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 [graphic] National Register Bulletin  How to Evaluate and Nominate Designed Historic Landscapes

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U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

Preparing the National Register Nomination

Conducting an in-depth analysis of a designed historic landscape using the process outlined above should give a researcher sufficient information to make an assessment of potential eligibility based on the landscape type, its characteristic features and period of significance, integrity of the landscape, and any relevant special considerations. The number and combination of characteristic features necessary for eligibility will vary from property to property and will depend on the qualities for which a designed landscape is significant. In some instances, a single quality or association and the retention of the most important design characteristics may make a designed landscape eligible. If a landscape is not individually eligible for the National Register, it may still be eligible as a contributing component of a historic district.

Completing the National Register Nomination Form

Care must be taken in completing the National Register form according to the set of instructions that accompany it and National Register Bulletin: How to Complete the National Register Registration Form. No section may be left blank; there are specific instructions for indicating that a section may not be applicable to the particular nomination; there are usually options to choose the category "other" in multiple choice categories. An individual designed landscape should be classified in the nomination as a "site." The National Register defines a site as "the location of a significant event, a prehistoric or historic occupation or activity, or a building or structure, whether standing, ruined, or vanished, where the location itself possesses historic, cultural, or archeological value regardless of the value of any existing structure." More often, designed historic landscapes such as estates, subdivisions, or planned communities commonly fit into the National Register's "district" category of a "geographically definable area which possesses a significant concentration, linkage or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, and/or objects united by past events or aesthetically by plan or physical development." Some designed historic landscapes that qualify individually as sites may be nominated as part of a district. A park in the center of a concentration of historic houses, a public square adjacent to a historic downtown, or a college campus at the edge of a historic town may each be considered a designed historic landscape and yet be included as part of a district nomination.

The narrative portions of the National Register form provide an opportunity to develop fully the information and analyses conducted for the designed historic landscape as discussed above. In each section, it is important to be as concise as possible yet to describe fully the history and development of the property. Knowledge of the designed landscape type and of its designer and those who influenced its design is critical and should be reflected in the narrative portions. Yet the entire history of a landscape movement need not be repeated in each nomination; only the parts of the story that directly relate to the particular property, its period of significance, and that help to illustrate how the property meets National Register criteria need to be discussed.

Determining and justifying the boundaries of a designed historic landscape are important parts of a National Register nomination. Boundaries should be drawn carefully to encompass, but not to exceed, the full extent of the significant resources. The area to be registered should be large enough to include all significant features but should not include buffer zones or acreage not directly contributing to the landscape's significance. If the designed historic landscape's historic boundaries are intact, if the uses have not changed considerably, and if the entire property possesses integrity, then there is good justification for including the entire property in the nomination. If, however, land uses have changed considerably or there have been major physical changes in some portions of the property, those areas should be excluded from the nomination. All boundaries should be justified in a short narrative statement which explains why the boundaries were selected. (See also National Register Bulletin: Defining Boundaries for National Register Properties.)

Each nomination must be accompanied by a USGS map locating the property within a city or other geographical unit, and by at least one plan or sketch map locating all significant landscape features as well as any intrusions. The narrative description and significance sections of the registration form are used to assess if a feature contributes to the historic significance of the landscape. Each feature identified should be numbered so that references to them can be keyed to the narrative discussions. Copies of historic plans, if they are available, may be helpful in determining the original design intent and the integrity of some properties. Black and white archival quality photographs should accompany each nomination. These photographs should be keyed to the numbers shown on the sketch map with direction of view indicated. While there is no requisite number of photographs that must be submitted, there should be as many as are necessary to depict the property clearly. Representative views of all characteristic features as well as alterations and intrusions should be included with the location and direction of each view recorded for all photographs. Prints of historic photographs should be included if they help resolve questions of integrity.

Research, Field Work and Documentation Techniques

The following discussion is intended to assist nomination preparers in developing a thorough and systematic approach to research, field work, and documentation of designed historic landscapes.


Historical research should include investigations of extant drawings, specifications, and plant lists prepared by the original and subsequent designers, if such documents are available. For some properties it may be possible to locate historic photographs, illustrations, and descriptions in journals, newspapers, and other publications. When they are available, such historic illustrations as birds eye and perspective sketches will aid the researcher in understanding the designed historic landscape. An owner's, designer's, or gardener's diary or minutes of proceedings for institutions or governmental projects may provide useful information, as might ledgers or nursery catalogs. A comparison of surveys done close to the date of design with "as built drawings" or surveys done following construction often illuminate the issue of what was actually built or planted. Identifying original sources for outdoor furnishings and hardware may provide important clues such as establishing an approximate date for the landscape. In some instances, reports to public agencies may still be available in the archives of either the designer or the original client.

Previous studies, including management reports and vegetative inventories, if available, may also be useful. Interviews with previous owners or their descendants, neighbors, designers, gardeners, contractors, or others involved with the history, design, or management of the property are usually valuable and may turn up other primary and secondary sources of material about the landscape. Use secondary sources to check the author's citations where possible and to find physical or supporting evidence for undocumented statements. Investigations such as these, in addition to the necessary field work, can help a researcher determine if a landscape was actually built and planted as designed.

Field Work

Conducting a detailed investigation of the designed historic landscape during site visits is necessary to identify and to record the present appearance and function of the landscape and to determine or to locate landscape features that may add understanding to early uses, plantings, grading, construction materials, techniques, etc. Visit the property at different times of the year if seasonal variations in vegetation or land use affect important views, vistas, and other significant features. Winter is often the best time for detailed investigations.


There are two levels of documentation needed when developing a nomination for the National Register: 1) that which one must accumulate in order to understand and to analyze the historic landscape; 2) that which is required to be submitted with the nomination. The items discussed above under "Completing the National Register Nomination" fall into the second category. The first step, however, toward completing a nomination is the compilation of detailed documentation that will enable the researcher to evaluate the designed historic landscape. This more detailed set of information will be condensed when submitted in the nomination. The researcher will need to obtain or develop plans(s) or map(s) showing present appearance and function as well as plan(s) or map(s) delineating the landscape's designed appearance and function during its period of significance. Both set of plans or maps should be the same scale and ideally should be developed on the same base map so that an overlay analysis can be accomplished. This analysis will provide the researcher with the characteristic features that have endured from the period of significance to the present, and allow an analysis of the degree to which their appearance and function have remained the same, thus providing a good indication of the landscape's integrity. This comparison between the present and historic condition forms the basis for understanding landscape design integrity.

In order to understand the significance and integrity of the designed historic landscape being evaluated, historic and contemporary graphics need to be compared to gain an understanding of the landscape as designed, the landscape as constructed, and the landscape of today. To record and to analyze a historic landscape and its many aspects, maps of different scales may be necessary. Scales such as 1" = 10' or 1/4" = l' for construction details or flower gardens, 1" = 20' for tree and shrub identification, l" = 50' or 1" = 100' for tree massing, drives, etc., and the use of a larger scale such as l" = 200' for an overall plan are generally most useful. Contour intervals should be shown, at a minimum of ten feet on the base map. Where possible, all graphic information should be reduced to an 8 1/2" x 11" format for submittal to the National Register or folded to that size.

Although not necessary for the National Register submission, color slides taken at the same points at various seasons often provide helpful reference points when writing descriptions. Other non-required but helpful aids include aerial photographs, which may assist in understanding the total landscape; stereo pairs, which may be useful in understanding the three dimensional aspects of the landscape; and video tape, which records sounds as well as serial or sequential experiences to provide a good field record of the landscape.

Before beginning to record the designed historic landscape for the National Register, it is helpful to consider the potential uses of the information collected and documented during the process of preparing the nomination. The development of master, management, maintenance, and restoration plans; creation of a design control district; or implementation of a historic interpretation program may follow the actual nomination. If the next step is to develop a master plan, for instance, it may be important to prepare a base map at a scale that will allow for in-depth analysis and comprehensive recommendations in the next phase, and may save time in the future.

A final word about documentation concerns the potential of a designed historic landscape to be a National Historic Landmark. If the landscape has national significance, this should be documented in the nomination. Designation as a National Historic Landmark will require that the property be studied by the National Park Service. Usually this occurs as part of a major theme study. A well documented National Register nomination for a potential National Historic-Landmark-quality designed landscape will facilitate its review by National Park Service professionals. Further information concerning the National Historic Landmark Program may be obtained by writing to the National Park Service, 1849 C St. NW, #2280, Washington, D.C., 20240.

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