March 8, 2016

10 Tips to Build Your National Register Knowledge

The Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Ascension of Christ in Unalaska, Alaska, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

photo by: J. Stephen Conn/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

The Orthodox Church of the Holy Ascension is a testament to Alaska's Russian past. It was added to the National Register in 1970.

According to the National Park Service, "the National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation."

But the National Register can also help the preservation of a site become a reality, though it doesn't guarantee it.

Scroll through the online database and you'll find thousands of America's historic places. (Want to know the exact number? See below.) Of course, there are many more 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.

1. How old is the National Register?

The National Register is 50 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 more than 90,000 total listings, which represent up to 1.8 million individual resources.

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.

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.

The Cornish-Windsor Bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

photo by: Gianina Lindsey/Flickr/CC BY-2.0

The Cornish-Windsor Bridge was the longest-standing covered bridge in the country until 2008. It was added to the National Register in 1970.

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.)

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.

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.

The former Teapot Dome Service Station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

photo by: Jimmy Emerson, DMV/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Teapot Dome Service Station in Yakima County, Washington, an example of novelty architecture, was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

9. What is the nomination process like?

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 of the National Park Service's reception of the nomination.

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.

Julia Rocchi is the senior director of digital marketing at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and gawks at buildings.


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