U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
The Criteria for Evaluation are not designed to prohibit the consideration of properties whose unusual contribution to the development of American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture can clearly be demonstrated. The Criteria for Evaluation provide general guidance on National Register eligibility. However, the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act did not assume that significance could be a matter of rigid, objective measurement. It specifically encourages the recognition of locally significant historic resources that, by appearance or association with persons or events, provide communities with a sense of past and place. The historical value of these resources will always be a combined matter of public sentiment and rigorous, yet necessarily subjective, professional assessment. Hence the Criteria for Evaluation, including their discussion of properties of recent significance, were written to offer broad guidance based on the practical and philosophical intent of the 1966 Act.
As a general rule, properties that have achieved significance within the past 50 years are not eligible for National Register listing because the National Register is intrinsically a compilation of the Nation's historic resources that are worthy of preservation. The National Register does not include properties important solely for their contemporary impact and visibility, and it rarely is possible to evaluate historical impact, role, or relative value immediately after an event occurs or a building is constructed. The passage of time is necessary in order to apply the adjective "historic" and to ensure adequate perspective. To be a useful tool for public administration, the National Register cannot include properties of only transient value or interest. The passage of time allows our perceptions to be influenced by education, the judgment of previous decades, and the dispassion of distance. In nominating properties to the National Register, we should be settled in our belief that they will possess enduring value for their historical associations, appearance, or information potential.
Fifty years is obviously not the only length of time that defines "historic" or makes an informed, dispassionate judgment possible. It was chosen as a reasonable, perhaps popularly understood span that makes professional evaluation of historical value feasible. The National Register Criteria for Evaluation encourage nomination of recently significant properties if they are of exceptional importance to a community, a State, a region, or the Nation. The criteria do not describe "exceptional," nor should they. Exceptional, by its own definition, cannot be fully catalogued or anticipated. It may reflect the extraordinary impact of a political or social event. It may apply to an entire category of resources so fragile that survivors of any age are unusual. It may be the function of the relative age of a community and its perceptions of old and new. It may be represented by a building or structure whose developmental or design value is quickly recognized as historically significant by the architectural or engineering profession. It may be reflected in a range of resources for which a community has an unusually strong associative attachment. Thus a complete list of exceptionally significant resources cannot be prepared or precise indicators of exceptional value prescribed. The following discussion offers guidance for the reasoning and evaluation applicable to properties that have achieved significance in the past 50 years. It also offers direction on preparing Statements of Significance for National Register nominations (Section 8 of the National Register registration form, NPS Form 10-900)
|National Register Home | Publications Home | Previous Page | Next Page|