An Introduction to Historic Working Landscapes

by David Driapsa, FASLA

El Santuario del Senor Esquipula, Chimayo, New Mexico / image: David Driapsa

The following article highlights the importance of documenting historic landscapes for perpetuity. For the 14th annual HALS Challenge competition, the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) invites you to document Working Landscapes. Historic “working” or “productive” landscapes may be agricultural or industrial and unique or traditional. Some topical working landscapes convey water for irrigation or provide flood control. Please focus your HALS report on the landscape as a whole and not on a building or structure alone. For this theme, the HAER History Guidelines may be helpful along with HALS History Guidelines.

I am pleased to share with you an introduction to documenting historic working landscapes. Working landscapes are vernacular (subsistence and commercial gardening and agriculture), scientific (industrial horticulture), commercial (fishing), educational (the work of producing knowledge), recreation, and others that are conceived, situated, and adapted to the economies which they support.

Chimayo, New Mexico, is an historic village established on the north American frontier of the Spanish empire, situated in the arid Santa Cruz Valley of what today is northern New Mexico. Irrigation ditches known as acequias were constructed to convey water for miles down from the Sangre Cristo Mountains to nourish gardens and fields below in the valley. The working landscape created under this precious water economy was so essential to life that the land was organized with the irrigated crops established on fertile land below the acequias and dwellings occupied the dry slopes above. This land use planning was essential to preserve the land that could be watered for agriculture.

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The Smokey Hollow Community Historic American Landscapes Survey

by David J Driapsa, FASLA

The Smokey Hollow Community. View north, rear yard, 705 East Lafayette Street. HALS-FL-9 Large Format Photograph 4 of 7. Photographer: William “Bill” Lutrick, ASLA. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The following article highlights the importance of documenting historic landscapes for perpetuity. For the 12th annual HALS Challenge competition, the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) invites you to document historic Black landscapes. Black people have built and shaped the American landscape in immeasurable ways. Documenting these histories and spaces will expand our understanding of America’s past and future.

Smokey Hollow was someone’s home. It was a community of someone’s homes—until it was destroyed through urban renewal in the guise of slum clearance.

Remembered affectionately as a vibrant community in urban Tallahassee, Smokey Hollow was located only steps away from the historic Florida State Capitol. Once a slave state, Florida was at one time racially segregated. Descendants of former slaves were required to live in Black communities segregated from white society under the cruel restrictions of white prejudices, Jim Crow laws, and Black codes. Smokey Hollow, an approximately 85-acre African American community, was shaped under these harsh conditions.

Albert Davis Taylor (1883-1951) of Ohio, a prominent landscape architect, past president and fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, produced the 1947 Florida Capitol Center: A Report on the Proposed Development that served as the State master plan with principles of European landscape design that forecast the 1957 construction of the Apalachee Parkway cutting a straight path through the center of Smokey Hollow to the front of the Florida State Capitol Building. Construction of the State Road Department office in 1965 further enlarged the footprint of government that mostly obliterated Smokey Hollow and dispersed its residents.

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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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