The National Register of Historic Places

This post is wordy so be prepared but at the same time you’re going to learn some really awesome things about the National Register of Historic Places. Plus, I promise there’s a reason for all the words (it’s going to help with the next picture-filled post obviously).

Even though I have a master’s degree in historic preservation, I’m currently not employed full time as a preservationist. I work full time at Lowe’s in Potsdam, NY and when opportunities arise, I get hired as a preservation consultant. Those opportunities in Northern New York are few and far between but luckily this blog keeps me occupied!

One of the services I have educational and professional experience in is writing National Register nominations. On a side note, I’m not sure if that needs to be capitalized or not, but let’s be honest the National Register is kind of a big deal.

Anyways, the next post I’m planning on sharing is about a structure in Potsdam, NY that I submitted a National Register application for and was recently listed on the Register!!!!!

It’s exciting, trust me! Here’s a photo of the building that I’ll talk about next time, to hopefully get you all through this long post.

The Potsdam Civic Center Complex. Newly listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places. YASSS!

But before that picture-filled post, I figured I’d share a little bit more information about the National Register of Historic Places and what it means for a building to be listed.

What are the State and National Registers?

Hold the phone! There’s both a State and a National Register. What is this confusion!?!?!?

The National Register of Historic Places became a thing through the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The Act established preservation policy and created a network of state historic preservation offices (aka: SHPO) to carry out the Act. It’s all considered a part of the National Park Service.

During that year, the New York State Historic Trust was created to oversee the state historic sites, it established the New York SHPO, and started to develop statewide preservation programs. By 1972, the Historic Trust was renamed the Division for Historic Preservation.

In the words of the National Park Service, the National Register of Historic Places, “is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources.”

What Kind of Properties Can Be Listed?

Properties are considered eligible for the Register if they meet the National Register Criteria for Evaluation. That includes examining the property’s age, significance, and integrity.

First off a property has to be old. Not super old but at least 50 years old. This means what is considered “old” is always changing. For example modern style houses! While not always looking historic actually can be significant enough to be placed on the National Register once they hit the big 5-0.

Significance relates to whether or not the property is associated with events, activities, or developments that were important in the past (Criteria A). Or with the lives of important people (Criteria B). Or significant architecturally, landscape history, or engineering achievements (Criteria C). Or lastly, does it have the potential to yield information through archaeological investigation (Criteria D)? These are the four criteria for evaluation of a property’s significance in relation to American history.

While integrity refers to whether or not the property looks and feels like it did based on why it is significance. These two concepts are directly related to each other.

For example, let’s say a property is potentially going to be listed on the State and National Registers because it’s a historic farmhouse that George Washington vacationed at during the 1700’s. Should Washington have the ability to time travel to 2016 and go to this farmhouse, hopefully he would be able to tell that it’s the same property he was staying at almost 200 years ago.

The things that we look at to determine integrity is location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.

So back to Washington’s vacation farmhouse. Washington arrives in 2016 for another vacation there. He is able to find the house because it’s still in the same spot; there is still a working farm (maybe smaller than he remembers); there’s still a bunch of barns and land for the farmer and farm animals to live happily; the farmhouse still looks like it did in the 1700’s when Washington was there (except now the interior has been completely renovated).

Overall, the farmhouse still looks and feels like it did when Washington first vacationed there in the 1700’s, which means it still has a lot of it’s integrity and would be a good candidate for the Registers. Looking further into this property it could be nominated based on it’s connection to Washington (Criterion B. an important person) and because of it’s a working farm from the 1700’s (Criterion C. architectural significance).

New York State and National Register Goals

Currently, the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation through the State Historic Preservation Office is encouraging nomination proposals in the following three categories:

  1. Nomination Proposals that Promote Economic Revitalization Goals (example: Federal historic rehabilitation tax credit projects; heritage tourism and recreation).
  2. Nomination Proposals that General Broad Public Support Goals (example: Projects sponsored by other municipalities; contribute to planning and education).
  3. Nomination Proposals that Contribute to Planning and Education Goals (example: Projects that foster pride in community history and/or foster awareness of historic properties).


Who Can List a Building?

Any person or organization may prepare a nomination in the form of a completed registration form.

Keep in mind though, if the process is unclear (ex. Terminology) it may be in the person’s or organization’s best interest to contact a representative from SHPO or a consultant for professional assistance.

What Does the Process Include?

The first steps in the nomination process here in New York State would be to request, complete, and return a State and National Registers Program Applicant Form and a Historic Inventory Form.

From there the State would decide if the Civic Center is eligible to be listed on the State and National Registers, and assign staff to work further with the Village and the person/people writing the National Register Nomination, to complete the forms.

Some Common Misconceptions

There are NO restrictions placed on private owners of registered properties

National Register listing does not lead to public acquisition or require public access.

A property will not be listed if, for individual properties, the owner objects, or for districts, a majority of property owners object.

National Register listing does not automatically invoke local historic district zoning or local landmark designation.

What are the Results of Listing?

Properties that are listed are included in the National Register Archives, which are a public, search-able database that allows everyone to see what historic properties we have here in New York.

Getting a building listed on the National Register also can create a snowball effect, where more people become interested in their local history and start looking at ways to list other local properties or even how to use a community’s history for heritage tourism.

There’s also the ability to order a bronze plaque that distinguishes your property as listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Lastly, there are grant and tax credits that encourage rehabilitation of properties that are listed on the State and National Register.

The State and National Registers of Historic Places are a wonderful way to highlight and celebrate our built environment!

For More Information:

New York State Division for Historic Preservation:

New York State CRIS. This is New York State’s search-able database for all the listed historic properties. I use this database A LOT when ever I’m researching historic properties in other parts of the State. For example for my posts on Rochester and Albany, I used information from National Register Nominations I found through this database:

National Park Service:

Historic Preservation Website via the National Park Service:

Path Through History. This is a New York State Program but it’s pretty cool. It highlights historic sites, events, places, parks, etc. all throughout the State:

The National Trust of Historic Preservation:

If you have any further questions about the National Register of Historic Places just send me a message or comment on this post!

Thanks for reading!


One thought on “The National Register of Historic Places

  1. Pingback: Portrait of a Building: The George T. Robinson House – adventure with courtney

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