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What is the National Historic Register?

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  • Written By: S. Ashraf
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2016
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The National Historic Register, which is more accurately called the National Register of Historic Places, is the United States' approved list of cultural resources considered to be worthy of being preserved. It is maintained by the U.S. government, and it lists sites, structures, buildings, objects and districts that were of importance in either U.S. history, archaeology, architecture, engineering or culture. The properties approved to be on the National Historic Register are ones that have historical significance to either a local community, a state or the nation as a whole.

Properties that are listed in the National Historic Register include all of the historic areas in the National Park System. An example is the Valley Forge National Historical Park. Also listed in the National Register are sites called National Historic Landmarks, which are properties of national significance determined to have exceptional qualities or value in interpreting or illustrating the heritage of the United States. For example, the United States Capitol is designated a National Historic Landmark. Lastly, the National Register lists properties that were nominated by federal agencies, tribal preservation offices or state historical preservation offices and subsequently were approved to be added to the list by the National Park Service.

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Established in 1966 by the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Historic Register is managed by the National Park Service, which is an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior. In order to be on the National Register, properties must complete a nomination and selection process. Any individual or organization can recommend a property, but the nomination has to go through the appropriate Federal Preservation Officer, State Historic Preservation Officer or Tribal Preservation Officer. Those offices act like partners to the National Park Service. They evaluate the property, prepare the nomination and then officially nominate the property to the National Park Service to be included in the National Historic Register.

Since the National Register began in 1966, ideas about what makes up a historic site have broadened. Prior to 1966, a designated historic site frequently was a battleground, building or an ancient site. Now, sites on the National Register are as varied as the shelter of a pioneer settler in Oklahoma, a section of Route 66 or a DC-3 airplane from World War II.

Every state and almost every county in the U.S. has at least one site or property listed. There are more than 1.6 million properties listed in the National Historic Register. More than 30,000 properties are added annually.

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