Pointing North in the Historic American Buildings Survey Collection

What do a carousel horse, Theodore Roosevelt, and a lighthouse have in common? Look closely at the drawing below from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial – can you spot two Roosevelts?

Title Sheet - Theodore Roosevelt Island, Potomac River, Washington, District of Columbia, DC. Drawing by Anne E. Kidd, 2007. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc1044/sheet.00001a

Title Sheet – Theodore Roosevelt Island HABS survey, Potomac River, Washington, District of Columbia, DC. Drawing by Anne E. Kidd, 2007. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc1044/sheet.00001a

There is, of course, the large drawing of the Roosevelt statue featured at the memorial on Theodore Roosevelt Island, but to the right, just below a map of the city of Washington, D.C., there is another tiny Roosevelt, as seen in this detail:

Detail of <em>Title Sheet - Theodore Roosevelt Island, Potomac River, Washington, District of Columbia, DC.</em> Drawing by Anne E. Kidd, 2007. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc1044/sheet.00001a

Detail of Title Sheet – Theodore Roosevelt Island HABS survey, Potomac River, Washington, District of Columbia, DC. Drawing by Anne E. Kidd, 2007. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc1044/sheet.00001a

The former President’s upraised right arm indicates which direction north is on the map featured just above it! (The background of the arrow is also the plan of the plaza where the statue stands.) This is just one of the many decorative north arrow designs I came across by accident while browsing drawings in the HABS collection. Once I spotted one, it became a bit of a treasure hunt to see what others I could find, and see what different inspirations the architects, students and others used to jazz up the required symbol. HABS, along with its sister projects, the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) document America’s built environment as well as its historic landscapes, often in a combination of measured drawings, photos and historical reports. This important task certainly doesn’t stop those creating the drawings from adding beauty and whimsy into their documentation.

And yes, a carousel horse and a lighthouse are used in the same way in the two drawings below. The first is for the Dentzel Carousel at Glen Echo Park in Maryland and the pole of the carousel horse points directly north while adding a bit of flair to a reflected ceiling plan:

HABS MD,16-GLENEC,3A- (sheet 2 of 6) - Glen Echo Park, Dentzel Carousel & Building, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery County, MD. Drawing by Elizabeth Fleck and Jacob John Wurtzen, 1994. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.md1366/sheet.00002a.

HABS MD,16-GLENEC,3A- (sheet 2 of 6) – Glen Echo Park, Dentzel Carousel & Building HABS survey, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery County, MD. Drawing by Elizabeth Fleck and Jacob John Wurtzen, 1994. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.md1366/sheet.00002a

Detail of HABS MD,16-GLENEC,3A- (sheet 2 of 6) - Glen Echo Park, Dentzel Carousel & Building, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery County, MD. Drawing by Elizabeth Fleck and Jacob John Wurtzen, 1994. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.md1366/sheet.00002a

Detail of HABS MD,16-GLENEC,3A- (sheet 2 of 6) – Glen Echo Park, Dentzel Carousel & Building HABS survey, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery County, MD. Drawing by Elizabeth Fleck and Jacob John Wurtzen, 1994. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.md1366/sheet.00002a

And here we have a drawing of the Au Sable Light Station in Grand Marais, Michigan where the lighthouse is used to indicate north on the site plan. The lighthouse is used as part of what is more often seen on maps and referred to as a compass rose. The north arrow you sometimes see on architectural drawings and the compass rose on maps are very close cousins, both providing a clear indicator of north. Sometimes the other three cardinal directions are labeled too, rather than just implied, as in the example below.

HABS MICH,2-GRAMA.V,1- (sheet 1 of 7) - Au Sable Light Station, Southern Shore of Lake Superior, Grand Marais, Alger County, MI. Drawing by Hugh Hughes, 1988. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.mi0225/sheet.00001a

HABS MICH,2-GRAMA.V,1- (sheet 1 of 7) – Au Sable Light Station HABS survey, Southern Shore of Lake Superior, Grand Marais, Alger County, MI. Drawing by Hugh Hughes, 1988. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.mi0225/sheet.00001a

Detail of HABS MICH,2-GRAMA.V,1- (sheet 1 of 7) - Au Sable Light Station, Southern Shore of Lake Superior, Grand Marais, Alger County, MI. Drawing by Hugh Hughes, 1988. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.mi0225/sheet.00001a

Detail of HABS MICH,2-GRAMA.V,1- (sheet 1 of 7) – Au Sable Light Station HABS survey, Southern Shore of Lake Superior, Grand Marais, Alger County, MI. Drawing by Hugh Hughes, 1988. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.mi0225/sheet.00001a

While browsing through the collection to look for more unique north arrows or compass roses, I came upon examples that incorporated decorative features from the building, such as stone carvings or mosaic tiles. Others used symbols such as the eagle on the Presidential seal for drawings of the White House or a specific grave marker from Mount Calvary Cemetery in Pennsylvania. I’ll include these examples and more below, and instructions at the end of the post to go on your seek and find mission!

Site plan - White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia, DC. Drawing by Douglas S. Anderson, Patrick B. Guthrie, Isabel Yang, Sam R. Coker, Ranne Rhee, between 1988 and 1992. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc0402/sheet.00002a

Site plan –White House HABS survey, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia, DC. Drawing by Douglas S. Anderson, Patrick B. Guthrie, Isabel Yang, Sam R. Coker, Ranne Rhee, between 1988 and 1992. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc0402/sheet.00002a

Title Sheet and Plan - Mount Calvary Cemetery, 500 S 13th Street, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA. Drawing by Sally Holbert, 2014, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.pa4110/sheet.00001a

Title Sheet and Plan – Mount Calvary Cemetery HABS survey, 500 S 13th Street, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA. Drawing by Sally Holbert, 2014, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.pa4110/sheet.00001a

In the following three examples, the decorative element used with the north arrow is featured elsewhere in the set of drawings for the structure documented. Select the link in the caption for the name of the building to go to the full survey record and look through all of the drawings to try and spot the inspiration!

HABS OHIO,77-AKRO,9- (sheet 1 of 11) - Loew's Akron, 182 South Main Street, Akron, Summit County, OH. Drawing by Denise A. Hopkins, 1993. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.oh1909/sheet.00001a

HABS OHIO,77-AKRO,9- (sheet 1 of 11) – Loew’s Akron HABS survey, 182 South Main Street, Akron, Summit County, OH. Drawing by Denise A. Hopkins, 1993. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.oh1909/sheet.00001a

HABS KANS,89-TOPKA,1- (sheet 1 of 14) - Monroe Elementary School, 1515 Monroe Street, Topeka, Shawnee County, KS. Drawing by Denise A. Hopkins, 1993. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ks0160/sheet.00001a

HABS KANS,89-TOPKA,1- (sheet 1 of 14) – Monroe Elementary School HABS survey, 1515 Monroe Street, Topeka, Shawnee County, KS. Drawing by Denise A. Hopkins, 1993. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ks0160/sheet.00001a

First Floor Plan Main Block - Evergreen, 4545 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Baltimore (Independent City), MD. Drawing by Daniel De Sousa, 2010. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.md1633/sheet.00008a

First Floor Plan Main Block – Evergreen HABS survey, 4545 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Baltimore (Independent City), MD. Drawing by Daniel De Sousa, 2010. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.md1633/sheet.00008a

If you are so inspired, go on a treasure hunt of your own to see if you can spot more unique designs in the north arrow, and share in the comments what you find!

Learn More:

Caught Our Eyes: Solving a Stork Mystery

Perhaps it’s the impending arrival of April 1, but my first thought upon looking at this photo, placed on our “Caught Our Eyes” sharing wall by reference librarian Jon Eaker, was that it was an April Fool’s joke. As is sometimes the case with photos in our Harris & Ewing collection, where captions range from […]

Focusing on Lewis Hine’s Photographic Technique

The following is a guest post by Ryan Brubacher, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division Lewis Hine, at a certain point in his career, began to refer to himself as an “interpretive photographer” and not a social photographer as he’d been previously termed. While we might imagine him an investigative photo-journalist by today’s standards, his […]