Virginia State Seal Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Survey & Planning

Surveying historic resources lies at the heart of a good preservation program. In Virginia, the statewide survey has been underway for 50-plus years. During that time, more than 250,000 architectural and archaeological properties have been recorded and added to the state’s inventory of historic sites.

Developing an accurate and comprehensive inventory is an ongoing process, with thousands of new entries being made each year.

During a survey, each property is photographed and mapped. Information about a building’s style, its construction date, and who built it is accompanied by a detailed architectural description and an evaluation of the relative significance of the property. For archaeological sites, the period from which the site dates, its cultural affiliation, and a detailed description of the attributes of the site and its artifacts are recorded.

Surveys go beyond focusing on traditional “historic landmarks” such as 18th-century plantation houses or grand public buildings, or churches and courthouses. Surveys also include simple vernacular 19th-century dwellings, streetcar suburbs, planned communities, barns and other agricultural structures. They cover bridges, cemeteries, factories, commercial structures, statues, tugboats, and structures associated with space exploration.

The Department of Historic Resources receives the great majority of its new surveys from two sources: survey projects carried out to fulfill requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (environmental review), and survey projects undertaken through the department’s Cost Share Program, under DHR’s Survey and Register Division.

Survey Project Requirements

Historic resource identification through survey can take many different forms. Much of the survey completed for projects involving DHR input consists of reconnaissance-level architectural survey. This type of survey entails documentation of building exteriors and is usually performed from the public right-of-way. DHR requires the following for each property surveyed at the reconnaissance level:

  1. One (1) hard copy reconnaissance-level documentation form utilizing V-CRIS for the data entry;
  2. One (1) set of 3½” x 5” or 4” x 6” color photographs placed in photo transparent sheets and labeled according to DHR’s Survey Photograph Policy (2016);
  3. One (1) set of digital images saved on a CD-ROM or shared via large file transfer system as an uncompressed .JPG file, 1600×1200, at 300 dpi.  Individual digital images shall be named and organized according to the convention found in DHR’s Survey Photograph Policy (2016); and
  4. One (1) site plan sketch of each property indicating the relationship between the primary resource and any secondary resource(s),rooflines and features such as dormers, porches, decks, and chimneys, the sidewalk(s), street(s), (roads), or neighboring parcel(s) bounding the property, and significant landscape features such as creeks and rivers. They must be fully labeled with the resource name, DHR identification number, and date of survey and include a north arrow. If they are to scale, an accurate scale must be included and if not to scale, the notation, “Not to Scale” or “NTS” must be provided.

Please note that these requirements may vary for projects funded by Cost Share Survey and Planning Program grants, Certified Local Government grants, or other grant funds administered by DHR. Refer to the project scope and/or check with the grant administrator to confirm project deliverables.

More information on reconnaissance level architecture survey requirements, as well as the requirements for other types of architectural and archaeological survey, can be found in DHR’s survey manual or by reaching out to DHR’s Architectural Survey Manager Blake McDonald at (804) 482-6086.

Updated October 13, 2021