January 5, 2018

Preservation Basics

Historic preservation is a broad subject, but it can be easy to understand once you grasp the fundamental building blocks of saving places. While this list is by no means exhaustive, the resources below can help you get a firm foothold on some preservation basics.

National Historic Preservation Act: Established a federal policy for the preservation of cultural and historic resources in the U.S.

Section 106: The most important part of the National Historic Preservation Act. It requires that federal agencies allow the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation the opportunity to comment on federal undertakings that affect historic properties. A road-widening project, the construction of a new hydroelectric dam, or the relocation of a federal courthouse are all examples of projects that could affect local historic resources.

Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act: The strongest preservation law at the federal level. It prohibits federal approval or funding of transportation projects that require the use of any historic site, public park, recreation area, or wildlife refuge, unless there is no feasible alternative to the project and the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the site.

National Register of Historic Places: The official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Contrary to popular belief, listing does not affect what owners may or may not do to their property. The National Register was authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966.

National Environmental Policy Act: Governs federal agency actions that significantly affect cultural and historic resources. Agencies are required to assess the impact of a proposed action on these resources and explore alternatives that might avoid or lessen any adverse impacts.

National Park Service: Administers the National Register of Historic Places, grant programs, and the federal rehabilitation tax incentives. It is a bureau within the U.S. Department of the Interior.

State Historic Preservation Offices: Play a central role in administering the national historic preservation program and provide technical assistance to citizens, communities, and organizations.

Tribal Historic Preservation Offices: Assume responsibilities of SHPOs with respect to tribal lands.

Antiquities Act

The Antiquities Act has enabled 16 presidents from both parties to swiftly protect historic sites and cultural important lands, ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon to sites associated with Cesar Chavez.

Tax Credits

The federal historic tax credit provides tax incentives for the rehabilitation of historic, income-producing buildings. To spur more private investment in older neighborhoods, many states have additional laws that encourage appropriate rehabilitation of historic buildings.

If you're interested in taking a deep dive into the technical side of historic preservation, Preservation Leadership Forum has all the tools you'll need.

Carson Bear was an Editorial Coordinator at the National Trust. She’s passionate about combining popular culture with historic places, and loves her 200-year-old childhood farmhouse in Pennsylvania.

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