National Park Roads: Reconciling the Machine and the Garden

Lecture by Timothy Davis, PhD
February 8

Millions of visitors tour national parks every year, but few consider when, where, how or why the roads they travel on were built. This presentation highlights the unique qualities of national park roads, relates them to European precedents and the Olmstedian tradition, and examines their role in shaping the national park experience.  Not only do park roads determine what most visitors see and how they see it, but decisions about park roads epitomize the central challenge of national park stewardship: balancing preservation and access in America’s most treasured landscapes.

Park roads have been celebrated as technical and aesthetic masterpieces, hailed as democratizing influences, and vilified for invading pristine wilderness with the sights, sounds, and smells of civilization.  Based on his recently released book, National Park Roads: A Legacy in the American Landscape, Davis’s recounting of efforts to balance the interests of motorists, wilderness advocates, highway engineers, and other stakeholders offers a fresh perspective on national park history while providing insights into evolving ideas about the role of nature, recreation, and technology in American society.

As the National Park Service’s senior historian for park historic structures and cultural landscapes, Tim Davis combines interdisciplinary research with preservation outreach.  His writings on the American landscape have appeared in numerous books and journals.  His newly released volume, National Park Roads: A Legacy in the American Landscape, highlights the unique qualities of national park roads, details their development and examines their role in shaping the national park experience. 

“You Will Find It Handy”: Twentieth-Century African American Travel Guides

March 21

The growth of automobile usage during the twentieth century brought more and more American drivers out on the open road. But refusal of service and other threats made travel extremely difficult for African-Americans. One solution came from Victor H. Green, who between 1937 and 1963 published The Green Book, a guide for African-Americans traveling throughout the United States, Canada, Alaska, and Mexico. The Green Book was one of the most extensive and best known travel guides on the market. It listed the names and addresses of businesses, tourist homes, hotels, service stations, barber shops, beauty parlors, restaurants, bars, and taverns that would serve African-Americans during the pre-Civil Rights Act era.

A consortium of historians is preparing posters highlighting the surviving Green Book sites in each state and documenting their unique character. Architectural and landscape historian Jennifer Reut will present an overview of The Green Book history and the goals of the ongoing poster project. Poster preparers Susan Hellman, Catherine W. Zipf, and Anne E. Bruder will be on hand to discuss their work and findings. Speaker bios can be found on the event page of our website.

The New York Public Library has recently digitized its collection of The Green Books.   Check out their entire collection at their website,!

Maryland 100 in SAH Archipedia Classic Buildings

Lecture by Lisa Davidson & Catherine Lavoie, Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service
April 19

Maryland is now represented in SAH Archipedia: Classic Buildings, a free, open-access site containing entries for around 100 buildings from each state represented in SAH Archipedia. SAH Archipedia is an authoritative online encyclopedia of the built world published by the Society of Architectural Historians and the University of Virginia Press, and contains histories, photographs, and maps for more than 17,000 structures and places.

This new content represents Maryland’s most characteristic buildings and sites, compiled by coordinators Lisa Davidson and Catherine Lavoie. Davidson and Lavoie will discuss their choices for the Maryland 100 and the considerations that guided their selection. Themes such as Maryland’s transportation, religious, maritime, and African American history were especially important, as were including noteworthy local building forms such as five-part-plan Georgian houses. Special attention was also given to representing the geographic diversity of Maryland as wells as time periods ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

For a complete list of sites, visit:

Why did James Gibbs and William Buckland sit for their portraits holding compasses? Why did Asher Benjamin and Owen Biddle begin their pattern books with Practical Geometry?  Why was Peter Nicholson’s book about practical geometry The Carpenter’s New Guide, published in 1792, so popular that it ran through 10 editions?

 A compass was the master builder’s symbol, his tool. Practical geometry governed how we designed and built: plans and elevations, framing; windows, doors, ornamentation. Measurements came after layout. Facility with a compass was a basic skill taught to apprentices by master builders.  The Industrial Revolution, especially the need for interchangeable parts and therefore standard dimensions, made geometry - expressed by both Vitruvius and Palladio as an understanding that a building’s parts should correspond to the whole and to each other - seem irrelevant.  And as apprenticeships disappeared so did the unwritten knowledge of practical geometry.

  Jane Griswold Radocchia, an “old house” architect, began writing about vernacular architecture for her regional newspaper in Massachusetts in 1989. The column, which ran bi-weekly for 10 years, received a MA Historic Preservation Award in 1994.  Jane began to research the use of geometry in construction about 2009, writing about it in her architectural blog,  In 2014 she presented at the Timber Framers Guild Annual Meeting. In 2015 and 2016, she taught hands-on sessions on Practical Geometry for the International Preservation Trades Network Workshops. She will teach again at the IPTNW in 2017.  Jane Radocchia’s BA is from Oberlin College. Her M. Arch with honors is from MIT. She has received numerous historic preservation awards for her work with old houses.

Practical Geometry: How We Designed and Laid Out Buildings Before Standard Dimensions

Lecture by Jane Griswold Radocchia
May 10

The Latrobe Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, in partnership with the Washington, DC Chapter of the Association for Preservation Technology, will host a summer picnic and tour at the Clermont Farm in Berryville, Virginia.

Clermont Farm, a 360-acre working cattle and sheep farm, is a site dedicated to research and training in history, historic preservation, and agriculture.  A gift to the people of Virginia by Elizabeth Rust Williams in 2004, the site is owned by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and operated by the Clermont Foundation.

Clermont is architecturally significant as a well-preserved agricultural complex of buildings ranging in date from about 1770 to the mid-twentieth century. The farm’s original main dwelling, a frame one-and-a-half-story house, probably built around 1770, is one of the oldest surviving houses in Clarke County.  Attendees will also have the opportunity to tour the ongoing restoration of the 1823 log slave dwelling.  Visit for additional information on the site.

Clermont Farm

Summer Picnic & Tour
June 17


12th Biennial Symposium on the Historic Development of Metropolitan Washington, D.C.
Co-Sponsored by the D.C. Preservation League and The Catholic University of America, School of Architecture and Planning

City and Capital: Building Washington, DC as Home and Symbol

October 16

Following the 2015 Islamic extremist attacks on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, Pope Francis asserted “there is a limit to free speech” when it comes to religion and that we “cannot make fun of faith.”  But is this true in the American context?  In this talk, we will explore follies of belief in the United States—the Washington, D.C. Mormon Temple, which graffiti compares to The Wizard of Oz; the so-called “Touchdown Jesus” mural at the University of Notre Dame; Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Heritage USA Christian theme park; and Oral Roberts University—to understand the ways Americans have responded to religious difference using humor and satire.  Our reactions to the images of religion we see in our landscape suggest that Americans can and do make fun of faith productively, helping us to negotiate religious difference and take steps toward realizing religious pluralism.

Dr. Margaret Grubiak is an associate professor of architectural history at Villanova University and author of White Elephants on Campus: The Decline of the University Chapel in America, 1920–1960.  She lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband.  Her current book project on the humor and satire of American religious architecture was inspired by frequently passing the Mormon Temple along Washington’s Beltway on her commute to Philadelphia.

Follies of Belief: Architecture, Religion, and Humor in Modern America

Lecture by Margaret M. Grubiak
December 5