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Learn about the National Historic Landmarks Program
National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) are historic properties that illustrate the heritage of the United States. Today, just over 2,500 historic places bear this national distinction. NHLs come in many forms: historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts. Each NHL represents an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.
The pages in this section have information about the benefits of NHL designation, NHL Program studies and publications, and material that may be of use to educators.
Please click on the questions below, or one of the items in the menu to the left, to learn more.
What are National Historic Landmarks?
National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) are historic places that possess exceptional value in commemorating or illustrating the history of the United States. The National Park Service’s National Historic Landmarks Program oversees the designation of such sites. There are just over 2,500 National Historic Landmarks. All NHLs are also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
NHLs come in many forms: buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts. A historic site may be important enough to receive designation as an NHL if it:
- is the location with the strongest association with a turning point or significant event in American history.
- is the best location to tell the story of an individual who played a significant role in the history of the United States.
- is an exceptional representation of a particular building or engineering method, technique, or building type in the country.
- provides the potential to yield new and innovative information about the past through archeology.
Most NHLs are owned by private individuals, universities, non-profit organizations, corporations, tribal entities, or local and state governments. The Federal government owns fewer than 400 NHLs (16%). The laws that govern property rights still apply to designated Landmarks. Designation of a property as a National Historic Landmark does not give ownership of the property to the Federal government or the National Park Service.
What is the purpose of the National Historic Landmarks Program?
The designation of a property as a National Historic Landmark:
- ensures that stories of nationally important historic events, places, or persons are recognized and preserved for the benefit of all citizens.
- may provide the property’s historic character with a measure of protection against any project initiated by the Federal government.
- may ensure eligibility for grants, tax credits, and other opportunities to maintain a property’s historic character.
What are the benefits of National Historic Landmark designation?
Please consult our section about the benefits of being an NHL for information about this question.
What is the difference between National Historic Landmarks and properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places?
The National Park Service oversees two Federal designation programs, the National Register of Historic Places and the National Historic Landmarks Program.
There are more than 90,000 properties listed in the National Register, which is the official list of the nation’s historic properties deemed worthy of preservation. These properties tell stories that are important to a local community, the residents of a specific state, or to all Americans. Properties must possess good historic integrity. As with NHLs, listing a property on the National Register of Historic Places does not change its ownership. Properties are owned by private individuals, universities, non-profit organizations, corporations, tribal entities, local and state governments, or, in some cases, the Federal government. The National Park Service maintains the National Register of Historic Places in conjunction with State Historic Preservation Officers, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and Federal Preservation Officers.
The 2,500 properties designated as National Historic Landmarks tell stories that are of importance to the history of the entire nation, not just local communities or states. These properties possess a high, not simply good, level of historic integrity.
All properties designated as NHLs are automatically listed in the National Register of Historic Places, if not previously listed.
How does a property become a National Historic Landmark?
The nomination process for National Historic Landmarks is as follows:
- A State Historic Preservation Officer, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Federal Preservation Officer, scholar, private owner, or an interested member of the general public writes a letter of inquiry to the National Historic Landmarks Program.
- NHL staff review the letter to determine if the site appears to meet the criteria for an NHL. If the site has the potential to become an NHL, the staff provides the preparer with detailed guidance as the nomination is researched and written.
Working with the preparer, staff from the National Historic Landmarks program edit and review the nomination.
- Subject matter experts and scholars from across the nation review the nomination. Their suggestions and assessments are incorporated into the nomination.
- The Landmarks Committee reviews the nomination at one of its semiannual meetings before making a recommendation to the National Park System Advisory Board.
- The National Park System Advisory Board reviews the nomination before making a recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior.
- The nomination is submitted to the Secretary of the Interior.
- The Secretary of the Interior considers the recommendations and decides whether or not to designate the property as a National Historic Landmark.
Continue to the next section: benefits of NHL designation