and I thought I’d spent a lot of my life around libraries

Apparently, many New York Public Library branches used to have live-in superintendents, some of whose families also lived in the library buildings with them. I wonder how many other non-residential buildings had this kind of set-up – and if other libraries around the country or the world had live-in supers as well.


  1. This sort of arrangement has always been standard at most national parks, of course, which is hardly surprising. Probably less well-known is that at some of the archaeological parks in the Southwest the early rangers actually lived inside the ruins.

  2. The living in the ruins part is definitely surprising. Weren’t there preservation concerns, even back then? Or did they think that living in the ruins would give rangers some kind of insight into the places?

  3. Not so much with the preservation concerns. The historic preservation movement didn’t really get going until the ’50s. Park Service archaeology in the ’30s was more about heavy-handed reconstruction. Living in the ruins was just a small step further down that road. I believe in most cases it was motivated by the fact that the ruins were already there, and pretty well-preserved, so it was a lot easier to just add some modern conveniences to them than to build new buildings. In some parks there were actually modern buildings that had been built for other purposes; I’m not sure why the rangers didn’t just move into them, but they may have already been in use for other purposes or by other entities.

  4. That makes sense. In the 1930s the budgets – even with the New Deal public works funding – probably made living in the ruins even more appealing than building something new.

    I remember going to Bodie State Park in California in the 1990s and being disappointed that some of the historic buildings were kept in a ruin-preservation state while others – including one of the more substantial and in some ways historically more interesting – were used for park services (but without “new” architecture). So it’s not like the practice of putting historic buildings to new uses has gone away. Of course, Bodie’s are a very different kind of ruin from Chaco’s, and very different considerations come into play when thinking about it in this context.

  5. There are a lot of interesting issues, both philosophical and practical, surrounding this general topic: what gets preserved, how, and why? This comes up a lot in a Park Service context.

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