Your Guide to Listing a Property on the National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of properties that are considered worthy of preservation. The register began in 1966 after the National Historic Preservation Act was passed. It’s currently overseen by the National Parks Service and now lists more than 90,000 properties.
The goal of the National Register of Historic Places is to put together and provide support for private and public efforts to protect, evaluate and identify historical and archaeological resources in the U.S. Although the Register is a national list, the process of putting a property on the register typically starts at the state level.
This guide will tell you everything you need to about National Register eligibility and criteria.
How to List a Property on the National Register of Historic Places
The first step to take if you want to list your property on the National Register of Historic Places is to get into touch with your State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). If your property is located on tribal land, you’ll want to get in touch with the appropriate Tribal Preservation Office. If the property is on federal land, you’ll need to reach out to the Federal Preservation Office.
Although the nomination process might vary from state to state, you can generally expect your SHPO to evaluate and survey the property after you’ve submitted the appropriate application materials. Your SHPO will let you know what documentation you need to provide with your application as well as the criteria it will use to evaluate your property.
Here’s how to get in touch with the SHPO in each state:
The Process of Listing Your Property on the National Register of Historic Places
You don’t have to own the property to nominate it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Preservation societies, government agencies and historical societies are just a few of the organizations that can nominate a property. Once an SHPO receives a nomination, it will let the property owner know about it. The SHPO will also let the local government know about the nomination. After that, there’s a period when people are invited to comment on the nomination. If the owner isn’t the one to submit the nomination, they do have the right to object to it.
Once the comment period is over, the SHPO and the National Register Review Board in the state will review the nomination. The review process takes at least 90 days, although the exact length can vary from state to state. If the property passes the initial review, it gets submitted to the National Park Service for final review. The park service has 45 days to make its decision to list the property or not.
Why go to the trouble of listing your property on the National Register? There are a few benefits of owning a registered historic place.
All properties that are on the Register are included in the National Register Archives, which is a public database that contains information and, in some cases, photos of each registered place. Listing properties on the National Register also provides documentation of the property’s significance and importance from a historical perspective and can help to encourage further preservation of historic resources.
There are also financial advantages to listing a property on the National Register. Some states provide grant funding and tax incentives to owners of historic properties. Federal grants and tax credits are also available in some cases.
Owning a property that’s on the National Register of Historic Places also gives you bragging rights. You can put up a bronze plaque that lets everyone know that the property is on the register. You also have the chance to mix and mingle with other owners of historic properties, through in-person meetings or online, as well as the opportunity to get information on the best ways to care for and preserve your property from the National Park Service.
National Register of Historic Places Criteria
Not every property is eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Generally speaking, a property will be evaluated based on the quality of its significance to culture, architecture, archaeology, engineering and history in America as well as based on the workmanship, materials, setting, design and location of the property. Properties can be structures, buildings, entire districts, specific sites or other objects.
To qualify for placement on the National Register, a property needs to meet at least one of the following four criteria:
- Association with events that have contributed significantly to history.
- Association with the life of a significant person.
- An embodiment of distinct characteristics of a particular period, type of architecture or construction method.
- Able to provide important historical information.
When it comes to how old a property needs to be to make it to the National Register, age is more than just a number. The National Register guidelines state that generally speaking, a property needs to be at least 50 years old for inclusion on the list. There are exceptions, though. If a property has been around for less than 50 years but has achieved significance in that period, it might be eligible for inclusion.
It’s also worth noting that some properties are typically excluded from the National Register, such as birthplaces, gravesites, structures that have been moved and religious institutions. But, there are exceptions to the rule, and some usually excluded properties might be added to the Register if any of the following applies:
- The property has significant historical, architectural or artistic value or importance.
- The grave or birthplace belongs to an important historical figure who doesn’t have a building or site connected to their productive life.
- The cemetery houses the graves of incredibly important people, has a connection to historical events or has distinctive design features.
- The structure or building was moved but has significant architectural value or is connected to an important historical event or person.
- The building was rebuilt as part of a restoration plan, and no other similar building or structure has survived.
How to Apply National Register Criteria to Your Property
The National Register is meant for tangible, concrete properties that have a location that is generally fixed. Part of determining whether or not your property meets National Register eligibility requirements involves determining what category your property belongs in. The National Register uses five categories to classify properties:
- Building: A building is typically any structure that provides shelter for a human activity. Homes, libraries, theaters, hotels and train stations are all examples of properties that belong in the building category. To be eligible for placement on the National Register as a building, a property needs to have all of its structural elements. Otherwise, it can be considered a ruin and would end up in the “site” category.
- Structure: A structure is a construction that has a function and a purpose that is anything other than providing shelter to humans. Lighthouses, trolley cars, bridges, silos and windmills are all examples of properties that fall into the structure category.
- Object: An object is usually a small construction that serves an artistic purpose. Objects can be moveable but are usually associated with a specific place or setting. Statues, fountains, monuments and boundary markers are examples of objects.
- Site: A site is the location of a particular historic or pre-historic event. To qualify for the register, the site does not need to have any remains or evidence of the event, especially if it is an event that dates back to prehistoric times. Examples of a site include a battlefield, rock shelter, shipwreck, trail, village site or campsite.
- District: A historic district typically has a concentration of the other four categories that are all linked together by history or by a particular aesthetic style. It needs to have a defined geographical area and significance regarding history, archaeology, architecture, engineering or culture. Examples of a district include a business district, rural areas, college campus, transportation systems and canal systems.
Understand the Historical Context of the Property
What constitutes a historic home? To make it to the National Register, a property needs to be more than just old. It also needs to have played some role in defining its community during the period when it was constructed. Determining the historical context of a property is both a subjective and objective process. The National Parks Service looks at five things to determine historical context and the property’s significance. Those factors are:
- The historical or prehistoric facet of the area that the property represents.
- Whether the facet is significant.
- Whether the property is important or relevant when illustrating the context.
- How the property illustrates history.
- Whether the property has features that convey the aspect of history or prehistory that it’s associated with.
The historical or prehistorical facet can be anything from association with an important person to a major event in the area. It can also be a particular style of architecture, archaeology or engineering that was developed during the period.
The significance of the property can be evaluated by looking at whether or not the historical context or other facet played an essential role in the development of American history or the development of a particular area. For example, a battlefield that was the site of a major event during the Civil War has historical significance. The house where Mark Twain wrote his novels can have historical significance as well. A structure that was the first construction built by Frank Lloyd Wright also has significance.
In some cases, the context of a historic property can be determined by its geographical location. For example, a building that might seem historically insignificant when looked at through a national lens might have considerable historical significance to a local community or town. A property can also be viewed in the context of the role it played in the development of a state’s history, even if the significance seems limited to a particular area of the state.
National Register of Historic Places Criteria for Evaluation
To qualify for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, a property typically has to be associated with an event, person or design that has some historical significance, or else it needs to provide some information about history. How can a property do that? Take a closer look at what makes a property historically significant in each of the four criteria.
A property that is associated with at least one event that made a significant contribution to history may be eligible for the National Register. The process of evaluating a property involves looking at its origin and nature as well as at its association with a particular event and the historical context of that event. For example, a property can have played a role in the settling or foundation of a town or the development of the economy of a port city. Other examples of properties connected to events include:
- The building where an important invention was created.
- The site of a battle.
- The trail people followed when moving across the country or exploring.
- A factory district that played a role in the development of a city’s economy or where an important labor event took place.
A property that is associated with the life a significant historical person can also be listed on the National Register. The property can be the home the person lived in, the studio where they created artworks or recorded music, or the office location of the business they founded. The person needs to have been a significant figure — for example, the mansion where a Rockefeller or DuPont lived can qualify as a historic place, while the home a relatively unknown doctor or lawyer won’t.
3. Design or Construction
Properties that showcase certain distinct characteristics of a design period or style, a method of construction, that are the work of a master or that have a high artistic value might be eligible for placement on the National Register. A property can be looked at as the sum of its parts even if its components lack particular distinction. Examples of properties that can make it to the Register because of their design or construction include:
- A house or building that represents a significant style of architecture.
- Park or garden that is designed under the auspices of a particular landscape design philosophy.
- A theater with decorative features that display a high artistic value, such as an Art Deco theater.
- A dam that was created using technologically advanced construction methods.
4. Information Potential
In some cases, a property can be listed on the National Register of Historic Places not because it is connected to a significant individual or is an example of a significant style or work of art, but because it can provide information about human history. To qualify as a historic place under the information potential criterion, a property needs to have information that contributes to the understanding of history or prehistory and the information it can provide needs to be considered important.
The most common type of property that is nominated using the information potential criterion is an archaeological site, although individual buildings, structures or objects can also be eligible.
Historical Integrity of Property
A historic property not only needs to have historical significance. It also needs to have historical integrity. Determining whether or not a property has historical integrity is often the most subjective part of deciding whether or not it belongs on the National Register. That said, there is still an objective component to the assessment based on several aspects of the property. Those aspects are:
- Location: Location can refer to the place where the property was built or the location of a particular event, such as a battle. The connection between the property and location can often provide a clue as to why an event occurred or why it was significant. An example of location is a battlefield.
- Design: Design refers to the elements of the property that create its style, form, space and structure. Design comes about as a result of decisions made by the creator or planner of the property. It reflects the technologies of the time, as well as the aesthetic preferences of the time. An example of design is an Art Deco theater.
- Setting: Setting isn’t the same as location. While location refers to place, setting focuses on the elements that surround the place. Examples of setting include whether is a stream nearby or a human-made lake, whether the property is located at the top of a hill or in the bottom of a valley.
- Materials: Materials refer to what was used to make the property and how they are joined together. Usually, materials reflect the technology of the time. For example, a historic home from the Colonial period is likely to have a facade made of brick.
- Workmanship: Workmanship refers to the skill used in putting together the property as well as to the methods preferred during the time it was constructed. Examples include the way materials are joined together, the way a building is painted or the details are carved into wood.
- Feeling: Feeling refers to the property’s ability to express its historic sense or aesthetic. It’s the combination of physical features that come together to display the historic character of the property. An example is a group of historic rowhouses in the center of a busy city that manage to create a sense of what life was like in the Colonial era.
- Association: Association refers to the connection between the property and a historic person or event. An example is a Civil War campground that maintains many of the same elements it had when soldiers camped there during the war.
Get a Historical Plaque From Erie Landmark
If your property meets the requirements for the National Register of Historic Places, you can display a plaque letting passersby and visitors know of its status. Once your property is listed on the Register, Erie Landmark Company can produce a plaque to display on your property. We offer standard National Register plaques as well customized National Historic plaques. Contact a member of our team to learn more about how we can create a plaque that’s worthy of your historic property.