Frequently Asked Questions
The following are the most common questions that the general public, owners of potential National Historic Landmarks, and new owners of designated National Historic Landmarks ask us. For detailed, step-by-step information on the NHL nomination process, please visit our Apply pages.
Please contact an NHL Program regional office or our national office if you have additional questions.
National Historic Landmarks may be districts, sites, buildings, structures, or objects. All Landmarks are nationally significant. Each Landmark demonstrates exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States in history, architecture, archeology, technology, and culture. National Historic Landmarks possess a high degree of integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and meet one or more of the following criteria:
- That is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to, and are identified with, or that outstandingly represents, the broad national patterns of United States history and from which an understanding and appreciation of those patterns may be gained; or
- That are associated importantly with the lives of persons nationally significant in the history of the United States; or
- That represent some great idea or ideal of the American people; or
- That embody the distinguishing characteristics of an architectural type specimen exceptionally valuable for the study of a period, style or method of construction, or that represent a significant, distinctive and exceptional entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
- 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; or
- 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.
Ordinarily, cemeteries, birthplaces, graves of historical figures, properties owned by religious institutions or used for religious purposes, structures that have been moved from their original locations, reconstructed historic buildings, and properties that have achieved significance within the past 50 years are not eligible for designation. Such properties, however, may qualify if they fall within the following categories:
- A religious property deriving its primary national significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance; or
- A building or structure removed from its original location but which is nationally significant primarily for its architectural merit, or for association with persons or events of transcendent importance in the nation's history and the consequential association; or
- A site of a building or structure no longer standing but the person or event associated with it is of transcendent importance in the nation's history and the consequential association; or
- A birthplace, grave, or burial if it is of a historical figure of transcendent national significance and no other appropriate site, building or structure directly associated with the productive life of that person exists; or
- A cemetery that derives its primary national significance from graves of persons of transcendent importance, or from an exceptionally distinctive design or from an exceptionally significant event; or
- A reconstructed building or ensemble of buildings of extraordinary national significance when accurately executed in a suitable environment and presented in a dignified manner as part of a restoration master plan, and when no other buildings or structures with the same association have survived; or
- A property primarily commemorative in intent if design, age, tradition, or symbolic value has invested it with its own national historical significance; or
- A property achieving national significance within the past 50 years if it is of extraordinary national importance.
Landmarks have been recognized by the Secretary of the Interior as possessing national significance. Nationally significant properties help us understand the history of the nation and illustrate the nationwide impact of events or persons associated with the property, its architectural type or style, or information potential. A nationally significant property is of exceptional value in representing or illustrating an important theme in the history of the nation. Properties listed in the National Register are primarily of state and local significance. With a state or locally significant property, its impact is restricted to a smaller geographic area. For example, many historic schools are listed in the National Register because of the historically important role they played in educating individuals in the community or state in which they are located. Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, is nationally significant because it was the site of the first major confrontation over implementation of the Supreme Court's 1954 decision outlawing racial segregation in public schools. The city's resistance led to President Eisenhower's decision to send Federal troops to enforce desegregation at this school in 1957.
All National Historic Landmarks are included in the National Register of Historic Places, which is the official list of the nation's historic properties worthy of preservation. Landmarks constitute more than 2,500 of more than 90,000 entries in the National Register; the others are of state and local significance. The process for listing a property in the National Register is different from that for Landmark designation with different criteria and procedures used. Some properties are recommended as nationally significant when they are nominated to the National Register, but before they can be designated as National Historic Landmarks, they must be evaluated by the National Park Service's National Historic Landmark Survey, reviewed by the National Park System Advisory Board, and recommended to the Secretary of the Interior. Some properties listed in the National Register are subsequently identified by the Survey as nationally significant; others are identified through theme studies or special studies. Both the National Historic Landmark and the National Register Programs are administered by the National Park Service under the Secretary of the Interior.
Designation of National Historic Landmarks
Listing of private property as a National Historic Landmark or in the National Register does not prohibit under Federal law or regulations any actions which may otherwise be taken by the property owner with respect to the property. The National Park Service may recommend to owners various preservation actions but owners are not obligated to carry out these recommendations. Property owners are free to make whatever changes they wish if Federal funding, licensing, or permits are not involved. (Questions regarding Federal involvement are answered in the next section.) Federal laws that involve National Historic Landmarks are listed in the Federal regulations governing this program, specifically in 36 CFR § 65.2 "Effects of Designation."
Owners should keep in mind that state laws or local ordinances may affect National Historic Landmarks if these legal mechanisms recognize and protect Landmarks, independent of Federal law.
Federal Involvement with National Historic Landmarks
No. The law was specifically designed to extend Section 106 protection to historic properties not designated as National Historic Landmarks or listed in the National Register. Section 106 requires the implementation of Advisory Council review for properties listed in or determined eligible for listing in the National Register. Evaluations of historic significance are made for all properties potentially affected by federal undertakings in the Section 106 process. If the property meets National Register criteria for listing, a determination of eligibility is made and the property becomes subject to the Section 106 process.
A determination of eligibility for National Historic Landmark status may also be made by the Secretary of the Interior when an owner objects to Landmark designation. This action is equivalent to a determination of eligibility for listing in the National Register. In other words, federal undertakings will still be reviewed.
Some potential Landmarks are already listed in the National Register and thus an owner's objection to Landmark status will not halt implementation of Section 106. Section 110(f) of the law requires a higher level of attention for Landmarks adversely affected by federal undertakings; this Section, however, does not apply unless the property is designated a National Historic Landmark.
Benefits to National Historic Landmark Designation
If they wish, Landmark owners are provided with a bronze plaque to display at the Landmark. Plaques identify the name and Landmark status of the property and the date of designation. These are available at no cost to the owner.
The National Park Service provides technical preservation advice to owners of National Historic Landmarks. Questions regarding preservation issues are routinely answered by phone or letters, or during on-site visits by NPS staff. The following are other forms of assistance the NPS provides to owners:
- The National Park Service publishes and distributes information available to Landmark owners and administrators on a variety of preservation subjects. The NPS publications catalog is available on this page about NPS History Publications.
- From time to time, the National Park Service contacts Landmark owners about the condition of their properties and may ask for permission to visit. The NPS is responsible by law for monitoring the condition of National Historic Landmarks. Information on the condition of Landmarks and potential threats to them is aggregated in an update published in the NHL database. This update is a valuable tool for stewards to use in fundraising and influencing policy affecting their Landmarks. The information is also used by the National Park Service to plan its assistance programs and helps in grant-making decisions.
- Each year, as funding permits, a limited number of Landmark buildings may be selected to receive in-depth site inspections funded and coordinated by the National Park Service regional offices. The purpose of these inspections is to analyze the specific condition of the Landmark, identify and prioritize recommended work treatments, and estimate the costs for carrying out this work. If funding permits, information derived from the in-depth inspection may be compiled in a building condition assessment report which may be made available to owners, preservation organizations, and interested public and private groups.
Information about Specific National Historic Landmarks
The Program maintains a comprehensive list of all NHLs. If you cannot find a particular property there might be several reasons: the property is part of an historic district; the property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is not designated as a Landmark; the property is listed in a state or local register.
Unfortunately, our database does not include every address within a historic district. If you know the name of the historic district that the property is in, we can pull the file and verify whether it is a contributing resource in that district. You can also contact the State Historic Preservation Office where the property is listed. The SHPO is the state run agency that oversees historic preservation efforts within a state. They should be able to identify the district where the property is located.
Last updated: July 9, 2021