Ships’ Plans from the Historic American Engineering Record

HAER: A Program of the National Parks Service


©2007 Patrick Matthews

Note: Also see my article on HAMMS ship plans.

On a recent visit to the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, I boarded the 1907 steam tug Hercules, and wistfully looked upon the forlorn English side wheeler tug Eppleton Hall, thinking that either would make an interesting modeling subject. Wondering if any plans were available, I began searching the web and stumbled across HAER—the National Parks’ “Historic American Engineering Record” project, and a whole new window on the past was opened for me.

Founded in 1969, HAER is a relatively new program compared to its sister, HABS—the Historic American Building Survey, which was created as a WPA project in the Depression to employ architects, and whose goal was to preserve the memory of historic structures before they completely disappeared. HAER’s charter is similar, but with the focus being on nationally and regionally significant engineering and industrial subjects—which, as of 1985, includes maritime sites and vessels as a subset. HAER follows in the footsteps of another WPA project, HAMMS—the Historic American Merchant Marine Survey, which documented 426 vessels over a 14 month period in 1936-1937.

While HAMMS’ documentation is available through its administering organization, the Smithsonian Institution, HAER’s works are held by the Library of Congress. The Library has been making the HAER material available online—photos, scale drawings, and histories—and the graphics may be downloaded in high-resolution files suitable for enlarging to support model-makers’ needs.

Not all of HAER’s projects have been made available online yet.  New material is added all the time, so it’s good to check back every now and then for additional information. The HAER collection is indexed and searchable at the Library of Congress web site, but unfortunately, the vessel information is not listed separately. Searches on various keywords are needed to elicit all of the marine subjects. I searched on words including “tug”, “ship”, “boat”, and “ferry” to build the list included with this article, and then I investigated each “hit” to see what information was currently online. By the way, both Hercules and Eppleton Hall are well represented in the collection.

What can you expect to see for any given vessel? The scope of each project varies, depending on resources available and access to the vessel. The most complete projects include full hull lines and expansions, profiles and plan views, lots of photos, and a historical report. Other projects have less! One can also expect that the documentation will reflect the vessel in her current condition, which may include many modifications from the original design.

One interesting technique is allowing HAER to record more information faster—3D Photogrammetry. By analyzing photographs taken from two or three angles with special software, three dimensional CAD models can be generated. These models are then sliced and diced to create the hull lines we are familiar with. The recording of an entire hull can now be accomplished this way in a day or two.

Being curious about the workings of the project, I contacted Todd Croteau, who runs HAER’s marine efforts for the National Parks Service.

Ten Questions for Todd Croteau

Who is Todd Croteau, and just what is HAER?

Todd: I am Maritime Program Coordinator for the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), a branch of the U.S. National Park Service with sister programs—Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS).  I have served as Maritime Program Coordinator since 1992, and have been with HAER since 1989.  I am a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in Industrial Design.

The Mission of HABS/HAER/HALS is to develop archivally produced drawings, histories and photographs of America’s built heritage that “represent the complete builder’s art” from the most humble slave quarters to the most majestic mansions.  The collection is housed in the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress and is made available to the public on site and through the web site “Built in America”.

The HAER Maritime Program was created in 1985 as a response to a nationwide interest in preserving America’s maritime heritage.  Congress created a variety of programs to identify and promote historic ships and other maritime resources, including the National Maritime Initiative administered by the National Park Service.  Projects included the “Inventory of Large Preserved Historic Vessels”, a National Register Bulletin (No. 20) “Nominating Historic Vessels and Shipwrecks to the National Register of Historic Places”, Secretary of the Interior’s “Standards and Guidelines for the Preservation of Historic Vessels”, and our publication “Guidelines for Recording Historic Ships”.  The Guidelines and the HAER Maritime Program sought to expand the HAMMS program of the 1930s (modeled on HABS, but administered through the Smithsonian Institution).  While that program and Smithsonian researcher Howard Chapelle focused on 19th century vessels, HAER is now looking at vessels considered “modern” in the time of the HAMMS survey.

Do you have any favorite projects?

Todd: All the projects are great…some more enjoyable than others.  The best projects are the ones where there are no existing drawings and it’s all from scratch.  I tend to prefer working boats over pleasure craft because they have more functionality and thus more interesting apparatus to survey.  But it’s hard to resist the attraction of a Bristol-quality yacht.

Can we see a full list of completed maritime projects?

Todd: There is no compiled list of vessels documented by HAER, however, the database can be searched online by vessel name, type, designer, builder, location, etc.  A search conducted under “ship” may bring up some vessels, while others may not appear on the list.  It’s a bit hit or miss at the moment, but our office is in the process of indexing the collection to aid researchers in finding specific sites and structure types.

The HAMMS Collection at the Smithsonian Institute does have a catalogue of plans prepared under that program and the drawings were published in a bound volume set.  Editor’s Note: See the list of web links for information on the HAMMS index.

What’s being worked on now? What’s coming next?

Todd: We are presently working on several large-scale projects and some small-scale ones.  At the moment we are working with the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) to document significant vessels that are being scrapped in the near future including Navy oilers, Victory troopships, and other World War II emergency vessels.  Because there are many original drawings existing for these ships, we are scanning them and reformatting them to the HAER sheets rather than measuring and drawing the vessels from scratch.

Historical descriptions and histories are prepared along with large-format black and white photographs to show present conditions.  A sample of historic views is also being copied for the record.

Another large-scale project has been working with the U.S. Coast Guard on documenting its aging fleet of cutters.  We have developed class histories and surveys for the 180-foot and 133-foot buoy tender classes, the lighthouse tender FIR, icebreaker MACKINAW, and others.

Small-scale projects include a survey of Maine lobster boats, a Victorian houseboat, working watercraft from Currituck County, North Carolina, and various small craft from the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park collection.

I am hoping to get support for surveys of regional watercraft from the early to mid 20th century including fish tugs from the Great Lakes, tour boats from the Adirondacks, gill-netters from the Columbia River, and shrimp boats from the Gulf.

Are you making a dent in all the known subjects?

Todd: I think we are far from making a dent in all the known subjects of vessels. It is very difficult to have a long-range plan when we have no annual appropriation for documentation projects.  Projects need to be funded from outside sources including other federal, state, and local agencies and private museums or interested parties.  Instead of being able to focus on priorities, we are, unfortunately, resigned to document what we can get funds for from year to year.

How does a project get identified and then authorized?

Todd: There are several ways projects make their way into the HABS/HAER/HALS collection:

In-House: The HAER staff seeks funding to support priorities of the office, and funds can come from government agencies or private groups as tax-deductible donations.

Mitigation: Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act states that if a ship is either on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and is going to be significantly altered or destroyed using federal money, then the State Historic Preservation Officer can recommend mitigation for the loss.  One method of mitigation is the HAER documentation.  This is usually arranged through regional coordinators using contractors who perform the work or directly through the HAER office.

Donations:  A third avenue for projects is donations of documentation from a government agency or private group or individual.  Anyone can donate drawings, history and photos to the collection as long as they meet the archival and format requirements.  Donors are encouraged to consult with HAER staff prior to the project to ensure standards are met.

Competitions: A fourth avenue for receiving documentation is a competition known as The Peterson Prize in honor of program founder Charles Peterson. Students can submit documentation for the competition to be eligible for a $2,000 first prize and lesser awards.

Who’s doing all the work?

Todd: The documentation is prepared by a variety of means:

In-House:  There is only one staff person assigned to the maritime program—me—and that is in addition to other general documentation work. Depending on project funding, additional in-house staff or temporary employees can be employed to complete the work

Summer Program:  Most of the in-house projects are completed using summer interns from schools of architecture, history, or engineering.  We have been getting some crossover students through a partnership with East Carolina University’s Maritime Studies Program.  We have a cooperative agreement with the Council of American Maritime Museums (CAMM) to cosponsor the Sally Kress Tompkins Maritime Internship, which supports a documentation project.

Contractors:  Much of the mitigation work is prepared by private contractors who work directly with the funding organizations and submit their work to the HAER when completed.  Again, these contractors are encouraged to consult with HAER during the project to ensure that the standards are being met.

Students/Donors:   A very small amount of work is created through the student competitions and by private individuals.

What constitutes success in completing a project? Enough documentation to complete a full size replica? Or just enough to maybe make a model? Getting to the point—what’s the purpose or benefit of the documentation?

Todd: The documentation is meant to be a lasting memory of a historic vessel for perpetuity.   The level of documentation is often determined by its significance in the maritime world or in the broader social context of the United States.  Other times it is determined by the availability of funding.  A vessel that is significant for its role in society more than its engineering would suggest an emphasis on the historical background more than the engineering and design.  A vessel significant for its form or function would require more documentation of its physical characteristics through drawings and photographs.  Another determination is how much original data is available to use in the process of interpretation.

Do you ever go back and add to documentation? (I’d love to see detailed drawings of the Eppleton Hall’s feathering paddle wheels!)

Todd: We sometimes go back to a site to complete more detailed or broader documentation of a site.  I agree that recording Eppie Hall’s paddlewheels would be a great project and provide more info to researchers…however, we were hired to take her lines, and what we did do was more than we were paid to do. I would have loved to document her engine too…an unusual “grasshopper” I think they called it.

Any newsletter? Some place to go to see what’s happening, what’s new, what’s planned? (the website is just a bit vague there…).

Todd: Unfortunately we don’t have any other means of outreach beyond our website.  There is a Parks Service magazine called COMMON GROUND that is free and we get a lot of play in that.

Bonus Question: Anything Ships in Scale or the ship modeling community can do for HAER?

Todd: YES! Ships in Scale can promote the use of the collection for modeling.  The community can help identify significant and/or threatened vessels that are in need of documentation.  Many modelers also have drafting/history/photo skills and could prepare documentation of a local vessel for donation to HAER collection.  Ships in Scale and its members can lobby or encourage their congressional representatives to support the HAER maritime program through funding that would allow the program to have a long range plan for documentation rather than haphazard approach.  Congress has provided HAER with “add on” funds to support other regional research projects in the past.  If your community could help get Congress to appropriate say $100,000 (or more) per year for five years we could get a game plan together and make a big dent in the under-represented and under-documented vessels of the 20th century.

I’ll do my best to promote the HAER material. I have included a few details here from HAER drawings, and I invite you to visit the Library of Congress website to see the rest.

Patrick Matthews

Web links:


HABS/HAER/HALS, main site:


Library of Congress, “Built in America”:

Smithsonian, HAMMS plans index:

US Coast Guard, Cutter History:

Vessels Listed in the HAER Database, as of August 2006

Hey! Have you found any ships at HAER not listed HERE? Send me a note, below.

Also see my article on HAMMS ship plans.

Vessel Plans Photos Text
Steam Tug EPPLETON HALL, San Francisco, CA
Steam Tug HERCULES, San Francisco, CA
Skipjack KATHRYN, Chesapeake Bay, MD
Skipjack KATHRYN’s Pushboat YAWL, Chesapeake Bay, MD
Skipjack E. C. COLLIER, Saint Michaels, MD
Bugeye LOUISE TRAVERS, Solomons, MD
Dredge CINCINNATI (KANAWA), Pittsburgh, PA
Clipper Ship SNOW SQUALL (bow), South Portland, ME
Ironclad U.S.S. CAIRO, Vicksburg, MS
Ship BALCLUTHA, San Francisco, CA
Ship FALLS OF CLYDE, Honolulu, HI
Schooner Yacht CORONET, Newport, RI
Fishing Schooner EVELINA M. GOULART, Essex, MA
Schooner LETTIE G. HOWARD, New York, NY
Scow Schooner ALMA, San Francisco, CA
Schooner WAWONA, Seattle, WA
Pilot Schooner ALABAMA, Vineyard Haven, MA
Schooner C.A. THAYER, San Francisco, CA  •
Gillnet Boat 59, Seattle, WA
Ferry TICONDEROGA, Shelburne, VT
Ferryboat SUSQUEHANNA, Jersey City, NJ
Ferry SAN MATEO, Seattle,WA
Ferry EUREKA, San Francisco, CA
LIGHTSHIP NO. 83, Seattle, WA
U.S. Coast Guard Buoy Tenders, 133′ Class (1) (1)
U.S. Coast Guard Buoy Tenders, 180′ Class (1) (1) (1)
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter BRAMBLE, Port Huron, MI
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter EVERGREEN, New London, CT
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter FIR, Seattle vicinity, WA (1) (1)
U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker MACKINAW, Cheboygan, MI
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter PLANETREE, San Francisco, CA
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WHITE HEATH, Boston, MA
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WHITE HOLLY, New Orleans, LA
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WHITE LUPINE, Rockland, ME
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WHITE SAGE, Bristol vicinity, RI
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WHITE SUMAC, New Orleans, LA
USS Arizona (wreck), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Olympia, Philadelphia, PA


•   Indicates that drawings, photos, or descriptive texts are available for download from the Library of Congress website

(blank) Indicates that either no information exists in the HAER collection, or that existing information has yet to be scanned and made available online.

(1) See US Coast Guard’s “Cutter History” web site for copy of the HAER reports containing histories, plans, and photos.

A large number of additional Coast Guard cutters are listed by name in the HAER index, but with no data available yet online.


Just a few samples– see the HAER links above for the original down-loadable, high resolution images.


herculestn Profile of steam tug HERCULES
kathryntn Sections and construction details, skipjack KATHRYN
wawonatn Lines from schooner WAWONA


9 responses to “Ships’ Plans from the Historic American Engineering Record

  1. any plans available for CG 83′ cutters of WW2 period?

  2. I am researching the Lettie G. Howard schooner with the intention of building an operational RC scale model. The plans located here give her length at 75 feet, however, other references give it at 125 feet. Why the discrepancy? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank You, Norm Dillon

  3. Cyril

    You have perfect site for the ship builder, thank you

  4. Genevieve

    Why was the balclutha so important to Americans?

    • 1. Maybe they didn’t value her so much, but somehow the ship became available, so the Parks Service said “Why not?”

      2. Or, according to the Parks Service website: “19th century San Francisco was a hard drinking town. The sailing ship Balclutha helped quench that thirst by delivering cargoes containing Scotch whiskey, Dutch bitters, French vermouth and ales and liquors of all kinds.” Good enough for me!

  5. gormanao

    I found plans and a write up for the ca. 1865 “Sub Marine Explorer” at:

  6. gormanao

    The HAER site isn’t the easiest to navigate, but a found a bunch of additional plans. Some surveys are chock full of information on a ship, but do not include the drawings you would need to build it, such as the Olympia. If you are into old rowed Maine lobster boats, the site is a goldmine.Anyway, here are some additions:
    Galloway Type Boat Cataract Boat STONE BOAT
    USS Taluga- oiler
    R-boat Pirate
    American Racer- 1964 break bulk cargo ship
    General Edwin D Patrick-WWII P2 troopship/ocean liner
    Pilot schooner Alabama- 1925
    USCG White Sage
    USCG icebreaker Mackinaw
    Saugatuck, T-2 tanker
    Liberty ship Arthur M. Huddell
    Attack transport USS Gage
    Fishing vessel Tamanita
    steam launch buttercup
    M/V white gull
    Schooner Lettie G. Howard
    Two sail chesapeake bateau EC Collier

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