What is Historic Preservation?

St. Simon's Lighthouse on a sunny day, with blue sky and fluffy white clouds. The white tower rises behind the 2-story red brick keeper's house, which has a white porch.
St. Simon's Lighthouse in Georgia. A light station was first established on St. Simon's Island in 1811. The current lighthouse dates from 1872.

NPS/Beth Boland

Historic preservation is a conversation with our past about our future. It provides us with opportunities to ask, "What is important in our history?" and "What parts of our past can we preserve for the future?" Through historic preservation, we look at history in different ways, ask different questions of the past, and learn new things about our history and ourselves. Historic preservation is an important way for us to transmit our understanding of the past to future generations.

Our nation's history has many facets, and historic preservation helps tell these stories. Sometimes historic preservation involves celebrating events, people, places, and ideas that we are proud of; other times it involves recognizing moments in our history that can be painful or uncomfortable to remember.

Within the National Park Service, many people work in historic preservation: archeologists, architects, curators, historians, landscape architects, and other cultural resource professionals. The National Park Service carries out historic preservation both within and outside the National Park System:

  • Designation of historic sites (includes federally, state, and privately owned properties)
  • Documentation (includes written, photographic, and technical documentation, as well as oral histories)
  • Physical preservation (includes stabilization, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction)

Last updated: May 6, 2017

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