New Deal Roadside Landscape Features

Harold Olson's construction photographs were invaluable in evaluating properties. Here workers are building the Taylors Falls Overlook.

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Assessment + Analysis
Evaluating the Properties

Mn/DOT’s roadside development inventory was one of the first studies of its type in the U.S. There had been no previous comprehensive cultural resource study of Minnesota’s roadside development facilities and no historic context development, although several of the inventoried properties had been the subject of earlier Mn/DOT or SHPO attention.

A historic context was developed entitled, "Roadside Development on Minnesota Trunk Highways, 1920-1960" to help understand the properties and evaluate their significance. Among the sources that were especially helpful in this process were a large collection of original construction photographs taken by Roadside Development staff, a study of Rustic style structures in Minnesota State Parks that had been completed in 1990, and documentation developed by the National Park Service to evaluate landscape architecture and structures within the national parks.

An evaluative process was developed, based on National Register criteria, to determine which sites were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places:

1) Apply the fifty-year age criterion necessary for National Register eligibility except in cases of exceptional significance.

2) Determine if the property is associated with a Depression-era federal relief. Though many of the properties were products of federal relief programs, this was not a requirement for National Register eligibility. Determining whether a property had New Deal associations helped focus the rest of the process.

3) Determine if the property is historically or architecturally significant. A property would meet this requirement if it fulfills one of the following seven conditions:

• Important federal relief project
• Rare federal relief property type
• Non-federal relief property that closely resembles a federal relief property
• Significant to the history of roadside development
• Significant to transportation history
• Significant to local history
• Design significance

4) Assess the property's physical integrity. The National Register uses a composite assessment of seven qualities to help determine a property's overall integrity: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. A property need not retain integrity in all seven areas to be eligible, but it must retain enough overall integrity to continue to convey its historic character and design intent.

Inventory File Contents

 

The consultants developed guidelines to help assess physical integrity. The guidelines explain, for example, that a property can be in very poor condition and still be National Register-eligible, as long as it retains enough integrity to continue to convey its historic character and design intent. Assessing integrity was one of the most challenging tasks because many of the inventoried properties have been altered to some degree—even if only through the decline and loss of American elm (Ulmus americana) trees to Dutch elm disease.

About half of the 102 properties, or 56 sites, plus one historic district, were determined eligible for the National Register under the Roadside Development context and six more were already listed on the National Register under different contexts. The Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office is adopting Mn/DOT's criteria to evaluate the historical and architectural significance of similar roadside properties.

The study produced three notable final products: an extensive inventory file for each property; the final report, Historic Roadside Development Structures on Minnesota Trunk Highways; and eight cataloged and indexed volumes of historic photos. In addition, a less tangible but important result is that Mn/DOT now realizes it owns a significant collection of historic waysides and that a valuable cultural resource exists along Minnesota’s highways.

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