In order for a property to be officially recognized as “historical” by the federal government, with all the attendant benefits and responsibilities that come with such a designation, the property must be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. By way of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register catalogues America’s districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are culturally significant and worthy of preservation.
Nominations for listing a property in the National Register come from three main sources: 1) State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) from the state in which the property is located, 2) Federal Preservation Officer if the property is owned or controlled by the federal government, or 3) Tribal Preservation Officer if the property is located on tribal lands. Property owners, citizens, local governments, and anyone else having an interest may propose that certain property be included in the National Register. Such individuals or entities present their nomination to the SHPO who, in turn, submits the nomination to the National Register.
The National Register maintains uniform standards for evaluating districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that have been nominated for inclusion. Such cultural resources are examined to determine whether they are associated with a significant event in American history, whether they are associated with the lives of significant persons in our past, whether they have characteristics that are unique to a time period, architectural type, or method of construction, whether they were created by a master or are of great artistic value, or whether they hold important historical information. Though there are exceptions, the National Register excludes cemeteries, graves, birthplaces, religious property, and reconstructed property from its annals. Notably, most property included in the National Register is at least fifty years old.
Federal law allows the owners of property listed in the National Register to maintain, or fail to maintain, the property as they see fit. However, some state and local governments have enacted laws to preserve such properties. Though the federal government does not require an owner’s adherence to a preservation philosophy, it does provide incentives by way of tax credits for the rehabilitation of income-producing historic structures. Additionally, a federal tax deduction is offered for the donation of partial interests in privately owned historical resources. When available, owners may also receive a federal grant to be used in the preservation of the property.