February 1, 2023

10 Essential Preservation Tools

Historic preservation is a broad subject, but it’s easier to understand once you grasp the building blocks of saving places. Here, we outline the fundamental preservation tools at the federal level that preservationists around the country use and depend on to help save places.

What is the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966?

Passed in 1966, the National Historic Preservation Act is the primary federal law governing the preservation of cultural and historic resources in the United States. It establishes a national preservation program and a system of procedures that encourage the identification and protection of cultural and historic resources with national, state, tribal, and local significance.

What is Section 106?

Section 106, an essential part of the National Historic Preservation Act, 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.

What is Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966?

Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966 helps protect historic resources from the potentially adverse impacts of federal transportation. 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.

What is the National Environmental Policy Act?

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 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.

What is the National Register of Historic Places?

The National Register of Historic Places is 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.

What is the National Park Service?

The 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.

 Olympic National Park

photo by: Brian Turner

A visitor enjoys Washington state's Olympic National Park, run by the National Park Service.

What is a State Historic Preservation Office?

State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) play a central role in administering the national historic preservation program. They provide technical assistance to citizens, communities, and organizations.

What is a Tribal Historic Preservation Office?

Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs) assume the responsibilities of SHPOs with respect to Tribal lands, supporting and encouraging Tribal historic preservation programs.

What is the Antiquities Act of 1906?

The Antiquities Act of 1906 has enabled 18 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.

What are Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives?

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.

An earlier version of this story by Carson Bear was published on January 5, 2018.

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Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi was 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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