Preservation ABCs: N is for National Historic Preservation Act

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.


N is for National Historic Preservation Act (of 1966)


Historic preservation, as a movement, existed long before it was an academic field of study or an established profession. The movement in the United States can be traced to saving Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and Ann Pamela Cunningham. (Here’s a lesson on the history of historic preservation: Preservation Basics No. 6.) Prior to the National Historic Preservation Act, some laws and programs were passed and established such as the Historic Sites Act and the Historic American Building Survey.

However, the National Historic Preservation Act drives the federal policy of historic preservation in the United States. The NHPA (1966) established federal, state and local responsibilities. The short version of the story is that the NHPA is a response to governments demolishing historic structures, buildings and entire neighborhoods, particularly following World War II. This law would require the federal government to identify historic properties and to take into account its effects on those resources.

The National Historic Preservation Act established federal preservation policy and procedures through these components:

  • Outlined federal/state/tribal/local partnerships to implement these programs (including establishing State Historic Preservation Officers and offices)
  • Establishing the National Register of Historic Places
  • Establishing the Section 106 review process
  • Establishing the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation
  • Establishing Section 110 (which requires federal agencies to be stewards of their historic properties)
  • Authorized matching grants and the Historic Preservation Fund

Read more about these components from the National Trust or the National Park Service. You can read the full text of the NHPA via the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.

Where would we be without the NHPA? Not even close to where we are now in historic preservation, and we should thank our lucky stars for the NHPA and all of its components. What do you think?


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