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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

Evaluating a Designed Historic Landscape for the National Register of Historic Places

To qualify for the National Register, a designed landscape must have significance as one of the designed historic landscape types listed above and retain integrity of location, design intent, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association and meet National Register criteria.

Determining the significance of a designed landscape depends upon conducting a systematic investigation of the history, purpose, social significance, qualities, associations, and physical characteristics of the property and using this information to establish whether or not the landscape is an exemplary representative of one of the types listed above. A typical landscape investigation should accomplish the following:

  1. Obtain information about the specific example of landscape gardening, planning, and/or design through documentation of its history and collection of available plans and photographs. Conduct site visits to identify the historic characteristics of the design intent of the landscape.

  2. Identify the appropriate landscape type(s) within which the landscape should be evaluated.

  3. Analyze characteristic features that the landscape should possess to be a good representative of its landscape type.

  4. Evaluate the significance of the historic landscape using National Register criteria. (See National Register Bulletin: How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation.)

  5. Evaluate the integrity of each landscape characteristic and list the features that the landscape should retain to possess integrity.

  6. Determine if any aspect of the landscape's history or present condition might place it in a category of properties generally considered ineligible for the National Register, and therefore requiring special justification. (See National Register Bulletin: How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation.)

1. Obtain Information

An evaluation of a designed historic landscape should begin with compiling a general description and history of the property including:

  • dates of design and construction;
  • names of owners, landscape architects, designers, and administrators;
  • identification of construction techniques, methods, and plant materials;
  • landscape style;
  • existing and previous uses with the dates of these uses identified; and
  • the acreage and existing boundaries of the original tract and any subsequent additions or reductions.
The researcher should determine the original intent of the landscape design based on original plans, photographs, correspondence, etc., as well as any alterations to the original design and the dates such alterations occurred. Additional information may be important, including the introduction of hybrid or exotic plant materials; the innovative use of new construction materials or techniques; and the relationship between this and other nearby properties, designed by the same individual or firm, or owned by the same individual, family, organization, agency, municipality, or State or Federal government. Information should not be limited to that concerning design and physical appearance, but should also include data concerning the function of the landscape during its history and the individuals or groups associated with its ownership, design, and uses.

Narrative Description and Mapping of Present Features and Function

The present features and functions of a designed historic landscape should be described in a written narrative and located on a map or plan. Both the written narrative description and the map or plan may include the following features:

  • existing topography and grading
  • natural features
  • land uses
  • circulation system of roads, paths, trails, etc.
  • spatial relationships and orientations such as symmetry, asymmetry, and axial alignment
  • views and vistas into and out of the landscape
  • vegetation by botanical name and common name with caliper for trees and heights for shrubs (put this onto maps)
  • landscape dividers such as walls, fences, and hedges
  • drainage and engineering structures
  • site furnishings and small scale elements such as benches, planters, and urns
  • bodies of water such as pools, fountains, lakes, streams, and cascades
  • lighting: include actual fixture such as street lights and lanterns, as well as the use of both natural and artificial lighting as design elements (e.g., intensity, color)
  • signs delineating entrances, street names, and other features
  • buildings such as houses, barns, dormitories, or hospitals that may be contained within the landscape
  • structures such as bridges, roads, and dams
  • sculpture and other works of art
Individual features, even though some may be movable or could be considered separately, contribute to the overall identity and character of the landscape and should be considered, in most instances, not individually but in terms of their relationship to the totality of the landscape. A recent survey or aerial photograph of the landscape is often helpful in identifying and locating such features.

Narrative Description and Mapping of Historic Features and Function

The narrative of the historical appearance should draw upon both documentary evidence and field observations. The discussion should include a chronology describing the evolution of the site from its original state original topography, and native vegetation (i.e., prairie grass, hardwood forest), if known, through its earliest and subsequent uses, designs, and physical alterations. Maps should delineate the exact, if known, or approximate locations of all known historic features. (See "Narrative Description and Mapping of Present Features and Function" above for types of features to include and "Research, Field Work, and Documentation Techniques" for assistance in identification.)

Determine Period of Significance and Preliminary Boundaries

Using the information collected and organized above, the researcher should begin to determine the property's period of significance and preliminary National Register boundaries. The period of significance should be the time period in which the property achieved the qualities that make it eligible for the National Register. Continued use over time does not mean that the period of significance necessarily coincides with that time. There may be several distinct periods of significance for some properties. If this is the case, all historic periods should be noted.

2. Identify Designed Historic Landscape Types and Develop Historic Context

Once the history of the landscape has been compiled, it is necessary to determine the type to which it most properly belongs. Then identify important events and trends that influenced the development of the landscape type during the period of the property's design or during any major alterations. At present the standard source for American landscape history is Design on the Land, the Development of Landscape Architecture by Norman T. Newton. It also may be helpful to check with the State Historic Preservation Officer, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the National Association for Olmsted Parks, the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation, and other historical, preservation, and landscape professionals and organizations that may have already evaluated the significance of the landscape or identified the designed landscape type that it represents. They may also be able to recommend important source materials, to assist in identifying the physical features necessary to represent a particular type, period, or method of construction or planting, or to suggest significant associations within the development and practice of landscape gardening and planning.

Decisions about the significance of properties can only be made with knowledge of the historic and comparative context for the property evaluated. Therefore, determining the relationship between an individual landscape and the historic development and practice of landscape architecture is an essential factor in determining significance. All landscapes that possess age are not significant, and those that are significant must be determined from their connection to the historic theme(s) it represents and in relationship to a group of similarly associated properties. All the information required to demonstrate the significance of a designed historic landscape will vary according to whether it is significant to the local community, the State, or the nation. It may not be necessary to describe the development of local gardening styles, for example, for a designed historic landscape that is significant in the national development of landscape architecture. If, however, the designed landscape has no importance on the State or national level but is a significant example of a local style of landscape gardening or landscape architecture, then such a discussion is required. If a designed landscape is important at all three geographic levels--local, State, and national--it should be discussed within the context of all three with significant contributions noted for each level. Many State Historic Preservation Offices are defining formal historic contexts as part of their comprehensive State historic preservation planning process and may be able to assist nomination preparers with the compilation of comparative and thematic data for the evaluation of a property.

3. Analyze Characteristic Features

Next, the researcher needs to determine the characteristic features that the property must possess to be a good representative of its type, period, or method of design or construction, and how it relates to the development and philosophy of its designed landscape type. For example, a researcher approaching a park designed in the American Romantic style may be looking for an emphasis on natural scenery and native plant materials, a lack of formal design, and a curvilinear circulation system and other characteristics generally associated with such parks. A landscape where these characteristics are not identifiable would not be a good representative of this type and, therefore, ineligible for the National Register.

4. Evaluate Significance of the Historic Landscape Using National Register Criteria

As defined by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the National Register criteria, to be eligible for the National Register a designed historic landscape must possess the quality of significance in American history, architecture (interpreted in the broadest sense to include landscape architecture and planning), archeology, engineering, and culture and integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association and

  1. be associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

  2. be associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

  3. embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

  4. have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

Many designed historic landscapes will be eligible because of their associations with significant events and trends. For example, the creation of designed landscapes has historically been associated with social movements. The historic designs for parks, suburbs, and playgrounds have direct links, in many cases, to the social issues of their times. In addition to possessing significance according to such historical themes established by the National Register as social history, agriculture, or transportation and meeting criteria A-D above on that basis, a property nominated because it is a designed historic landscape should meet these criteria primarily on the basis of associations with landscape gardening or landscape architecture under criterion C. In general, such questions as whether a particular designed historic landscape was the first of its type; is noted for some particular innovation in design, construction, planting, or use; or is associated with a significant figure in landscape architecture, gardening, and planning, should be considered. Typically, a designed historic landscape meets criterion C for one of the following reasons:

  • its association with the productive careers of significant figures in American landscape architecture such as Andrew Jackson Downing, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jens Jensen, Beatrix Farrand, or other noted practitioners;
  • its association with a historical trend or school of theory and practice within landscape architecture such as the City Beautiful Movement or the Country Place Era, rather than with an individual person of significance;
  • the presence of highly skilled craftsmanship or use of particular materials in the construction of walls, walks, fountains, and other landscape elements;
  • evidence of distinguished design and layout that results in superior aesthetic quality and constitutes an important artistic statement; or
  • a rare or specimen plant materials associated with a particular period or style of landscape history.

5. Evaluate Integrity

Not all historic properties retain integrity. The National Register criteria recognize seven aspects, or qualities, which, in various combinations, define integrity. Historic location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association must be considered in determining whether a landscape retains enough of its important features to convey its historically significant appearance or associations. Landscapes have unique attributes that often complicate the evaluation of integrity, but the degree to which the overall landscape and its significant features are present today must be evaluated. In general, the researcher should ask the following questions when evaluating integrity: 1) To what degree does the landscape convey its historic character? 2) To what degree has the original fabric been retained? 3) Are changes to the landscape irrevocable or can they be corrected so that the property retains integrity?

The specific features that a designed historic landscape must retain will differ for various landscape types. Such features may include, but are not necessarily limited to, spatial relationships, vegetation, original property boundary, topography/grading, site-furnishings, design intent, architectural features, and circulation system. If, for example, a property is primarily significant because of its internal road circulation, yet the historic road patterns are no longer discernible or have been badly damaged, then the landscape has suffered a loss of integrity that may make it ineligible for the National Register. In addition to establishing the reasons for a designed landscape's significance, it is also necessary to determine if the designed landscape is significant for its original or altered character or both. Although a landscape need not retain all the characteristic features that (see list above) it had during its period(s) of significance, it must retain enough or have restored enough of the essential features to make its historic character clearly recognizable, and these features should be identified.

The clearest evaluation of integrity is based on the presence of identifiable components of the original design. To evaluate the historic integrity of a designed landscape, it is useful to compare the present appearance and function of the landscape to its historical appearance and function. The relationship between present function and that intended or actually in use during the period of significance may also affect the integrity of a designed historic landscape. An area that was designed for passive recreation may have suffered a loss of integrity if it has been converted for active play such as baseball. On the other hand, an open meadow within a large estate or institutional grounds may survive an adaptive use to a golf course without loss of integrity if its open design qualities remain dominant. Conversions of designed landscapes to agricultural or forest uses may also seriously affect historic integrity, although the existing landscape remains scenic.

The features to be evaluated should also be considered in terms of survival, condition, and appropriateness to the original design intent and period of significance. Such features include grading, rock formations, water bodies, road networks, and paths. Such elements are relatively stable and their integrity can be addressed in much the same way that one would analyze the integrity of a building. Some additions dating from a period later than the period of significance but that retain the spirit of the original design, such as a rusticated concrete wall extension of an original stone wall, may have achieved significance of their own over time. Site furnishings such as benches, urns, and street lights are particularly vulnerable to periodic change; although their presence may strengthen the integrity of the designed historic landscape, their absence when the special integrity of the designed landscape is intact does not necessarily mean ineligibility.

Vegetation, another important feature of most landscapes, is not stable. It is always changing--by seasonal cycles, maturation, pruning, removal, neglect, and other forces. If one first determines that the more stable elements of the designed landscape are sufficiently intact to represent the original design intent, then it can be determined whether the existing vegetation taken as a whole reinforces or supports the original design intent. A bare site that was once heavily groved, for example, usually would be considered ineligible. Less dramatic changes in vegetation might not disqualify a site on the question of integrity. A designed historic landscape need not exist today exactly as it was originally designed or first executed if integrity of location and visual effect have been preserved. Originality of plant materials can increase integrity but absence of original materials does not automatically disqualify a designed landscape. The absence of original vegetation may not diminish integrity, for example, if the same or similar species of appropriate size have been replanted to replace dead, diseased, or mature specimens. A boulevard that has lost its original trees but where appropriate new street trees have been planted may retain integrity. Some later vegetation, especially specimen varieties, may also possess significance in its own right regardless of its relationship to the original design or implementation.

Condition will play a significant role in evaluating integrity. Such categories as excellent, good, fair, deteriorated, and severely deteriorated applied to individual features may assist the researcher in making a final judgment about the overall condition, and thus the integrity, of the property. Plant materials that are diseased, overmature, or have been subjected to excessive pruning or other improper treatment, as well as areas where there is extensive soil erosion, may diminish a landscape's integrity. Condition, of course, is reversible; in many instances it may be possible to enhance integrity through maintenance, replanting, or other restoration or reconstruction procedures.

In most instances the original boundaries of the landscape design will define the limits of the geographic area to be evaluated. Adjacent offsite conditions will not be considered in the evaluation of integrity, unless they were included as part of the original design intent. In such cases, a landscape's immediate surroundings may have an impact on an evaluation of integrity. Major adjacent encroachment, such as highways, parking lots, and new buildings, may violate the original design intent and intrude upon the property. Views from the property, for example, that were intended to be pastoral but that are now industrial, or views that were established along sight lines to buildings, monuments, or other features that have been destroyed, may be a serious detriment to the integrity of a historic landscape.

6. Determine the Need for Special Justification

Certain types of properties do not usually qualify for the National Register. Cemeteries, birthplaces or graves of historical figures, properties owned by religious institutions or used for religious purposes, structures that have been moved from their original locations, reconstructed historic buildings, properties primarily commemorative in nature, and properties that have achieved significance within the past 50 years are not ordinarily considered eligible for the National Register. However, such properties will qualify under the criteria as they apply to designed historic landscapes if they are integral parts of districts that do meet the criteria or if they fall within the following categories:

  1. a religious property deriving primary significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance; or

  2. a building or structure removed from its original location but which is significant primarily for architectural value, or which is the surviving structure most importantly associated with a historic person or event; or

  3. a birthplace or grave of a historical figure of outstanding importance if there is no other appropriate site or building directly associated with his or her productive life; or

  4. a cemetery that derives its primary significance from graves of persons of transcendent importance, from age, from distinctive design features, or from association with historic events, or

  5. a reconstructed building when accurately executed in a suitable environment and presented in a dignified manner as part of a restoration master plan, and when no other building or structure with the same association has survived; or

  6. a property primarily commemorative in intent if design, age, tradition, or symbolic value has invested it with its own historical significance; or

  7. a property achieving significance within the past 50 years if it is of exceptional importance.

Usually considerations b and c above do not apply to designed historic landscapes, but there may be historic districts that contain properties that must meet these considerations to contribute to the historic significance of the designed landscape. Cemeteries and the grounds associated with religious institutions are among the most obvious examples of landscapes requiring justification under the National Register criteria considerations. Only those possessing artistic quality because of their landscape design will meet the test of significance as designed historic landscapes.

A landscape that had pivotal physical characteristics reconstructed may be eligible if it is significant for its original landscape design, if it is the sole surviving landscape of its type, or if it is the only survivor associated with a significant figure in landscape architecture. However, the property will require special justification.

To be eligible for the National Register, a designed historic landscape that is less than fifty years old must be exceptionally significant. A property that has achieved significance within the last fifty years can be evaluated only when sufficient historical perspective exists to determine that the property is exceptionally important and will continue to retain that distinction in the future. Scholarly recognition is usually required to establish exceptional significance because only that type of analysis can convincingly demonstrate that despite the lack of the passage of the fifty-year period, sufficient historical perspective exists to evaluate the particular property.

A property must be compared with other properties of its type that have similar associations and qualities to establish exceptional significance. The reasons for which a property is considered exceptionally significant must be explained along with a discussion of the qualities and characteristics that distinguish the landscape as exceptional.

Occasionally, a landscape may contain exceptionally important elements such as sculpture and other works of art. If the work of art is an integral part of the design for the landscape, it may make the entire landscape eligible for the National Register even if it is less than fifty years old. Landscapes not determined to be especially significant should be reevaluated when they are fifty years old. (See National Register Bulletin: How To Evaluate and Nominate Potential National Register Properties That Have Achieved Significance Within the Past Fifty Years for a more detailed discussion of the evaluation process for properties that are less than fifty years old.)


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