[10 on Tuesday] Build Your National Register Knowledge

Posted on: November 6th, 2012 by Emily Potter


“The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.” -- National Park Service

The National Register is an important and useful tool in preservation. Inclusion in the Register signifies to the nation that a place is worth preserving. It also often opens up doors to helping the preservation of a site become a reality, though doesn’t guarantee it.

Scroll through the online database and you’ll find thousands of America’s historic places are in the Register. (Want to know the exact number? See below.) Of course, there are many more places not in the Register that are worthy of preserving. But the National Register is one, official way of recognizing that value.

To help you learn a little more about this resource, we’ve collected -- and answered -- 10 frequently asked questions about the National Register of Historic Places. Or, quiz yourself and see how much you already know!

1. How old is the National Register?

The National Register is 46 years old. The Register was authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, and is administered by the National Park Service.

2. How many places are listed in the National Register?

There are 87,265 total listings (1,052 properties listed in Fiscal Year 2011), which represent more than 1.4 million individual resources.

Tivoli Theater in Chattanooga, Tennessee, listed in the National Register in 1973.

3. What are the benefits to being listed in the National Register of Historic Places?

In addition to the honor associated with having your property listed in the National Register, this recognition is generally the first step for receiving preservation funding from state and local governments. Also, owners may be eligible for tax credits that can help offset the costs of rehabilitation -- for example, the Federal Historic Tax Credit, which has helped restore more than 86,000 structures across the country, and is currently at risk in Congress.

4. Are there any restrictions for property owners of a National Register-listed place?

No (unless you are using money from federal grants or other programs). Often, people assume that if a property is listed in the National Register it is in some way permanently protected, but that is not necessarily the case. However, if you do plan to modify or renovate your National Register-listed historic property, you should still check with your State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to see if there are any state or local laws you should be aware of.

5. Will a property be in the National Register forever?

Not necessarily. If the property is significantly altered in such a way that the original, qualifying historic features are lost, the property may be removed from the Register. (For example, properties that have been destroyed by fires or storms have been taken off the list.) If a building is moved, it will be removed from the National Register.

6. How old does a property have to be in order to qualify for National Register inclusion?

A property must be at least 50 years old to qualify. There are special guidelines for nominating places that are younger; however, these places must be exceptionally important to be considered.

7. What types of places can be nominated to the list?

You can nominate districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects -- places that are significant to the community, state, or nation.

Octagon House in Barrington, Illinois, listed in the National Register in 1979.

8. Who can nominate a place to the National Register?

Any individual can nominate a place to the National Register, but it is recommended that you contact your SHPO before submitting the appropriate forms.

9. What process does a property go through to be listed?

Once nomination forms are submitted to the SHPO, they will contact all related parties, including the owner of the property, local governments, and the public for comments. The SHPO and National Register Review Board will review the nomination as well as all accompanying information (which takes a minimum of 90 days).

Then, when both the SHPO and Review Board have recommended the property for listing, the nomination goes on to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. for final review and listing by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. A decision is made within 45 days.

10. Where and how can the National Register of Historic Places database be accessed?

You can access the database online here. Or you can visit the National Register archives in Washington, D.C., but you must make an appointment first.

You can find more detailed answers, plus additional frequently asked questions on the National Register website.

Have you gone through the National Register process for a property in your community? Share your experiences and lessons learned in the comments.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Emily Potter

Emily Potter is a copywriter at the National Trust. She enjoys writing about places of all kinds, the stories that make them special, and the people who love them enough to save them.

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