Photographs by the Virginia Writers' Project. Picture Collection, Library of Virginia. 2016 © Library of Virginia.
The Virginia Historical Inventory (VHI) is a collection of photographs, maps, and detailed reports documenting the architectural, cultural, and family histories of thousands of 18th- and 19th-century buildings in communities across Virginia. The collection consists of more than 19,300 survey reports, 6,200 photographs, and 103 annotated county and city maps.
The project was created in 1937 by the Virginia Writers' Project, a branch of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Using a standard format, the field-workers for the VHI prepared survey reports on each structure, with details taken from onsite investigation, research in court records and other local resources, and personal interviews with county residents. For most buildings, field-workers completed a standardized "architectural description" form, giving extensive architectural details such as size, type of building material, layout, and distinctive features.
Unlike the Historic American Buildings Survey, which documents prominent historical structures, the VHI was specifically charged with describing the vernacular architecture and history of everyday buildings built before 1860. VHI writers did not restrict their reports to structures, however. There are also reports on cemeteries (often including detailed tombstone information), antiques, historical events, and personages, as well as transcriptions of land grants, wills, deeds, diaries, and correspondence.