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WPA Architectural Survey — Census of Old Buildings in Connecticut
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Research Guide to Old House Resources at the Connecticut State Library

RG 033, Works Progress Administration for Connecticut, Inventory of Records, Series 28 Finding aid

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Often called "The WPA House Survey", the Census of Old Buildings in Connecticut, 1934-1937 was a Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) project. Survey forms provide descriptions of nearly 5,000 buildings. Photographs were taken of most buildings and clipped to the survey forms. Some forms also include sketches of interior and/or exterior architectural details and a brief history of the building.

The data from the Building Survey Form was transcribed and the accompanying photo(s) and sketches were scanned. Each building's transcription reflects the information entered on the original forms. Spelling follows that on the original forms.

Most of the buildings have no name. Although the locations may seem exact, they may be misleading or inaccurate. Construction dates and original owners are as written on the survey forms, even though more recent research may provide different information.

Surveys are being added town by town. Please check back if the town you are interested in is not yet available.

Guilford historic building 090.
Guilford historic building 090, a.k.a "Comfort Starr House," ca. 1645

History of the WPA Survey Project

The Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) was established on May 6, 1935 by Executive Order 7034 to coordinate the work relief projects supported by the United States Government. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (F.E.R.A.) had started the Census of Old Buildings. When it went out of existence at the end of 1935, the W.P.A. became the lead agency in the federal government's efforts to provide work assistance for the unemployed during the later Depression years. An independent agency at first, on July 1, 1939 it was made a part of the new Federal Works Agency and its title was changed to Work Projects Administration. It was abolished on June 30, 1943, and finally liquidated a year later.

The Work Projects Administration for Connecticut, through its main offices in New Haven and district offices in other major cities, provided many "Works Programs" such as highway work, reforestation, and rural rehabilitation; by November 1935 over 15,000 persons were on the rolls, and by the end of March 1936, 28,671 persons were at work on 963 different projects in Connecticut. However, the WPA records held by the State Archives relate almost exclusively to the Writers' Project and associated "white collar" activities. One of these is the Architectural Survey, Census of Old Buildings.

This "census" (State Archives Record Group 33:28) was an outgrowth of the compilation of material for the guidebook Connecticut: A Guide to its Roads, Lore, and People (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938; CSL call number HistRef F 100 .F45 1938). Elmer D. Keith, who had edited the important Colonial Dames books on historic Connecticut houses, had overall responsibility for the project. Using the Colonial Dames books and Edgar L. Heermance's The Connecticut Guide: What to See and Where to Find It published by the Emergency Relief Commission, plus visits to each town by members of his small staff, he compiled form reports providing descriptions of nearly 5,000 buildings, most illustrated with photographs. Although most of the fieldwork was completed by 1937, work continued beyond that. Some photographs show damage resulting from the 1938 hurricane; a few reports include photos of the house before and after the hurricane. Batches of survey forms and photographs continued to be sent to the State Library by the WPA New Haven office as late as the spring of 1942.

The original Building Survey Form Reports (FW-6), with attached photographs, contain architectural and historical data on individual houses and other buildings. Some include sketches of interior and/or exterior architectural details and/or a brief history of the building. These forms are arranged alphabetically by town; thereunder by number. The State Library has two sets of the survey, one of which is available for reference use. Other sets were deposited with the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society and the Connecticut Historical Society.

Woodstock historic building 046.
Woodstock historic building 046, milk house built prior to 1750.

Reproduction and Publication of Connecticut State Library Collections

If you plan to publish, exhibit, or broadcast items from this collection, please see the Rules and Procedures for Researchers Using Archival Records and Secured Collections, Copyright and Permission to Publish section. Click here for a fillable PDF version of the form, including a complete explanation of Library policy and rules concerning publishing, on p.2.

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