HNewsFrontCover  4Before 1966, historic places in the United States were being lost at a rapid rate, and little thought was given by businesses, state and local governments, or the federal government itself to the importance of the three-dimensional heritage of communities to their identify and quality of Life.

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the “New Preservation” philosophy that it promoted fundamentally changed the nature of the American preservation movement.  Nearly 50 years after the act’s passage, preservationists have moved from a focus on individual landmarks of historical importance and preserving a few historic sites as house museums to emphasizing historic districts and properties with broad historical and architectural significance.Most historic properties today are preserved through adaptive uses for contemporary living.

The act also established a successful partnership between the federal government and the states to encourage and facilitate historic preservation and to cause federal agencies to consider historic places when planning construction projects.  Under the act, every state created a State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), which has supported local preservation efforts through grants and technical assistance. In the half century since 1966, the SHPOs and the National Park Service have nominated and listed more than 88,000 properties in the National Register of Historic Places. Approximately 8.3 million historic properties have been identified through surveys.  Since 1976, the National Park Service and the SHPOs have guided developers in rehabilitating 38,000 historic commercial buildings using federal historic rehabilitation tax incentives.

Working with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the SHPOs have reviewed and commented on over 3,421,000 federal undertakings.  Federal agencies have incorporated consideration of the effects of their projects on historic places.  Through the language of the “New Preservation,” the preservation movement now thinks in terms of neighborhoods, Main Streets, communities, landscapes, and archaeological sites.

Takeaway Messages:

  • The National Historic Preservation Act has been a catalyst for transforming how the American preservation movement looked at its heritage and preserved it.
  • Through an unusual federal-state partnership with the National Park Service and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs), have taken the lead in each state in stimulating the transformation through grants, technical assistance, tax credit application reviews, and review and comment on federal undertakings.

Questions for Readers:

  1. How have listings in the National Register changed how people think about historic properties in your community?
  2. How have rehabilitation projects involving historic commercial buildings in your downtown changed how people think of downtown revitalization?
  3. What role does your SHPO play in preservation efforts in your community?
  4. When someone suggests saving an endangered historic building in your community, what new use do they suggest?

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