National Register of Historic Places

National Register of Historic Places
Agency overview
Formed1966; 53 years ago (1966)
Annual budget$16.8 million (2018)
Agency executive
  • Julie H. Ernstein, Acting Chief, National Register of Historic Places/National Historic Landmarks Program and Deputy Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places
Parent departmentNational Register of Historic Places
Old Slater Mill, a historic district in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was the first property listed in the National Register, on November 13, 1966.[1]

The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the United States federal government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance. A property listed in the National Register, or located within a National Register Historic District, may qualify for tax incentives derived from the total value of expenses incurred in preserving the property.

The passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 1966 established the National Register and the process for adding properties to it. Of the more than one million properties on the National Register, 80,000 are listed individually. The remainder are contributing resources within historic districts.

For most of its history, the National Register has been administered by the National Park Service (NPS), an agency within the United States Department of the Interior. Its goals are to help property owners and interest groups, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as coordinate, identify and protect historic sites in the United States. While National Register listings are mostly symbolic, their recognition of significance provides some financial incentive to owners of listed properties. Protection of the property is not guaranteed. During the nomination process, the property is evaluated in terms of the four criteria for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The application of those criteria has been the subject of criticism by academics of history and preservation, as well as the public and politicians.

Occasionally, historic sites outside the country proper, but associated with the United States (such as the American Embassy in Tangiers) are also listed. Properties can be nominated in a variety of forms, including individual properties, historic districts and multiple property submissions (MPS). The Register categorizes general listings into one of five types of properties: district, site, structure, building or object. National Register Historic Districts are defined geographical areas consisting of contributing and non-contributing properties. Some properties are added automatically to the National Register when they become administered by the National Park Service. These include National Historic Landmarks (NHL), National Historic Sites (NHS), National Historical Parks, National Military Parks, National Memorials and some National Monuments. (Federal properties can be proclaimed National Monuments under the Antiquities Act because of either their historical or natural significance. They are managed by multiple agencies. Only monuments that are historic in character and managed by the National Park Service are listed administratively in the National Register.)


George B. Hartzog Jr., director of the National Park Service from January 8, 1964, until December 31, 1972[2]

On October 15, 1966, the Historic Preservation Act created the National Register of Historic Places and the corresponding State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO).[3] Initially, the National Register consisted of the National Historic Landmarks designated before the Register's creation, as well as any other historic sites in the National Park system.[4] Approval of the act, which was amended in 1980 and 1992, represented the first time the United States had a broad-based historic preservation policy.[3][5] The 1966 act required those agencies to work in conjunction with the SHPO and an independent federal agency, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), to confront adverse effects of federal activities on historic preservation.[6]

U.S. Secretary of the Interior (1977–1981) Cecil Andrus removed the National Register from the jurisdiction of the National Park Service in 1978

To administer the newly created National Register of Historic Places, the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior, with director George B. Hartzog Jr., established an administrative division named the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP).[6][7] Hartzog charged OAHP with creating the National Register program mandated by the 1966 law. Ernest Connally was the Office's first director. Within OAHP new divisions were created to deal with the National Register.[8] The division administered several existing programs, including the Historic Sites Survey and the Historic American Buildings Survey, as well as the new National Register and Historic Preservation Fund.[6]

The first official Keeper of the Register was William J. Murtagh, an architectural historian.[4] During the Register's earliest years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, organization was lax and SHPOs were small, understaffed and underfunded.[7] However, funds were still being supplied for the Historic Preservation Fund to provide matching grants-in-aid to listed property owners, first for house museums and institutional buildings, but later for commercial structures as well.[6]

A few years later in 1979, the NPS history programs affiliated with both the U.S. National Parks system and the National Register were categorized formally into two "Assistant Directorates." Established were the Assistant Directorate for Archeology and Historic Preservation and the Assistant Directorate for Park Historic Preservation.[8] From 1978 until 1981, the main agency for the National Register was the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service (HCRS) of the United States Department of the Interior.[9]

In February 1983, the two assistant directorates were merged to promote efficiency and recognize the interdependency of their programs. Jerry L. Rogers was selected to direct this newly merged associate directorate. He was described as a skilled administrator, who was sensitive to the need for the NPS to work with SHPOs, academia and local governments.[8]

Although not described in detail in the 1966 act, SHPOs eventually became integral to the process of listing properties on the National Register. The 1980 amendments of the 1966 law further defined the responsibilities of SHPOs concerning the National Register.[9] Several 1992 amendments of the NHPA added a category to the National Register, known as Traditional Cultural Properties: those properties associated with Native American or Hawaiian groups.[5]

The National Register of Historic Places has grown considerably from its legislative origins in 1966. In 1986, citizens and groups nominated 3,623 separate properties, sites and districts for inclusion on the National Register, a total of 75,000 separate properties.[9] Of the more than one million properties on the National Register, 80,000 are listed individually. Others are listed as contributing members within historic districts.[6][10]