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As with antiques, the historical significance of a building, may have as much to do with what is known about it, as with any intrinsic qualities it may possess. This provenance lends validity. If a building is interesting in design, or attractive in appearance, without us having any specific knowledge of it, how much more interesting or attractive does it become as we learn its history? What significant events have happened in, or to it? Who was its designer, or its builder? Who were its occupants? What of their lives?
There are many sources available for discovering facts about buildings. In Austin, we have the Austin Public Library and the Austin History Center. Both are rich sources for photographs and documents. Deeds and surveys can be found at the Travis County Courthouse. At the Center for American History at the University of Texas, we can find old newspapers and telephone directories. The Center is also a repository for the Sanborn Fire Maps. These maps are periodic surveys of complete cities, reaching back for more than a century, and often have information regarding previous configurations of buildings, or locations of outbuildings, and the like, that can not be found elsewhere.
We can also learn by talking with residents of the neighborhood, or previous owners, or tenants, or their relatives. Often we discover facts within the buildings themselves; in the attic or the basement, or as we do the demolition in preparation for rehabilitation. We can learn facts about the structure, about changes in use or decoration, and occasionally we learn personal information about the occupants themselves. All of this adds to the picture we get of a building. As our images becomes more vivid, we find that we know something of the people themselves, their times, their customs and their lives.