The Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS)

Elena M. Pascarella, serves as the Rhode Island Chapter of ASLA HALS Liaison and is a member of the ASLA Historic Landscape Preservation Professional Practice Network’s executive committee. She is the principal of Landscape Elements LLC, a landscape architecture firm based in Warwick, RI.  She can be reached at 401-921-2667 and  emp@landscapeelementsllc.com

What is HALS?

During the past 20 years, historic preservation has grown beyond protecting buildings and structures to include historic landscapes that have regional or national significance. The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) plays an important role in documenting these landscapes by collecting and preserving information about them. HALS does not limit development, no land is purchased, and property rights are unaffected. If the physical character of the region cannot be protected through other means, HALS ensures a lasting record of the landscape in its historic context will endure in plans and images.

HALS is a federally funded program with a paid staff employed by the National Park Service. Much of the work is accomplished through paid summer internships or through volunteer efforts by licensed landscape architects

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) entered a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2001 with the U.S. National Park Service and the Library of Congress to cooperate on documenting historic American landscapes through The Historic American Landscape Survey – HALS.

Hals helps to record our past while providing current benefits

HALS was established to document landscapes that serve as tangible evidence of our nation’s heritage and development. The program achieves this purpose through written descriptions, measured drawings, and photographic documentation. In addition to chronicling significant and increasingly at-risk landscapes for future generations, HALS provides a wide range of practical uses today. For example:

  • HALS has helped to document the status of and threats to Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields.
  • HALS has produced detailed inventories of a growing number of national cemeteries and is developing interactive systems to make information more accessible to the public.
  • Following both Hurricane Katrina and? HALS staff provided FEMA and state and local officials with maps that guided bulldozers and other heavy equipment around and through historic districts during the massive cleanup process.

Rhode Island Landscape Architects and historic landscapes

In 2001, William MacKenzie Woodward, architectural historian (now retired) at the RI Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission, authored and published a monograph titled Historic Landscapes of Rhode Island.  This monograph provides a survey of the various types of Rhode Island’s historic properties describing their development from early colonial settlements to the 20th century.  I helped to document some of the vernacular landscapes that are presented in this monograph having the opportunity to visit, photograph and provide hand-drawn plan layouts of the many farmsteads throughout southern Rhode Island.

The various Rhode Island landscapes that are documented in this monograph include:

  • Designed landscapes that include parks and other public spaces, residential properties and private estates, cemeteries, academic and municipal campuses. Designed landscapes are defined as landscapes for which a “conscious, aesthetics-driven design effort is documented through written or graphic sources” 1
  • Vernacular landscapes that include villages, farmsteads, and landscapes that evolve over time through the day-to-day use by people.

Many Rhode Island landscape architects and designers have had the opportunity to work on historic landscapes.  This work includes a variety of projects from small house museum gardens to large public spaces.  The Nation Park Service Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties are followed for much of this work and those standards provide guidance for this work.