Determining the Eligibility of a Property for National Historic Landmark Designation

This page will help you determine whether your property may be eligible for nomination as an NHL.

In simple terms, your property must:

  • be of national significance under one or more of the six NHL criteria
  • retain a high degree of integrity.

National Significance

Nationally significant properties tell important stories that have meaning for all Americans, regardless of where they live.

A nationally significant property may:

  • Be the location of an event that had a significant impact on American history overall.
  • Be the property most strongly associated with a nationally significant figure in American history.
  • Provide an outstanding illustration of a broad theme or trend in American history overall.
  • Be an outstanding example of an architectural style or significant development in engineering.
  • Be part of a group of resources that together form a historic district.
  • Be a property that can provide nationally significant archeological information.

There are a few exceptions to bear in mind:

  • Not every property owned by the federal government or associated with a federal program is nationally significant and eligible to be an NHL.
  • Not every property associated with a national event or person is eligible to be an NHL.
  • Not every property representing an outstanding architectural style, engineering feat, work of a master architect, or work of a significant engineer is eligible to be an NHL.
  • Not every property with archeological information potential is eligible to be an NHL.

NHL Program staff members will assist you in determining whether a property is nationally significant.

High Degree of Integrity

Integrity is the ability of a property to convey its historical associations or attributes. While the NHL and National Register of Historic Places (NR) programs use the same seven aspects of historical integrity to evaluate properties – location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association – NHLs must retain them to a higher degree than required for NR listing. If the resource has been more than modestly modified or has deteriorated since its period of national significance, it may meet the NR threshold for integrity, but not the higher NHL standard.

A property with a nationally significant association may qualify for NHL designation only if it also retains, to a high degree, the physical features that made up its historic character and appearance.

  • Examples: Kam Wah Chung Company Building, John Day, OR and Drayton Hall, Charleston County, SC

The integrity requirement for an archeological property differs; visit the glossary to learn more about archeological integrity.

Six Criteria for National Significance

The NHL program uses six criteria to assess the national significance of properties nominated as NHLs.These criteria are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The full listing of the criteria can be found in 36 CFR § 65.

Please note: While you may use more than one criterion for a nomination, using one criterion is usually sufficient. Nominations that use multiple criteria are not stronger or better nominations than those which use only one criterion.

Criterion 1

Properties that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to, and are identified with, or that outstandingly represent, the broad national patterns of United States history and from which an understanding and appreciation of those patterns may be gained.

This criterion is used for properties that are associated with major events or major patterns in American history. The property should possess one of the strongest associations possible with a nationally significant historical event or pattern.

Nominations using Criterion 1 must also include a discussion of comparable properties associated with this major historic event or pattern. This discussion should clarify why the nominated property possesses the strongest association with a specific event or pattern over the other associated properties.

  • Criterion 1 Example: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Building (Brown Building), New York, NY

Criterion 2

Properties that are associated importantly with the lives of persons nationally significant in the history of the United States.

This criterion is used for properties associated with individuals who have made a significant or exceptional contribution to American history. The individual's association with the property must be connected to the specific period when he or she made his or her contributions to American history. Properties that are not associated with an individual's significant accomplishments, such as birthplaces, childhood homes, vacation homes, or retirement homes, are usually not eligible.

Properties using Criterion 2 must be compared to other similar properties to identify the one that possesses the strongest association with a person's contributions. The length of residency is often an important factor when assessing similar properties.

  • Criterion 2 Example: The Eudora Welty House, Jackson, MS

Criterion 3

Properties that represent some great idea or ideal of the American people.

This criterion relates to properties that represent an overarching ideal unique to the United States. This ideal could be a belief, principle, or goal. The application of this criterion requires the most careful scrutiny and applies only in rare instances.

NHLs designated under this criterion are associated with endeavors or goals of the highest order such as attaining democracy, achieving freedom, and securing fundamental rights. A property eligible for NHL designation under Criterion 3 will also be eligible under Criterion 1. Since the significance of the property can be fully explained under Criterion 1, Criterion 3 is rarely used.

  • Criterion 3 Example: Freedom Tower, Miami, FL

Criterion 4

Properties that embody the distinguishing characteristics of an architectural type specimen exceptionally valuable for a study of a period, style, or method of construction,or that represent a significant, distinctive and exceptional entity whose components may lack individual distinction.

This criterion is used for properties that are exceptionally important works for their design, either as an individual building or a collection of buildings/resources comprising a district.

The property might be a key work of a nationally significant architect or builder. Not all works of a documented master are eligible for NHL designation. For example, while all of Frank Lloyd Wright's extant buildings may be nationally significant given his importance, only those that represent his career benchmarks and/or designs that have become iconic within his body of work may be eligible for designation.

A property can also be considered under Criterion 4 as one of the best examples of an important type, period, form, or construction method (such as its engineering). It cannot be merely a competent design or representative example. The importance of a property type is determined by prevailing scholarship. Artistic value is considered only in the context of history's judgment in order to avoid conflicts with current taste and aesthetic trends.

  • Criterion 4 Example: Samara (John E. and Catherine E. Christian House), West Lafayette, IN

Criterion 5

Properties that are composed of integral parts of the environment not sufficiently significant by reason of historical association or artistic merit to warrant individual recognition but collectively compose an entity of exceptional historical or artistic significance, or outstandingly commemorate or illustrate a way of life or culture.

This criterion covers groups of resources known as historic districts. Most of the individual resources within historic districts could not stand alone as National Historic Landmarks; however, collectively they are associated with a nationally significant event, movement, or broad pattern of national development.

A majority of the historic districts that are recognized by this criterion are nationally significant for their extraordinary historic importance in illustrating or commemorating a way of life or culture. Criterion 5 is rarely used on its own; many of these historic districts also use Criterion 1.

Please note: this criterion is rarely used for historic districts that are nationally significant for their architectural significance under Criterion 4.

  • Criterion 5 Example: Beacon Hill Historic District, Boston, MA

Criterion 6

Properties that have yielded or may be likely to yield information of major scientific importance by revealing new cultures, or by shedding light upon periods of occupation over large areas of the United States. Such sites are those which have yielded, or which may reasonably be expected to yield, data affecting theories, concepts and ideas to a major degree.

This criterion most often recognizes nationally significant archeological properties. Data produced at these sites have already produced and are likely to yield nationally significant information.

Use of this criterion requires a discussion of how recoverable data are likely to substantially modify a major historic concept, resolve a substantial historical or anthropological debate, or close a serious gap in a major theme of American history. These arguments are generally made by discussing specific, nationally significant research questions which may be answered by the data contained in the property. Research questions can be related to property-specific issues, to broader questions about a large geographic area, or to theoretical issues independent of any particular geographic location.

  • Criterion 6 Example: Bottle Creek Site, Baldwin County, AL

Special Consideration - NHL Exceptions 1-8

Properties which fall into the following categories require special consideration in order to be designated as NHLs. If a property is eligible for an exception, it generally has to meet higher standards in its other criteria for designation. If your property fits into any of these categories, please check with your NHL reviewer to see if it may still be eligible for NHL designation. The examples below are NHLs which were designated with an exception in each one of these categories:

  • Exception 1: Properties owned by religious institutions or used for religious purposes either historically or currently.
    Examples: First Presbyterian Church, Stamford, CT and Tolson's Chapel and School, Sharpsburg, MD
  • Exception 2: Buildings or structures that have been moved from their original historic location.
    Example: Block Island South East Light, Block Island, RI
  • Exception 3: Site of a building or structure no longer standing.
    Example: W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite, Great Barrington, MA
  • Exception 4: Birthplaces and graves of historical figures.
    Example: William McKinley Tomb, Canton, OH
  • Exception 5: Cemeteries.
    Example: Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY
  • Exception 6: Reconstructed buildings or grouping of buildings.
    Example: Zoar Historic District, Zoar, OH
  • Exception 7: Properties that are primarily commemorative in nature.
    Example: Haymarket Martyrs' Monument, Chicago, IL
  • Exception 8: Properties that have achieved national significance within the past 50 years.
    Example: The Forty Acres, Delano, CA

Last updated: May 9, 2023