generation immigrants?
  • What is the ethnic origin of the current residents?
  • What components of the landscape reflect the Norwegian heritage?

They also investigated the historic use of the land, including both agricultural activities and patterns of settlement. The historic location of post offices and hamlets through historic plat maps and county and township histories were identified.

In Southwest Carver County, county and township histories and historic plat maps offered a wealth of information about settlement, agricultural patterns, and transportation networks that were historically vital to this portion of Carver County. Previous architectural and historical surveys also helped the survey team compare resources in the study area with those found in other parts of the county.

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Resource Documentation

The next step was to document the resources contained within the study areas. To maintain the rural landscape focus of the project, the methodology needed to include documentation of landscape features. According to National Register Bulletin 30, the following 11 characteristics should be identified within a rural historic 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

Mead & Hunt faced a challenge in adequately documenting the landscape features and man-made resources within the two study areas. They sought consistency with the existing Minnesota SHPO site form, but found it insufficient for their documentation needs. On the SHPO's advice, they used the existing site form to develop an agricultural landscape survey form better suited to the project. The agricultural landscape survey form includes:

  • Locational information
  • Basic descriptive information
  • Property type
  • Related historic context
  • Resource count of buildings, sites, structures, and objects
  • Description of land uses
  • Identification of boundary demarcations
  • Vegetation related to land use

A survey form was prepared for each building, site, structure, object, or complex within the two study areas. Black-and-white photographs accompany the survey forms.

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Evaluation

The final step involved evaluating each study area to determine whether it possesses the characteristics of a rural historic district. This analysis required an examination of the potential district's overall character, its individual resources, the relationship between natural and agricultural features and the man-made environment, and the presence of both historic and modern elements. The evaluation of the study areas involved three steps:

  • Assign overall property rating.
  • Assess the variation between historic patterns of settlement and the appearance of the current landscape.
  • Examine the prominence of the 11 landscape characteristics defined by National Register Bulletin 30.

First, they assigned an overall rating of contributing or noncontributing to each surveyed property. This rating quantified the overall impression of a property reached through the field investigations.

These impressions derived from a response to the following questions:

  • Does the property exhibit rural character even if it has a modern house or pole building?
  • Does the property demonstrate the historic settlement patterns of the area?
  • Are historic buildings on the property more conspicuous than modern buildings?

The rating captured the surveyors assessment of the type, integrity, quality, and age of buildings, structures, and landscape elements within the property.

They recognized that the introduction of modern farming elements, such as pole buildings, metal silos and grain bins, and new farmhouses, is inevitable within an actively farmed area. They found that a farmstead could include a modern house or pole building and still contribute to the historic landscape district. If a farmstead had a new or old house within the farm's domestic space and maintained a substantial degree of historic integrity as conveyed through its outbuildings and the size and density of the farm, it was rated as contributing. Spatial organization, land use, circulation networks, and degree of historic integrity were significant components of a property's overall rating.

Second, they studied the variation between historic patterns of settlement and the appearance of the current landscape. They comparison relied upon historic plats maps and historical documentation. Features compared included transportation routes, types of land use, size of farmsteads, and patterns of settlement. It was felt that a rural historic landscape district should retain a significant number of these features if it were to qualify for the NRHP.

To remain economically viable for agricultural production, historic agricultural landscapes need to evolve. Settlers who first cultivated a landscape for wheat must change their practices in response to developments in agriculture and new technology. Otherwise, the area will lose its economic base. Changes in farming practices can alter original settlement patterns and bring an end to agricultural activities that made an area distinctive. In evaluating the two study areas, the surveyors sought to identify rural historic agricultural landscapes that achieve balance between the response to economic change and maintenance of historic character.

Last, they investigated the prominence of the 11 landscape characteristics recognized by the NRHP within the two study areas. The presence and strength of these landscape characteristics enabled them to directly compare the historic integrity of the two landscapes with other agricultural areas in central Minnesota. Their assessment of Southwest Carver County's and the Sogn Valley's landscape characteristics provided a reference point for making a recommendation on the NRHP eligibility. To qualify as a historic district, an agricultural landscape needs to retain essential landscape characteristics and maintain historic integrity. Simply, a landscape must still be in agricultural use to be considered potentially eligible.

However, within the two study areas, certain landscape characteristics are more important to the assessment of the overall landscape. For example, in the Sogn Valley, it was determined that two landscape characteristics -- buildings, structures and objects, and spatial organization -- best demonstrate the character of the historic landscape. Historically, the hills and the valleys of the Sogn Valley defined transportation routes and settlement patterns; therefore, retention of this spatial organization is important. In addition, the hills and valleys limit viewsheds focusing attention on the farmstead's individual resources.

Within the Southwest Carver County study area, the landscape characteristic "clusters" was a significant component in our assessment of the overall landscape. The clusters are a distinctive visual feature, providing distant viewsheds from one farmstead property to another. The farmstead clusters help convey the area's historic pattern of development.

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