U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
II. BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NHL PROGRAM
The Historic Sites Act of 1935 directed the Secretary of the Interior, through the NPS, to "make a survey of historic and archaeologic sites, buildings, and objects for the purpose of determining which possess exceptional value as commemorating or illustrating the history of the United States." The framers of the act envisioned that most of those places found from the survey to possess national significance would be acquired by the NPS. Initially then, the survey was viewed as a means of expanding the National Park System and improving its representation of the nation's past.
In supporting the act in his testimony before the House Public Lands Committee, Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes also said that such a survey "would make it possible to call to the attention of States, municipalities and local historical organizations, the presence of historical sites in their particular regions which the National Government cannot preserve, but which need attention and rehabilitation." Thus, from the beginning of the survey, education and encouraging preservation by non-NPS entities were major goals as well.
The Historic Sites Act also established the Secretary of the Interior's Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments (today the National Park System Advisory Board). Survey activity under the act was formally inaugurated in July 1936. Although the Advisory Board disclaimed any government commitment to acquire properties found nationally significant, survey recommendations were kept confidential to forestall public concern about government intentions.
America's entry into World War II brought a virtual end to survey activity. It was not until 1956, in the course of planning for Mission 66? a ten-year development program to improve facilities throughout the National Park System for the 50th anniversary of the NPS?that the survey was reactivated. The intention was to contribute to planning for the "orderly rounding out of the National Park System." The revival of the survey also was viewed as important to historic preservation efforts nationwide in the face of massive highway construction, river basin projects, and urban renewal.
Beginning in 1960, historic properties found nationally significant by the Secretary of the Interior received a new designation: National Historic Landmark. Publicizing the list of such properties would make their history and significance known to the public. NHL designation also was seen as a way to encourage private owners to preserve their important properties. The NPS regarded NHL designation as an attractive alternative to federal acquisition of historic properties?in effect, a supplement to the National Park System.
Passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 1966 greatly expanded the federal government's role in historic preservation. The act established the National Register of Historic Places, which included properties of state and local significance, as well as NHLs and historic units of the National Park System. Historic preservation grants were made available to assist the preservation of properties listed in the National Register, including NHLs. In addition, Section 106 of the NHPA requires federal agencies to consider properties included in or eligible for the National Register in federal project planning and allows the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation an opportunity to comment before funding, licensing, or assisting projects that would affect them.
In the 1980 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act, National Historic Landmarks were given explicit recognition in law. In 1983, regulations (36 CFR Part 65) were published that defined the National Historic Landmarks criteria and the procedures for considering new properties for inclusion as NHLs.
|National Register Home | Publications Home | Previous Page | Next Page|