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House & Building History Research: Building

Building Permits & Index Cards

House construction, 1926.

Building permits typically list the architect and/or contractor as well as the first owner.  They also contain useful information about the original cost, scope, and construction materials used for the building.  Researchers can typically access building permits at the local building permit office.  

Building Permit Index Cards list subsequent work done on the building such as additions, roofing, electrical work, and other major work requiring a permit. These permit cards are housed at different locations for different counties.

Architectural Sources

Resources for finding the architect or source of design for a building:

Historic Sites Survey of St. Paul and Ramsey County Inventory Forms 
The Historic Sites Survey of St. Paul and Ramsey County was conducted in 1980-1983 by the Ramsey County Historical Society and the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission.  Information on the forms may include street address, historic and current name, original and present use, period of construction, style, architectural and construction details, architect, builder, legal description, other historic designations, a statement of significance, and sources of information. Each form has a small photograph of the property.  The forms are arranged alphabetically and numerically by street address, first for St. Paul and then for other cities in Ramsey County.
MNHS Call Number: Digital Finding Aid

Historic American Buildings Survey, records relating to Minnesota structures, 1882-2001 (bulk 1981-1998).​
Project files, including photographs, architectural drawings, project reports, microfiche, correspondence, and miscellaneous papers documenting historically significant districts, buildings, bridges, and other structures in Minnesota through the Historic American Buildings Survey. These research and documentation projects were completed by consulting historians, architecture students, and others who photograph and compile historical and technical information about selected noteworthy structures. 
MNHS Call NumberDigital Finding Aid

The Minnesota National Register Database includes a comprehensive and current listing of Minnesota properties on the National Register of Historic Places.  ​Microfilm copies of nomination forms for Minnesota properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places (as of December 31, 1982) are available for use at the library (MNHS call number: M463).

Standard Plan Books:

MNHS has a large collection of standard plan books, or stock architectural plans designed for a variety of small homes.  

Architects' Small House Service Bureau
A national cooperative program founded in 1920 that published and sold stock architectural plans for a variety of small homes, offered advice and counseling, and performed other professional services for people with limited incomes wishing to build small, well designed, and attractive homes.  Of particular interest to house history researchers are the pamphlets and brochures touting architectural styles and the small set of original drawings and blueprint copies of stock plans.
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

Additional standard plan books in our collections can be found by searching the library catalog using the subject "Architecture, Domestic -- Designs and plans

Papers of Architects:

The Northwest Architectural Archives at the U of MN has the largest collection of architectural records for this region.  Their collections include the papers of architects and firms which contain blueprints, drawings, photographs, and other materials.  

The MNHS Library has limited collections for certain architects like Cass Gilbert, Clarence Johnston, Harry W. JonesEdwin Brown, and others. 

Historic Maps

Fire Insurance Maps 
The Gale Family Library has a large collection of Sanborn fire insurance maps. They are detailed maps showing the footprint and construction materials of residences, industrial sites, and commercial buildings.  Property boundaries, building use, house and block numbers, as well as names and widths of streets are noted in these maps.  If you look at a series of maps over time, you can trace structural changes to the home, the development of the neighborhood, and when structures were constructed/demolished on the property.  Visit our maps research guide for additional information about these maps and how to access them.  
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Building Links

Gale Family Library • Minnesota Historical Society • 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102-1906 • 651-259-3300
Currently open by appointment only.