[Preservation Tips & Tools] Historic Designations: What Do They Mean?


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This toolkit outlines the four main areas of historic designations a building can have and what protections they do (and do not) provide.


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[Preservation Tips & Tools] Historic Designations: What Do They Mean?

  1. 1. What Do They Mean? HISTORIC DESIGNATIONS
  2. 2. National Historic Landmark (NHL) NHLs are the MVPs of America’s historic places. Each “represents an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.”
  3. 3. NHLs are places… with the strongest association with a significant event in our nation's history.
  4. 4. NHLs are places… that are an exceptional representation of a particular building or engineering method, technique, or building type.
  5. 5. NHLs are places… that best tells the story of an individual who played a significant role in the history of our nation.
  6. 6. NHLs are places… that have the potential to yield new and innovative information about the past through archeology.
  7. 7. There are fewer than 2,500 National Historic Landmarks nationwide.
  8. 8. All NHLs are automatically included in the National Register for Historic Places (but not vice versa).
  9. 9. National Register for Historic Places The National Register is managed by the National Park Service, and is the nation’s official list of historic structures.
  10. 10. The National Register… has more than 80,000 listings, made up of 1.4 million individual resources -- buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects.
  11. 11. The National Register… includes at least one listing from nearly every county in the United States.
  12. 12. The National Register… focuses on buildings that are more than 50 years old (newer buildings must be especially significant).
  13. 13. Contrary to popular belief, neither of these designations (National Historic Landmark or the National Register) affect what private owners can do with their property or come with any obligation to open it to the public.
  14. 14. However, both do offer protections -- in the form of significant legal hurdles -- in the event that federal government work threatens a place (when building a highway, for example). They may also make property owners eligible for preservation funds and federal historic tax credits.
  15. 15. State Registers Where the rubber starts to meet the road from a property owner perspective is at the state level. In many cases, listing here triggers regulatory protection from state government actions or governs whether a property owner is eligible for tax benefits and incentives.
  16. 16. Connect with your SHPO. The National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers can connect you with your state’s historic preservation office, which should be able to fill you in on the ins-and-outs of your state’s policies.
  17. 17. Local Registers Communities may choose to enact a preservation ordinance to put greater protections in place for their historic resources.
  18. 18. Local ordinances have two significant strengths. They are tailored to the local community, and they offer the most protection for privately owned buildings due to review requirements.
  19. 19. “Those review requirements are what people most often notice (and complain) about regarding preservation at a local level. But remember the benefits!
  20. 20. Local registers… help preserve the character and quality of the community over time.
  21. 21. Local registers… give property owners more confidence in the long-term stability of the neighborhood -- which means they’re more likely to make investments in their property to the benefit of the entire community.
  22. 22. Local registers… promote pride and appreciation of the character and history of the community.
  23. 23. Local registers… help property owners begin to see themselves not only as owners but also as stewards of history.
  24. 24. The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America’s historic places. Preservation Tips & Tools helps others do the same in their own communities. For more information, visit blog.preservationnation.org. Photos courtesy: NCinDC, Samet K Jian, Flickr; Slick- O-Bot, Wikimedia Commons Adam Fagen, Flickr; cmh2315fl, Flickr; ForestJay; Wikimedia Commons; Don Shall, Flickr; Michele Mazzoli, Flickr; Photos by Clark, Flickr; Troy B Thompson, Flickr; NCinDC, Flickr; NPS Cultural Landscape Program, Flickr; Teresa Boardman, Flickr; US Army Corps of Engineers, Flickr; Don Shall, Flickr; Ed!, Wikimedia Commons; Wally Gobetz, Flickr; Fletcher6, Wikimedia Commons; NCinDC, Flickr; Fletcher6, Wikimedia Commons; Emily Farah/Essential Public Radio, Wikimedia Commons. Adapted from “Preservation 101” prepared by the Preservation Leadership Forum.