OLD HOUSE 101: WHAT THE HECK IS THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES?
by Jon Valalik (photo by John Phalen)
Hello, and welcome to Old House 101! You’ve probably heard of the National Register of Historic Places, but do you know what the heck it is? Jon’s here to tell us all about it!
As a publication dedicated to bringing to light historic homes and buildings for sale across the country, we felt it wise to introduce tips, resources, and general insight on the preservation of such structures. And given that the buildings listed on CIRCA, though significant on a nationwide scale, are often most important at a local level, it seems appropriate the we start by introducing the National Register of Historic Places — the US government’s official list of historic places across the country!
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Childhood Home in Raymond, Maine. Photo by Ogram.
What the heck is the National Register?
The National Register of Historic Places, often called simply the National Register, was created in 1966 as part of the National Historic Preservation Act. Prior to its establishment, lists of important landmarks were reserved for those of “national significance”, according to the Historic Sites Act of 1935. The National Historic Preservation Act broadened the criteria for preservation of sites, districts, buildings, and monuments of local significance, allowing the umbrella of potential landmark status to cover many more historically significant objects.
The John Erlander House in Rockford, Illinois. Photo by Teemu008.
The criteria for inclusion on the National Register is pretty straightforward. In order for something to be included, it must fall into at least one of these four categories:
The site must be associated with an event that played a significant role in an area’s history;
The site must exemplify distinct characteristics of important architectural styles; or
The site must be associated with the lives of individuals who played a significant role in an area’s history;
The site must be have the potential to yield important information about an areas history or prehistory (i.e. archeology)
If an entity falls within one or more of these categories, further steps may be taken in order to have it included. Because the criteria for inclusion on the National Register is so broad, the types of listings in it range drastically. Though the most common listings are for buildings, monuments, and districts, there are also bridges, signs, and even a landfill in Fresno, California.
The Esther W. J. Barker House in Hinsdale, Illinois. Photo by Teemu008.
What does this mean for homeowners?
There are plenty of reasons why one may want to have their property included on the National Register, not the least of which is, frankly, prestige. Being able to say your property is significant — whether because of its architectural style or its relationship to noteworthy historical events — is a surefire way to spark interest and increase value.
In the case of historic districts on the National Register, heritage tourism and the money generated through it may be incentive enough to put forth an effort for inclusion. Historic districts, like the one found in Charleston, South Carolina, can attract an enormous amount of tourist attention and bring in a massive amount of money. But there are economic benefits, too! Owners of houses listed on the the National Register are entitled to tax credits, and a percentage of money spent on rehabilitating a historic building may be tax deductible as long as the rehabilitation follows specific rules and guidelines.
The George Lunsford House in Richland, Georgia. Photo by SaveRivers.
Having your property listed can also potentially protect it. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires government agencies to account for potential consequences that their undertakings may have on historic properties. Neither the National Register nor Section 106 can prevent alteration or demolition of historic properties, but they do call attention to the potential adverse effects of outside projects on listed properties.
The Walhalla Trading Post in Walhalla, North Dakota. Photo by Elcajonfarms.
Why is it important?
The National Register of Historic Places is important for many reasons. Not least of which is the overall awareness it brings to a specific structure or district’s historical value. Historic buildings, monuments, districts, and even landfills are windows to the past, through which history is made tangible and lessons are learned. When people are conscious of a place’s historical significance, the chances of its survival become much greater, and it has the opportunity to continue teaching by simply existing. Thanks to the National Register and its over 88,000 properties, containing over 1.4 million individual objects, there is an ever-thriving interest in local and national history. For more information, check out the website of the National Park Service.
Let’s hear it for the National Register of Historic Places!
The James W. Alcorn House in Stanford, Kentucky. Photo by Joel Bradshaw.
AUTHOR JON VALALIK
Jon grew up in South Carolina and studied Historic Preservation and Community Planning at the College of Charleston. His time in Charleston sowed a deep appreciation for both classical and vernacular styles and the importance of their conservation. He is currently working in Charlotte, North Carolina and hopes to break into the field of architectural preservation soon.