The Historic Sites, Buildings and Antiquities Act (Historic Sites Act) was signed into law on August 21, 1935. The Historic Sites Act established that “it is a national policy to preserve for public use historic sites, buildings and objects of national significance for the inspiration and benefit of the people of the United States.”
Why was the Historic Sites Act passed?
The Antiquities Act of 1906 established that the preservation and protection of the nation's antiquities fell under the purview of the Federal government. Creation of the National Park Service through the Organic Act of 1916 provided an federal agency to preserve and manage parks on federal lands. At the time, these parks conserved landscapes west of the Mississippi River. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, work began to expand the National Park System by identifying historical and archeological sites across the United States that represented the nation’s history. President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6166 of June 10, 1933 brought historic sites administered by the Departments of War and Agriculture under the National Park Service. Then, during the Great Depression, work crews provided labor and professional archeological and historic preservation expertise to care for, develop, and document historic and archeological sites. Together, these activities created a tipping point for a national preservation program. The Historic Sites Act authorized this expanded role for the National Park Service.
What does the Historic Sites Act do?
The Act authorized the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service to:
- Carry out programs to survey, research, and acquire historic and archeological sites of national significance.
- Collect documents, photographs, and objects associated with sites.
- Cooperate with states, organizations, and individuals to preserve or operate sites.
- Restore sites and maintain museums.
- Erect commemorative tablets.
- Operate and manage sites acquired under the Act.
- Develop a public education program.
The Act also established the “Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments” to advise on national park matters, administration of the Act, and policy development.
What is the significance and impact of the Historic Sites Act?
The Act led to a major expansion of the National Park Service’s role in historic preservation. New offices and programs were established to carry out the Act, and their activities yielded inventories of significant historical and archeological sites in the nation’s history. Notably, some of these sites -- such as Hopewell Iron Furnace in Pennsylvania, Fort Raleigh in North Carolina, and Grand Portage in Minnesota – became National Park Service units. Many others are designated National Historic Landmarks.
The offices and programs created to carry out the Act still exist in the National Park Service, with expanded roles and responsibilities as a result of subsequent laws. The responsibilities of the Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings are now divided among the Park History Program, National Historic Landmarks Program, and the Park Planning & Special Studies Division. The Secretary of the Interior's Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments has an expanded role that is carried out by the National Park Service Advisory Board.
What are the citations for the Historic Sites Act?
The original location for the Historic Sites Act was in public law at 49 Stat. 666 and in the U.S. Code at 16 U.S.C. § 461-467. The Act has been amended several times. In 2014, the Act was incorporated into 54 U.S.C. §§ 320101-320106 at American Antiquities: Policy and Administrative Provisions (54 USC 320101-320106), National Park System Advisory Board (54 USC 102303), National Park Service Advisory Council (54 USC 102304), and Commemoration of Former Presidents (54 USC 309101).
For More Information
Mackintosh, Barry. 1985. The Historic Sites Survey and National Historic Landmarks Program: A History. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, History Division. (accessed January 11, 2023)
Last updated: May 17, 2023