National Historic Preservation Act of 1966

The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) was signed into law on October 15, 1966. It establishes a national preservation program and a system of procedural protections, which encourage both the identification and protection of historic resources, including archeological resources, at the federal level and indirectly at the state and local level. NHPA represents the most extensive preservation legislation ever enacted in the U.S.

Why was the National Historic Preservation Act enacted?
By the mid-1960s, federally-funded infrastructure and urban renewal projects had resulted in the rapid destruction of places significant in the nation’s history. Congress recognized that the federal government’s historic preservation program was inadequate to ensure that future generations could appreciate and enjoy the rich heritage of the nation. NHPA was enacted in recognition that historic places were being lost or altered, and that preservation was in the public’s interest.

What did the National Historic Preservation Act do?
NHPA directs roles and responsibilities for a federal historic preservation program. It authorizes several tools to carry out preservation activities, among them:

  • A National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), the official federal inventory of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects significant on a national, State or local level in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture.
  • A review process, known as Section 106 (54 U.S.C. §306108) after its location in the original law, to ensure that federal agencies consider the effects of federally licensed, assisted, regulated, or funded activities on historic properties listed or eligible for listing on the National Register.
  • A requirement, known as Section 110 (54 U.S.C. §306101, et seq.), for all federal agencies to establish -- in conjunction with the Secretary of the Interior -- their own historic preservation programs for the identification, evaluation, and protection of historic properties.
  • Authority for a grant program, supported by the Historic Preservation Fund, to provide funds to states and individuals.
  • The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent federal agency, that advises the President and Congress on historic preservation matters. The Council and its staff also advise federal agencies on their roles in the national historic preservation program, especially their compliance with Section 106 of NHPA.

NHPA creates a specific role for state and local governments, Native American tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations in carrying out the Act. Through Section 101 of NHPA, states and tribes are responsible for identifying and nominating properties for listing in the NRHP, and advising and assisting federal agencies in carrying out their historic preservation responsibilities, including federal agency compliance with Section 106.

What has been the impact of the National Historic Preservation Act?
NHPA has had a significant impact on the professional discipline of archeology, the preservation of archeological properties, and the amount of archeological knowledge gained as a result of preservation programs.

After the procedures for implementing Section 106 were established (36 CFR Part 800), the field of professional archeology expanded throughout all levels of government and in the private sector to help meet the requirements of the Section 106 review process. Section 110 determinations of Eligibility for the National Register are established during Phase II archeological surveys. These surveys provide invaluable data about the breadth and depth of the nation’s archeological properties, including their significance in American life and culture.

In addition, NHPA directed the creation of the Secretary’s Standards for Archeology and Historic Preservation, which establish professional qualifications for archeologists and historic preservation professionals and outline basic standards for field work and collections.

Since 1966, Congress has strengthened national preservation policy further by amending NHPA. These actions recognize the social, cultural, and economic benefits of preserving historic properties, including archeological properties, for this and future generations. NHPA promoted the use of historic properties to meet the contemporary needs of society, by recognizing that increased knowledge and better administration of historic resources would improve the planning and execution of Federal undertakings and benefit economic growth and development nationwide.

What are the citations, amendments, and implementing regulations for the National Historic Preservation Act?
The National Historic Preservation Act (Pub. L. No. 89-665) was established at 16 U.S.C. §§470a-470w-6 et. seq. It was amended four times: 1976 (Pub. L. No. 94-422, 90 Stat. 1320), 1980 (Pub. L. No. 96-515, 94 Stat. 2987), 1992 (Pub. L. 102-575, 106 Stat. 4753), and 2016 (Pub. L. No. 96-515).

The regulations for NHPA are National Register of Historic Places (36 C.F.R. Part 60 ), Procedures for State, Tribal, and Local Government Historic Preservation Programs (36 C.F.R. Part 61), Determinations of Eligibility for Inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (36 C.F.R. Part 63), and Protection of Historic Properties (36 C.F.R. Part 800).

In 2014, Public Law 13-287 moved the Act’s provisions from Title 16 of the United States Code to 54 U.S.C. §300101, et seq., with minimal and non-substantive changes to the text of the Act and a re-ordering of some of its provisions.

For More Information
Glass, James A. 2003. The Beginnings of a New National Historic Preservation Program, 1957 to 1969. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History.

Mackintosh, Barry. 1986.The National Historic Preservation Act and the National Park Service: A History. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, History Division.

McManamon, Francis P. 2000. "National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)," In Archaeological Method and Theory: An Encyclopedia, edited by Linda Ellis, New York and London: Garland Publishing Co.

Last updated: July 27, 2023