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FREE PLANS – what every woodworker wants

 In Arts & Mysteries Blog, Woodworking Blogs

Philadelphia’s Powel House in 1933
The Powel House is still standing at 244 S. 3rd Street

During the Great Depression, the U.S. Government instituted a program through the WPA that paid architects to photograph or draw plans of historic buildings. The program was called the Historic American Building Survey or HABS for short. Today the entirety of this government funded program is available online through the Library of Congress Website. If this link doesn’t work, just go to the Library of Congress’s main page at and type “HABS” in the search box.

You can do a search on geographic areas or date of construction and find photos and often measured drawings of some darn fine old buildings. Some of the plans include detailed drawings of interior woodwork, including windows, doors, wainscots, stairs, etc.

Fairmount Park’s Mount Pleasant

Fairmount Park’s Mount Pleasant was carefully drawn in detail including its fantastic interior woodwork. Independence Hall aka the State House is a marvelous structure whose interior was also carefully measured, drawn, and photographed. A search for Philadelphia’s “Powel House” (top) reveals photos of it’s impressive interior but no plans that I could see. The Powel house was probably one of the finest urban homes in Colonial America and affords a glimpse at what the first Presidential Mansion may have looked like.

You can search your own State or Town. You may have a gem in your own area or more likely find that a fine old structure was torn down for the new Starbucks. No bother. Drive over anyway. Sit and have a latte and surf over to HABS on your iPhone using Starbucks’ free wireless router. Take a detailed tour of the building that used to be there.

For those interested in traditional or historic woodwork all across the USA and from a range of time periods, the L.O.C.’s HABS offers a virtual tour with project plans attached. What more could any woodworker ask for? Some biscotti perhaps?


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Showing 6 comments
  • Barry

    Thanks a bunch. How unusual our fair government hides the goods from us. I found plenty of inspiration in there, what a great site.


  • James Mittlefehldt

    I curse you Adam. I went to the site and was gone for three hours, I can easily see myself gettimg lost in there for days.

    Thanks for letting us know.


  • Jeff S.

    I very much appreciate you bringing this treasure trove to our attention, Adam.

    I was struck by the cold sterility of the more recent CAD drawings compared to those done in earlier days where the skill and artistry of the draughtsman is quite evident.

    Jeff S.

  • joel

    Great Post Adam,
    I have known about HABS for years but never knew they were on-line – it’s a real boon for restorers and architects etc.
    It’s not often that I see my tax dollars at work on something I approve of.


  • John Hoffman

    Thank you! Great stuff from you once again.

    Best Regards


  • Lane

    That’s really cool, Adam. Thanks for sharing it. Some of that woodwork would be really neat to add in to some of the projects around the house.

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