U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
WHAT IS A RURAL HISTORIC LANDSCAPE?
Rural landscapes commonly reflect the day-to-day occupational activities of people engaged in traditional work such as mining, fishing, and various types of agriculture. Often, they have developed and evolved in response to both the forces of nature and the pragmatic need to make a living. Landscapes small in size and having no buildings or structures, such as an ex- perimental orchard, are classified as sites. Most, however, being extensive in acreage and containing a number of buildings, sites, and structures--such as a ranch or farming community--are classified as historic districts. Large acreage and a proportionately small number of buildings and structures differentiate rural historic landscapes from other kinds of historic properties.
Distinct from designed landscapes (see National Register Bulletin: How to Evaluate and Nominate Designed Historic Landscapes), rural landscapes usually are not the work of a professional designer and have not been developed according to academic or professional design standards, theories, or philosophies of landscape architecture. The properties discussed in this bulletin possess tangible features, called landscape characteristics, that have resulted from historic human use. In this way, they also differ from natural areas that embody important cultural values but have experienced little modification, such as sites having religious meaning for Native American groups (see National Register Bulletin: Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Traditional Cultural Properties).
A rural area may contain one or more rural historic landscapes. It may also include other kinds of historically significant properties, such as a railroad depot or a granary with little acreage. The National Register lists only those properties satisfying the National Register criteria for historical significance and integrity. An understanding of historic contexts is essential for identifying the significant properties of a rural area and determining the eligibility of any particular property.
Primary is significance, ascribed by specific criteria and weighed within the framework of a community, region, or State's historic contexts. Historic contexts provide background information about the patterns of history and development that shaped a particular geographical area. This information links a rural property with important historic trends or themes, such as dairy farming or cattle grazing, indicating whether the property is unique or representative of its time and place. Contextual information also allows the grouping of properties having similar patterns of historic development, making it possible to weigh their relative importance.
Historic integrity, a measure of a property's evolution and current condition, is also necessary. A comparison of the changes experienced by a group of properties related by common historic contexts helps define the historic characteristics and qualities of integrity that qualify a rural property for listing. Recent changes that have erased historic characteristics, and do not have exceptional importance, make a property ineligible, even if scenic qualities are still present.
Spatial organization, concentration of historic characteristics, and evidence of the historic period of development distinguish a rural historic landscape from its immediate surroundings. In most instances, the natural environment has influenced the character and composition of a rural area, as well as the ways that people have used the land. In turn, people, through traditions, tastes, technologies, and activities, have consciously and unconsciously modified the natural environment. Politics, social customs, ownership, economics, and natural resources have determined the organization of rural communities and the historic properties they contain.
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