Statement | October 29, 2018

National Trust for Historic Preservation Statement on the Passing of William J. Murtagh, Jr.

Today, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Stephanie Meeks, issued the following statement on the passing of William J. Murtagh, one of the pioneers of the modern preservation movement.

“Quite simply, historic preservation in America would not be what it is today without the vision, leadership, and extraordinary contributions of Dr. William J. Murtagh. In many ways, Dr. Murtagh gave preservation in America itself a history. His thinking and scholarship informed the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which enshrined preservation into federal law, and, with a steady hand and a deep appreciation for international approaches to saving places, he continued to lead the preservation movement in more than five decades since.

“Scratch any corner of preservation today, and Dr. Murtagh’s name will be etched on the foundation. He served as the first Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, helping form and expand our nation’s official list of cherished historic sites for thirteen years.

“Dr. Murtagh was also an early trailblazer and great friend of the Trust. From 1958 to 1967, he assisted the National Trust’s president and served as Director of Education and Programs, helping to expand the nascent organization’s impact in its second decade. He returned to the Trust in the early 1980s to serve as Vice President of Preservation Services before dedicating himself fully to teaching and scholarship in 1985. In 1980, he received the Louise du Pont Crowninshield award, preservation’s highest recognition, for his countless contributions.

“Simply put, Dr. Murtagh was a colossus in our field. His leadership and scholarship guided the legislative origins and growth of historic preservation in America in the 20th century. For decades, he was a wise resource and counsel to veteran preservationists and a kindly guide to generations of students just beginning their careers.

“On behalf of everyone at the Trust past and present, and all the many people in preservation whose lives he touched, I want to express our sadness at Dr. Murtagh’s passing and our profound gratitude for all the ways he helped make our nation a better place.”

Additional biographical information:

Dr. William J. Murtagh was one of the founding members of the U.S. Committee of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS) in 1965 and served on its Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1988. He served as Executive Secretary of Historic Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, a position informed by his dissertation work on German influences on Moravian architecture, and as president of the Victorian Society. He was a longtime member of the Board of Preservation Virginia and the Preservation Institute: Nantucket. He was named a Benjamin Franklin Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts in London. He taught historic preservation to students at Columbia, the University of Florida, the University of Maryland, and the University of Hawaii. His 1985 book, Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America, which explores the roots of preservation in the United States, remains one of the foundational texts in our field.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. | @savingplaces

This May, our Preservation Month theme is “People Saving Places” to shine the spotlight on everyone doing the work of saving places—in big ways and small—and inspiring others to do the same!