The National Register of Historic Places is the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and archeological resources. Properties listed in the Register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture. The National Register is administered by the National Park Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Listing properties on the National Register provides a link to the nation's past and contributes to a community's sense of identity and stability. There are a variety of ways for a property to be listed on the National Register. Individual buildings, neighborhoods (called historic districts), and collections of buildings with a shared history or building type (called a multiple property listing) are the three different ways a property can gain National Register designation and the recognition that comes with such an honor.
National Register properties are distinguished by having been documented and evaluated according to uniform standards. To qualify for the National Register properties must meet certain criteria to demonstrate that they are significant historically through their architecture, association with a significant person or event in history, or archeology. These criteria recognize the accomplishments of all peoples who have contributed to the history and heritage of the United States and are designed to help state and local governments, Federal agencies, and others identify important historic and archeological properties worthy of preservation and of consideration in planning and development decisions.
Nominations to the National Register of Historic Places involves historic research, written documentation of the property’s history and significance within the appropriate context, documenting physical elements through photography, maps and a detailed physical description. Anyone can prepare a nomination. The most common authors are homeowners, neighborhood associations, students, preservation planners, architects and preservation consultants. The National Park Service publishes a series of Bulletins that guide one through the preparation of a nomination. Once a nomination has been prepared, it will be evaluated and analyzed to make sure it meets all the criteria by local, state, and federal boards.
National Register designation does not prevent property owners from making changes, or painting their houses, or force property owners to restore their buildings, or prohibit owners from demolishing their buildings. It also does not limit the use of buildings, cost the owner anything to be listed, affect tax assessment or make owners erect or buy any plaques. The only protection National Register listing affords to a property is if a proposed conflicting project is a federally funded or licensed project, such as a highway, by requiring that the effects of actions on those properties will be taken into account, through a public hearing and review process called Section 106.
There are some financial benefits to listing a building or district on the National Register of Historic Places. When undertaking rehabilitation projects, some owners are able to take advantage of tax benefits under the Economic Recovery Act of 1980 and the Tax Reform Act of 1986. These programs allow owners of income producing properties (both commercial and residential) to qualify for tax credits of 20% of the rehabilitation cost. Studies locally and across the country also indicate that National Register listing has the effect of stabilizing or improving property values.
Sometimes there is confusion between a National Register Historic District and a locally zoned historic district. A National Register Historic District has no historic district commission, architectural review board, or landmark commission.Locally zoned historic districts are neighborhoods that want to protect their architectural historic integrity from unsympathetic alterations, unnecessary demolitions and visually incompatible new construction. This is achieved via design review by a board (locally the Memphis Landmarks Commission) which reviews proposed construction work to ensure that it is respectful of the existing historic building and the surrounding architectural character. It is not uncommon for a neighborhood to be both a National Register Historic District and a locally zoned historic district.
There are currently approximately 78,000 National Register listings nationwide.
For further information concerning the National Register of Historic places, visit their website at http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/.
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