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Researching Historic Properties: Internet Resources

Rural farmhouse and field

Research is usually a critical component of historic preservation activities whether you are writing a National Register nomination, developing interpretation for a  museum, or planning a rehabilitation project. The following online resources can help you trace the history of a building, structure, or site.

SHPO Resources

The records of the Statewide Survey of Historic Properties, maintained by the State Historic Preservation Office, include photographs, map locations, and brief descriptive and historical information documenting historic buildings, structures, sites, objects, and landscapes in every county in the state. Relatively few properties have been recorded in some counties, but in others thousands have been documented. The records date from the mid-1970s to the present. A county-by-county finding aid index to the survey records is available online. If the finding aid indicates that the area in which you are interested has been surveyed, you can view the records by request in the Research Room at the SC Archives and History Center. See also Historic Contexts/Survey Reports for select countywide, municipal, and thematic survey reports in addition to other contextual and historic background study reports. 

Information about South Carolina properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places including nomination forms, select photographs, maps, and a summary narrative are available online. You can also search the records by individual, location, or topic using the Archives' Online Records Index (on the Search Page, under Record group, select "National Register Properties").  National Register files are often more extensive than the Statewide Survey of Historic Properties files; they include architectural descriptions, historical information, photographs, maps, and bibliographic resources for each listing. National Register files are also available by request in the Research Room at the Archives and History Center.

ArchSite is an online Geographic Information System that enables researchers to  determine if a cultural resources survey has been performed and/or if any cultural resources and/or historic properties are recorded within a specific project area.

General Resources

Built in America includes the records of the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER) from 1933 to the present. HABS/HAER, a program of the National Park Service, documents important architectural, engineering, and industrial sites throughout the United States. The collection, which is maintained by the Library of Congress, includes large-format photographs, measured drawings, and written histories. Many South Carolina properties are included in the collection, which you can search online by keyword, subject, or geographic location.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, the Sanborn National Insurance Diagram Bureau (later the Sanborn Map Company) produced maps providing structural and urban environmental information needed by insurance underwriters. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of South Carolina collection includes over 4,600 sheets covering 97 South Carolina towns and cities from 1884 to the 1960s. The maps show the footprints of buildings and provide information about the number of stories, building materials, and uses. The South Caroliniana Library has digitized and made available the maps for South Carolina. You can search by city, year, or county.

Roots and Recall provides digital images of historic properties (both extant and demolished) in several South Carolina counties, with plans to expand to additional counties.  It can be searched by address and name.

The History of South Carolina Slide Collection was developed in 1989 by Dr. Constance Schulz of the History Department at the University of South Carolina to provide a slide collection covering all aspects of South Carolina history for use in schools. In 2000, South Carolina Educational Television digitized the images and made them available online. The collection includes many historic photographs or illustrations of buildings, structures, and landscapes from across the state. The images are indexed by topic, county, and subject.

The Lowcountry Digital Library offers collections of resources from both public and private collections in the Lowcountry ranging from numerous photographic collections to school scrapbooks, from oral history interviews to railroad records. 

The South Carolina Digital Library includes a number of collections that document historic buildings and places.  The collection can be searched by topic (“Architecture”) or media type (“Images”).  Included are collections from photographers, historic postcards, images of textile mills, hospitals, railroads, colleges and universities, and more.

Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920 includes over 25,000 photographic images, mostly of the eastern United States. The Detroit Photographic Company, later the Detroit Publishing Company, produced color postcards, prints, and albums for sale to the American public. There are 192 photographs from South Carolina documenting buildings and sites in Aiken, Charleston, the Isle of Palms, Otranto, Summerville, and scenes along the Ashley River. The collection is available online through the Library of Congress.

South Carolina's Information Highway (SCIWAY) is a growing repository for all things South Carolina. Their History and Genealogy website contains useful links to city and county histories, historic maps, and further research resources.

Newspapers

The South Carolina Digital Newspaper Program makes historic newspapers in South Carolina fully accessible and full-text searchable through a partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress (LOC). The newspapers are accessible and searchable on the LOC's Chronicling America website. Visit the USC Libraries website for more information about the Program and to learn which newspapers are currently available for viewing. 

The Richland County Public Library has the SC Historical Newspapers Collection of early SC newspapers spanning the years from 1783 to 1848 and the State Newspaper covering the years 1891-1922. Newspapers from Charleston, Camden, Georgetown, Pendleton, and Edgefield are included. The full text of the collection is searchable for library card holders, allowing you to find people and events within articles. RCPL also links to NewsBank America’s News that provides online access to many current South Carolina newspapers.

Google News Archive also provides searchable access to hundreds of newspapers from across the country and around the world . Included are some South Carolina newspapers such as the Newberry Observer from 1889 to 2004, and issues of the Herald-Journal (Spartanburg) ranging from 1827 to 2008.

Outdoor Sculpture

The Inventory of American Sculpture at the Smithsonian American Art Museum includes descriptions of outdoor sculpture recorded by the Save Outdoor Sculpture (SOS) project. In South Carolina, the State Museum took the lead in creating the inventory. Visit the Smithsonian's Research Information System. Then, under the heading Smithsonian American Art Museum Research Databases, click on "Search Art Inventories." On the search page, at top select "Browse" and type in "outdoor sculpture—south carolina" under "Object Type Browse." This will give you an index to the South Carolina listings by location. The inventory includes outdoor sculpture in more than 60 South Carolina communities.

Plan/Pattern Books

The history of the Aladdin Company, their Aladdin "kit homes," and sales catalogs from 1908 to the mid-1950s are available online.

The Sears Archives contains the history and images of Sears Modern (or "kit") Homes from about 1908 to 1940.

Atlanta architect Leila Ross Wilburn's pattern books from the first half of the 20th century are available online.

The Association for Preservation Technology's (APT) Building Technology
Heritage Library
contains an amazing collection of digitized out-of-copyright architectural publications, construction trade catalogs, house plan books and related publications dating from the early nineteenth century through 1963.

Railroad Stations

The South Carolina Railroad Stations website includes photographs of railroad stations and structures across the state indexed by town or city. Many of the images are historic photographs, while others are more recent.

Schools

The School Insurance Photographs, ca. 1935-1952 series at the South Carolina Archives and History Center includes photographs made between ca. 1935 and 1952 of approximately 2,600 schools in South Carolina. The photographs were made by the Sinking Fund Commission, a state agency that inspected and provided insurance for public schools. The collection includes both African American and white schools for most counties in the state. View the photographs online by searching the Online Records Index (Under Record Group, select 'School Insurance Photographs, 1935-1952').

The Jackson Davis Collection of African American Educational Photographs at the University of Virginia Library includes over 6,000 photographs of African American schools, students, and teachers made throughout the southeastern United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Jackson Davis was an educational reformer and amateur photographer, who was affiliated with the General Education Board in New York City from 1915-1947. The collection includes over 500 photographs made in South Carolina.

Information about Rosenwald Schools is collected on our the Rosenwald webpage.

Theaters

The South Carolina Movie Theaters website includes lists of theaters and drive-ins by city with links to more information on some theaters.