[graphic] National Park Service Arrowhead and link to NPS  [graphic] National Park Service Arrowhead and link to NPS
[graphic] National Park Service Black Bar
[graphic] Link to National Register Publications Home Page
 [graphic] Link to National Register Home Page  [graphic] Link to National Register Research Home Page  [graphic] Link to National Register Travel Home Page  [graphic] Link to National Register Education Home Page  [graphic] National Park Service arrowhead and link to NPS.gov
 [graphic] National Register Bulletin: Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Basis for Preservation Planning

[graphic] Link to Next Page [graphic] Link to Table of Contents [graphic] Link to Previous Page

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


How to use this publication

Guidelines for Local Surveys provides guidance to communities, organizations, Federal and State agencies, and individuals interested in undertaking surveys of historic resources. Although it contains information and recommendations with broad applicability, it is designed primarily for use by local government officials and those who undertake surveys of cities and other communities. Because these guidelines will be read by people of varied interests-local government administrators, community-based preservation organizations, civic groups, preservation professionals, planners, members of preservation commissions, developers, Federal and State agency officials, and other interested persons-information is included that is familiar to some and foreign to others. Some communities may be interested in doing a survey of only one neighborhood using volunteer labor, while other communities may be interested in planning and conducting a comprehensive survey of every building within their city limits using professional consultants.

This publication is divided into five chapters: planning the survey, conducting the survey, review and organization of survey data, use of survey data in planning, and publications. Because many of the activities within these areas are interrelated, some duplication of information is necessary. Many complex procedures, programs, and laws are referred to throughout the text; brief explanations of these are provided in the appendices. The index should aid those readers with specific ideas and questions in mind.

This edition of Guidelines for Local Surveys has been thoroughly updated and rewritten based on the original edition, published in 1977. It will be further updated periodically; therefore, comments and suggestions for future editions are welcome. They should be addressed to: Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1849 C. St, NC400, Washington, DC 20240.


District: A district possesses a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, or objects united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development.

Site: A site is 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 historical, cultural, or archeological value regardless of the value of any existing structure.

Building: A building, such as a house, bam, church, hotel, or similar construction is created to shelter any form of human activity. Building may also be used to refer to a historically and functionally related unit, such as a courthouse and jail or a house and bam.

Structure: The term structure is used to distinguish from buildings those functional constructions made usually for purposes other than creating shelter.

Object: The term object is used to distinguish from buildings and structures those constructions that are primarily artistic in nature or are relatively small in scale and simply constructed. Although it may be, by nature or design, movable, an object is associated with a specific setting or environment, such as statuary in a designed landscape.

Properties nominated to the National Register may be classified in one of the five property classifications listed above. Those evaluated as meeting the National Register criteria may be nominated separately or as part of a multiple property submission.

A multiple property submission includes nominations for all or a portion of the significant historic properties that relate to one or a series of established historic contexts, i.e. properties that share some significant historic or cultural relationship. A multiple property submission calls for the development of historic contexts, selection of related property types, and the identification and documentation of related significant properties. It may be based on the results of a comprehensive interdisciplinary survey for a specific rural area, town, city, section of a city, county, or region of a state, or it may be based on an intensive study of the resources illustrative of a specific type of building or site, a single cultural affiliation, the work of a specific master, or a single or closely related group of historic events or activities. This publication is intended to provide guidance on the conduct of surveys that may in turn form the basis for multiple property submissions. Further information about multiple property submissions for nominating properties to the National Register is contained in the National Register bulletin entitled How to Complete the National Register Multiple Property Documentation Form.

What is a survey?

In this publication survey means a process of identifying and gathering data on a community's historic resources. It includes field survey- the physical search for and recording of historic resources on the ground-but it also includes planning and background research before field survey begins, organization and presentation of survey data as the survey proceeds, and the development of inventories.

Survey data refers to the raw data produced by the survey; that is, all the information gathered on each property and area investigated.

An inventory is one of the basic products of a survey. An inventory is an organized compilation of information on those properties that are evaluated as significant.

Evaluation is the process of determining whether identified properties meet defined criteria of historical, architectural, archeological, or cultural significance. In other words, evaluation involves winnowing the survey data to produce an inventory.

Survey can be conducted at a variety of scales, producing different kinds of survey data applicable to different needs. These will be discussed in detail later in this publication.

What is a historic resource?

The National Historic Preservation Act defines historic resource, or historic property, as:

any prehistoric or historic district, site, building, structure, or object included in, or eligible for inclusion in the National Register (of Historic Places); such term includes artifacts, records, and remains which are related to such a district, site, building, structure, or object.

The National Register, in turn, defines a historic property as a district, site, building, structure, or object significant in American history, architecture, engineering, archeology, and culture. A historic property may be a row of stores having cast-iron fronts or Mount Vernon, a water tower or a city park, a railroad station, an ethnic neighborhood, or the archeological remains of a prehistoric Indian village. It may be of value to the Nation as a whole or important only to the community in which it is located.

Why undertake a historic resource survey?

The underlying reason for undertaking a survey to identify a community's historic resources is the growing recognition, by citizens and governments at all levels, that such resources have value and should be retained as functional parts of modern life. The historic resources of a community or neighborhood give it its special character and cultural depth. Some historic resources contain information whose study can provide unique insights into a community's past, and help answer broad questions about history and prehistory. In more utilitarian terms, each historic building and structure represents an investment that should not be discarded lightly; maintaining and rehabilitating older buildings and neighborhoods can mean savings in energy, time, money, and raw materials.

To make effective use of historic resources, to respect their value and extend their lives, it is necessary to integrate historic preservation into community planning. This is the immediate reason for undertaking a local historic resources survey: to gather the information needed to plan for the wise use of a community's resources.

A historic resources survey can define the historic character of a community or a particular area and can provide the basis for making sound judgments in community planning. Survey data can be used to construct a preservation plan that helps the community identify the historic, cultural, aesthetic, and visual relationships that unify and define its component areas, and to establish policies, procedures, and strategies for maintaining and enhancing them. It can lead to an increased understanding and awareness of the human environment by officials and citizens within the community and an increased commitment to preserving it.

An official preservation plan, prepared and adopted by the community and its planning agency, should provide a basis for integrating survey information with other planning data; it should be an important part of comprehensive community planning. It can establish priorities for dealing with historic resources within the framework of existing local planning programs and present specific recommendations for meeting these priorities.

A preservation plan may present specific ways to maintain and enhance the positive character of an area, identify legal and financial tools-easements, tax incentives, historic preservation commissions, preservation ordinances, zoning and land use controls, and revolving funds-that aid in the conservation of historic resources, and present design standards for new construction and for the enhancement of environmental amenities. A preservation plan can also illustrate the effect of revitalizing historic resources and can discuss the application of standards for restoration and rehabilitation.

The conduct of historic resources surveys and the development of preservation plans can also facilitate cooperation among local, State, and Federal government agencies in both preservation and community development activities. Establishment of a preservation planning program can help a local government qualify to participate in Federal historic preservation grants-in-aid programs, upon certification by the State Historic Preservation Officer and the Secretary of the Interior. It can also serve as a basis for the Secretary of the Interior's certification of local statutes and historic districts, which can facilitate the use of Federal Investment Tax Credits to stimulate rehabilitation of historic buildings. It can help a local government carry out the historic preservation review responsibilities delegated to it by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in the administration of Community Development Block Grants and certain other grant programs, and it can simplify environmental review of Federal agency projects and assistance programs in the community. Finally, it can provide the basis for designing preservation projects that can receive funding assistance from the State Historic Preservation Officer, the Federal government, and other sources. Further information on relevant funding programs can be found in Appendix III.


Standards for Preservation Planning:

Standard I. Preservation planning establishes historic contexts.
Standard II. Preservation planning uses historic contexts to develop goals and priorities for the identification, evaluation, registration, and treatment of historic properties.
Standard III. The results of preservation planning are made available for integration into broader planning processes.

Standards for Identification:

Standard I Identification of historic properties is undertaken to the degree required to make decisions.
Standard II. Results of identification activities are integrated into the preservation planning process.
Standard III. Identification activities include explicit procedures for record-keeping and information distribution.

Standards for Evaluation:

Standard I. Evaluation of the significance of historic properties uses established criteria.
Standard II. Evaluation of significance applies the criteria within historic contexts.
Standard III. Evaluation results in a list or inventory of significant properties that is consulted in assigning registration and treatment priorities.
Standard IV. Evaluation results are made available to the public.

Standards for Registration:

Standard I. Registration is conducted according to stated procedures.
Standard II. Registration information locates, describes, and justifies the significance and physical integrity of a historic property.
Standard III. Registration information is accessible to the public.

What should you know about the National Register before undertaking a survey?

The National Register, authorized under the 1935 Historic Sites Act and expanded under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, was designed to be an authoritative guide to be used by Federal, State, and local governments, private groups, and citizens in identifying the Nation's historic resources of local, State, and national significance and to indicate what properties are worthy of preservation and consideration in the planning process. The National Register is maintained by the National Park Service' U. S. Department of the Interior, located in Washington, DC.

The primary way that properties are listed in the National Register is through nominations by the State Historic Preservation Officers. Potential entries to the National Register are reviewed against established criteria for evaluation which are worded in a flexible manner to provide for the diversity of resources across the country. These criteria are listed below.

The National Register has become an important component of many State and local historic preservation programs. Criteria for designating local landmarks and local historic districts, which by local ordinance may qualify properties for special tax rates or trigger special review when changes to the property are proposed, are often modeled after the National Register criteria. National Register listing often follows and reinforces State and local designations, extending the concern for preservation and protection to the Federal level. The Register is also central to a number of Federal programs that encourage protection and improvement of the manmade environment, which are discussed in Appendices II and III.

Federal agencies, and communities using Community Development Block Grants and other forms of Federal assistance, are required to consider the effects of their projects, and projects they license or assist, on properties included in or eligible for the National Register. They must also give the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment on such projects. For further information see Appendix II and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation's publication, Working with 106.

Inclusion of a property in the National Register makes it eligible to be considered for grants-in-aid from the Historic Preservation Fund. When available, these grants may be used to acquire a property or to develop it in a way that preserves its historic and architectural character. The State Historic Preservation Officer can provide advice on the availability of Historic Preservation Fund grants.

Federal tax law provides incentives for the preservation of properties listed in the National Register or included within registered historic districts. Investment Tax Credits are provided for the rehabilitation of National Register properties qualifying as certified historic structures when rehabilitation work is certified by the National Park Service as meeting the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. Tax deductions are permitted for the charitable contribution of easements on historic properties to qualified organizations. Tax incentives are discussed further in Chapter V, and current information on Federal tax incentives can be obtained from the State Historic Preservation Officer or the regional office of the National Park Service.

When a property listed in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register must be destroyed or damaged by an undertaking involving a Federal agency, funds authorized by the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-291) may be used to recover any important historical or archeological data the property contains.


The following criteria are designed to guide the States, Federal agencies, and the Secretary of the Interior in evaluating potential entries (other than areas of the National Park System and National Historic Landmarks) for the National Register:

The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:

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

B. that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

C. that 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

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

Ordinarily 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 shall not be considered eligible for the National Register. However, such properties will qualify if they are integral parts of districts that do meet the criteria or if they fall within the following categories:

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

B. 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

C. 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

D. 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

E. 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

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

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

For further information on the National Register criteria and how to interpret them, contact the National Register office of the National Park Service.

Who is the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO)? What assistance can the SHPO provide?

State Historic Preservation Officers, appointed by the governors of the States, the chief executives of the territories, and the Mayor of the District of Columbia, carry out the historic preservation programs of their jurisdictions and are given the following responsibilities by the National Historic Preservation Act and other Federal authorities:

1. Carrying out comprehensive statewide survey of historic properties and maintaining inventories of such properties.

2. Nominating properties to the National Register.

3. Preparing and implementing a statewide historic preservation planning process.

4. Administering Historic Preservation Fund grants.

5. Advising and assisting Federal and State agencies and local governments in historic preservation matters.

6. Working with the Department of the Interior, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and others to ensure that historic properties are taken into account in planning.

7. Providing public information, education, and training in historic preservation.

8. Cooperating with local governments in developing preservation programs, and assisting them in becoming certified to manage Historic Preservation Fund grants and otherwise participate actively in the national program.

9. Reviewing requests for historic preservation certification and making recommendations to the National Park Service, as part of the Federal tax incentives program.

The Comprehensive Statewide Historic Preservation Plan, which is prepared and implemented by the State Historic Preservation Officer, is a dynamic planning process that entails organizing into a logical sequence information pertaining to the identification, evaluation, registration, and treatment of historic properties. It also sets priorities for accomplishing preservation activities within the State. Generally the plan takes the format of a series of established historic contexts that correspond to important aspects of the State's prehistory and history and characterize its significant historic resources. A historic context is, by definition, an organizational 'framework that groups information about related historic properties based on a theme, geographical area, find period of time. A knowledge of statewide historic contexts may help to identify themes of local as well as State importance and may strengthen the basis for evaluating the significance of properties identified during survey. In turn, survey results may help to augment, refine, and revise historic contexts and preservation priorities established at the State level.

The State Historic Preservation Officer can assist communities and Federal agencies undertaking historic resources surveys by:

1. Providing guidelines, standards, forms, and approaches to survey used in conducting historic resources surveys on a statewide basis.

2. Advising about approaches used by other communities and agencies, and providing contacts with those responsible for survey and planning activities elsewhere.

3. Providing documentation on what historic resources have already been identified by the State or others.

4. Advising in the development of high-quality local surveys.

5. Helping coordinate local surveys with Federally sponsored surveys and the State survey conducted by the SHPO.

6. Helping establish systems for survey data maintenance that will be most effective in meeting the community's needs and most compatible with regional, statewide, and national data management systems.

7 Nominating properties to the National Register.

8. Passing through funds for survey where a local government's historic preservation program has been certified to participate in the national preservation program.

9. Allocating National Park Service matching grants-in-aid for survey work.

10. Providing information on other sources of funding and assistance for preservation.

What is a certified local government preservation program and how can a survey contribute to certification?

The National Historic Preservation Act provides for the certification or approval of local historic preservation programs by the SHPO and the Secretary of the Interior. Certification of a program operated by a local government makes the program eligible for grants-in-aid from the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the Secretary, passed through the SHPO. Certification also makes it possible for a local program to exercise greater autonomy in the nomination of properties to the National Register and in other aspects of the national historic preservation program. Regulations covering the certification of local government programs can be found in 36 CFR Part 61.

To be certified, a local government program must enforce appropriate State and local preservation legislation, establish and maintain a qualified historic preservation review commission, provide for adequate public participation in its activities, perform other functions delegated to it by the SHPO under the National Historic Preservation Act, and maintain a system for the survey and inventory of historic properties, consistent with guidelines provided by the SHPO. Thus the conduct of a survey is a necessary basis for the SHPO's and the Secretary's certification of a community's preservation program for participation in activities under the National Historic Preservation Act.

What is the value of a historic resources survey and inventory?

To summarize, historic resources surveys and the resulting survey data and inventories can be used to:

1. Identify properties that contribute to the community's character, or that of its neighborhoods, or that illustrate its historical and architectural development, and as a result deserve consideration in planning.

2. Identify properties or areas whose study may provide information about the community's past, and contribute to scholarship, which should be preserved or subjected to scientific investigation.

3. Establish priorities for conservation, restoration and rehabilitation efforts within the community.

4. Provide the basis for using legal and financial tools to protect and enhance historic resources.

5. Provide planners with a data base from which to monitor and channel new development.

6. Increase awareness in the public and private sectors of the manmade environment and the need for preservation efforts.

7. Enable local governments and Federal agencies to meet their planning and review responsibilities under existing Federal legislation and procedures.

Who should sponsor a survey?

In order to have the greatest impact on planning decisions within a community, surveys of historic resources should have the official endorsement of the local government, although historical societies, professional groups, and interested individuals can help compile documentation, undertake research, and participate in fieldwork. It is important that, in addition to official endorsement, an ongoing process for collecting and evaluating survey data be officially incorporated into the community's planning activities to ensure the availability of current data for community development and planning agencies, local, State, and Federal agencies, public service organizations, developers, and others. Once a process for gathering data has been organized, a community will be able to respond expeditiously to requests for information about a particular building or an entire neighborhood. It is important that surveys be coordinated with the State Historic Preservation Officer from the earliest stages of planning.

A community historic preservation office and commission established as part of local government can help to protect the resources identified through survey activities and to evaluate proposed development that may adversely affect the community's special character. A historic preservation planner in an existing planning commission or office may provide further assistance in carrying out these functions. Other techniques for protecting the community's historic resources are discussed in Appendix III.

[graphic] Link to Next Page [graphic] Link to Top of Page [graphic] Link to Previous Page

National Register Home | Publications Home | Previous Page | Next Page
Comments or Questions