Have you been reading all the news stories about unexploded bombs being found in housing developments and wondering what might be in your backyard? Have you heard that there was a Nike missile site near your house? Do you live on part of what was a military base during World War II? Is there a state or local park nearby that preserves all or part of a former federal installation? Are you a local history buff? Then you might be interested in the real property disposal case files for former federally owned facilities.
These case files can be used to research the history of former federal sites, to illuminate the history of what may now be a public park, or to get clues on how land was used over time. They can be a boon to local history buffs who learn that there may be a former federal site in the area, like the Zillah Bombing Range in Washington or the Five Points Field in Texas, but are unable to find any additional information. They can also be helpful to local and state governments and non-profits which are now maintaining lighthouses or parts of former military sites. While these files seldom provide information about the building or property while it was in active use, they often provide essential clues to other federal records or to local records that can help to fill in the blanks about a site’s history.
The real property disposal case files track exchange or sale of former federally owned buildings and property such as military bases and airfields, defense plants, depots, court houses, post offices, hospitals, forts, housing, lighthouses, and industrial property. They are primarily textual but often include photographs, maps, and architectural drawings. Once the Federal agency that owned a facility determined that they did not need it anymore, the property was first offered to other Federal agencies for use, then to state or local governments for grant or sale. Property was offered for sale to the general public by auction or sealed bid if there was no governmental interest. Every regional archives holds these files for the states in its region. Real property disposal case files were created by many different agencies, but most will be found in one of these agencies.
Bureau of Yards and Docks, RG 71
Farm Credit Administration, RG 103
Public Buildings Service, RG 121
General Services Administration, RG 269
War Assets Administration, RG 270
Federal Property Resources Service, RG 291
If you search for “real property case files” on NARA’s Archival Research Catalog (ARC) you will get a list of all of the related files currently described on ARC. Or you can simply email the regional archives that handles the state where the property is located to see what they might have. Please note that disposal case files are not transferred to NARA for at least 25 years so recent activity will not be available. To find out about former federally owned property in Idaho, Oregon, Washington send an email to the National Archives at Seattle at Seattle.Archives@nara.gov. You can find out more about the Seattle regional archives at our website: http://www.archives.gov/pacific-alaska/seattle/.