Cultural Landscapes

Cultural landscapes can range from thousands of acres of rural tracts of land to a small homestead with a front yard of less than one acre. Like historic buildings and districts, they reveal aspects of our country's origins and development through their form, features, and the ways they were used. Cultural landscapes also reveal much about our evolving relationship with the natural world.

graphic of people looking at an historic marker

There are four general types of cultural landscapes, which are not mutually exclusive: historic sites, historic designed landscapes, historic vernacular landscapes, and ethnographic landscapes. Almost every historic property has a landscape component. Imagine a residential district without sidewalks, lawns, and trees or an agricultural complex with buildings, but no fields, garden plots, or hedge rows.

The National Park Service promotes preservation practices that protect our nation's irreplaceable legacy of cultural landscapes.

Protecting Cultural Landscapes

Learn about the Planning, Treatment and Management of Historic Landscapes from Preservation Brief 36.

Standards & Guidelines

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties apply to all types of properties, including landscapes. The Standards identify and explain four treatments: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction. The Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes illustrate how to apply these four treatments to cultural landscapes in a way that meets the Standards.

Cultural Landscape Currents

In-depth case studies that examine the planning and execution of treatments to preserve historic landscapes. Currents showcases successful examples of the sound stewardship of cultural landscapes. All projects featured here successfully apply the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

06 New Deal Roadside Landscape Features

By the 1920s automobile travel was becoming a favorite pastime. In the 1930s, with assistance from New Deal federal relief programs, the Minnesota Department of Highways began building facilities such as scenic overlooks and historical markers to serve travelers. The Minnesota Department of Transportation evaluated these facilities and found it owns a significant collection of historic roadside properties and is assessing sites in further detail and preparing documents to prioritize, manage, and preserve them.

05 Sustainable Military Earthworks Management

The ground plane has long been consciously shaped before, during, and after battle to provide cover and protection for soldiers. Managing these “earthworks” is a complex process requiring knowledge from a range of disciplines. It is an evolving science that requires an integrated approach to natural and cultural resource management.

04 Revealing the Story of Virginius Island

In the 19th century, owners of a small island took advantage of its proximity to the US Armory at Harpers Ferry, VA to develop the only privately-owned land in the area with water-powered mills and industries. When the last residents left the island in the 1936, nature reclaimed the abandoned landscape, leaving behind only remnants of the past.

03 The Reynolda Gardens

This is one of the best known works of Philadelphia-based landscape architect Thomas Sears. After years of decline, a rehabilitation plan for this garden was developed that evaluates the original design intent within the context of the landscape's contemporary use and stewardship.

02 The Historic Columbia River Gorge

This was the first scenic highway constructed in the U.S.(b.1913–1922). Since the late 1980s, the road and associated historic designed landscapes have undergone rehabilitation. Highway segments abandoned in the 1930s and 1950s, now serve as trails.

01 The Benjamin Franklin Parkway

This rehabilitation project focuses on the preservation treatment of the tree plantings on two central medians of a grand boulevard in the City of Philadelphia designed by French urban planner Jacques Gréber.