HALS Documentation: An Unexpected Discovery

Examining the stone abutments under the Japanese House on Mallard Island, 2017. / image: David Driapsa and Deborah Dietrich-Smith

During the summers of 2016 and 2017, preservation professionals took up residence on Mallard Island in northern Minnesota to document its cultural landscape. David Driapsa, FASLA, brought these groups together after first visiting the island in 2010, and subsequently preparing a Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS MN-06) of the island and submitting it to the Library of Congress.

The island was the home of Ernest C. Oberholtzer for a half century. Ober, as he was known, was an early student of landscape architecture at Harvard under the tutelage of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and James Sturgis Pray, where he became captivated with wilderness planning. As a young man, he moved from Davenport, Iowa, to Rainy Lake, Minnesota, a large lake along the international border with Ontario, Canada, to conduct an ethnological study of the Ojibwe Indians. In his exploration of the international boundary wilderness, Ober recognized the Ojibwe as a natural part of that wilderness, and saw that both this ancient culture and the wilderness were vanishing from North America. Ober devoted the rest of his life to leading the battle to preserve the international boundary wilderness. His fight to preserve the wilderness is very interesting and has been written about by others, such as by Joe Paddock in his book Keeper of the Wild. However, there are still interesting aspects of his life story that remain untold.

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From the Hungarian Empire to Ross County, Ohio

The Driapsa Farmhouse, 2015 image: David Driapsa
The Driapsa Farmhouse, 2015
image: David Driapsa

I have such an amazing family, and I am sure you do, too. My father is first generation American; my mother is a Daughter of the American Revolutionary War; and I grew up in a European culture on my grandparents’ farm.

The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) is about histories and sometimes about the family landscapes experienced. Sometimes little is known of the past besides the fact that the owners are related; sometimes there is a large cache of precious history known by the family.

My family is fortunate to know our family and farm history. My grandfather, Emil Driapsa, and grandmother, Helen Kraus Driapsa, were born in Upper Hungary, the present-day Slovak Republic, emigrated to the U.S. and married in 1912 in Columbus, Ohio.

The couple had a goal of owning land in their new country, a dream that was almost impossible in Europe at the time. Through hard work and saving their earnings, the couple realized their dream in 1914 when they bought the 68-acre farm near the village of Bainbridge in Paxton Township, Ross County, Ohio. The local terrain reminded them of their homeland, and they sponsored other European immigrants to move onto the adjacent farms in what became the Potts Hill European Community.

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Smokey Hollow, a HALS Landscape

Smokey Hollow, Florida image: The Florida State Archives Memory Collection
Smokey Hollow, Florida
image: The Florida State Archives Memory Collection

The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) documents significant historic landscapes of the United States and its territories, which can range from gardens and cemeteries to neighborhoods and parks. Using historic ground and aerial photos, land surveys, plats, property records, and oral histories, HALS captures and records the cultural history of a place, the story of people who occupied the landscape, their customs, their landmarks, social traditions, and how the landscape evolved over time. The National Park Service submits completed HALS projects to the Library of Congress, where they become a permanent record of our nation and are accessible to the public.

The Florida Chapter of ASLA established a HALS program in 2007 and has submitted documentation on eight state sites to the Library of Congress so far. Measured and interpretive drawings, photographs, and written histories may be viewed on the Library of Congress website. HALS FL-01 is Barrancas National Cemetery at the U.S. Naval Air Station, 80 Hovey Road, Pensacola in Escambia County. Many Union and Confederate dead are interred there, and HALS large format photographs were produced by the National Park Service. Some of these photos are stunningly beautiful.

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