Preservation Primer: The National Register of Historic Places
03/30/2021 By Preservation Maryland
Perhaps nothing in preservation causes as much confusion as the National Register of Historic Places. Does it prevent demolition? Does it protect buildings? Can you change your paint color? Do you get tax breaks? Can you get a grant? This preservation primer will answer those and many more of the most frequently asked National Register questions.
The History & Scope of 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. The program was created in 1966 with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. The National Park Service is the official Keeper of the register – and in partnership with state historic preservation offices the Park Service decides what properties will be listed on the register.
The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was signed into law under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Pictured above, just one year prior, President Johnson signed the Highway Beautification Act of 1965.
The National Historic Preservation Act established a program for the preservation of additional historic properties throughout the Nation and was approved on October 15, 1966.
Since 1966, more than 93,000 individual properties and groups of properties, known as districts, have been listed – representing a total of over 1.8 million resources. Resources listed on the National Register include buildings, archaeological sites, districts, structures, and objects. Nearly every county in the nation has at least one resource listed on the National Register.
The Edmondson Avenue Historic District is a National Register Historic District in Baltimore, Maryland. Image from the Maryland Historical Trust.
The Accokeek Creek site is a national register property in Prince George’s County & Charles County Maryland. Image from NPS.
Commonly Asked Questions about the National Register of Historic Places
Are there any restrictions placed on a property? No. One of the most persistent myths of the National Register is that it protects historic properties. The National Register is sometimes used by local and state governments to establish a local designation or district which can protect a structure – but being on the National Register itself does not protect a property or come with any federal restrictions.
How old does a structure need to be on the National Register? In almost all cases, a structure must be at least 50 years or older to be considered for listing.
Are there financial benefits to being listed? A listing by itself does not provide any financial benefit – but listing a property is the first step towards securing many grants and tax credits. Therefore, listing is often a critical step in a rehabilitation project.
Can the federal government demolish a structure on the National Register?The federal government can demolish structures listed on the register – but that action triggers a federal review process called Section 106 which provides for public input and requires mitigation for the loss of the historic place.
What is the difference between the National Register of Historic Places and a Local Historic District? The National Register is often a starting point in the creation of a local historic district – but local historic districts may also have the power to prevent demolition and alteration. Local historic districts provide the greatest level of protection for historic resources. In Maryland, many of the state’s most historic places have local historic districts. Learn more HERE.
How to List a Property on the National Register
The Douglass Summer House in Anne Arundel County as listed on the National Register of Historic Properties. Image from the United States Department of the Interior / NPS.
The Brunswick Maryland Historic District is a National Register Historic District located in Frederick County, Maryland. Image from NPS / C&O Canal NHP.
Application forms and documentation go to the State Historic Preservation Office of the state where the property is located. In Maryland, that’s the Maryland Historical Trust. The State Historic Preservation Office can take one of several options: reject the property, ask for more information, list the property just with the state, or send the forms to us for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. More information on listing can be found at the link HERE.
Finding Properties on the National Register
The National Park Service maintains the National Register of Historic Places and maintains a fully searchable online database HERE.
The Maryland Historic Trust also maintains a map of historic properties within the boundaries of the state – including those listed on the National Register as well as the Maryland Inventory of Historic Places. Find the Trust’s online map HERE.
National Register of Historic Places Interactive Map.
DISCLAIMER: Preservation Maryland and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should always consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.
Preservation Maryland is Maryland’s first and largest organization dedicated to preserving the state’s historic buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes, and archaeological sites.