National Historic Preservation Act of 1966

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National Historic Preservation Act of 1966
Great Seal of the United States
Long title An Act to establish a program for the preservation of additional historical properties through-out the Nation, and for other purposes.
Acronyms (colloquial) NHPA
Enacted by the 89th United States Congress
Effective October 15, 1966
Public law 89-665
Statutes at Large 80 Stat. 915
Titles amended 16 U.S.C.: Conservation
U.S.C. sections created 16 U.S.C. ch. 1A, subch. II § 470 et seq.
Legislative history

The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) (Public Law 89-665; 16 U.S.C. 470 et seq.) is legislation intended to preserve historical and archaeological sites in the United States of America. The act created the National Register of Historic Places, the list of National Historic Landmarks, and the State Historic Preservation Offices.

Senate Bill 3035, the National Historic Preservation Act, was signed into law on October 15, 1966, and is the most far-reaching preservation legislation ever enacted in the United States. Several amendments have been made since. Among other things, the act requires federal agencies to evaluate the impact of all federally funded or permitted projects on historic properties (buildings, archaeological sites, etc.) through a process known as Section 106 Review.

Early development

Preservation is a rather early development in America. Although there was no national policy regarding preservation until 1966, efforts in the 19th century initiated the journey towards legislation. One of the earliest efforts of the preservation movement occurred around the 1850s when George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon was in shambles. His nephew attempted to sell it to the federal government for $200,000, but no one bought it.[1] To prevent further destruction or conversion to a resort, Ann Pamela Cunningham created the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association to fight for this house. After establishing the first group promoting preservation efforts, they raised the money to acquire the property and protect it from ruin. Due to their efforts, not only does this house stand to represent the nation and the birth of independence, but it also, “served as a blueprint for later organizations.”[2]

In 1906, an act was passed on the behalf of the nation’s history and land. President Teddy Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act that “prohibited the excavation of antiquities from public lands without a permit from the Secretary of Interior.”[3] It also gave the president authority to declare a specific piece of land a national monument, therefore protecting it from scavengers and proclaiming national identity.[4]

In 1916, the Department of the Interior established a new entity known as the National Park Service, the nation’s first agency to regulate and manage public space, including the national monuments.[5] “Over the past fifty years the NPS has acquired more than 26,000,000 acres (110,000 km2) of land, including not only the great chain of parks preserved for their natural beauty and value, but an extraordinary variety of historic buildings, monuments, and sites.”[6]

By 1935, Congress formed the Historic Sites Act that established a national policy for preservation and permitted the Secretary of Interior to create programs on behalf of preservation efforts.[7] Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), one of the established programs, provided jobs for architects, engineers, and surveyors who suffered from the Great Depression era. They were to record, document, interpret, and survey historic properties.[8] The Historic Sites Act, also, organized the national parks under the National Park Service, which created the foundation for the future development of National Register of Historic Places.[9] Although the Antiquities Act and Historic Sites Act were major stepping stones for the preservation movement, it did not create a public “national awareness.”[10]

On October 26, 1949, President Harry Truman signed the National Trust for Historic Preservation act “to facilitate public participation in the preservation of sites, buildings, and objects of national significance or international interest." In addition, the bill enforced public participation in preserving and protecting the sites, buildings, objects of national significance in American history.”[11] Initially, the National Trust for Historic Preservation did not provide funds for preservation projects. Today, they are able to offer funds for planning and education, providing a plethora of information, techniques, and methods to assist people in applying preservation locally.

Post WWII and urban renewal

External video
Sally Jewell official portrait.jpg Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell
National Historic Preservation Act 50th Anniversary, C-SPAN, 53:41, November 6, 2015

In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 which established the interstate highway system, which provided an easy and efficient way for troops to depart if under attack. Due to this new construction, many historic properties were destroyed. In the 1960s, the Kennedy administration launched the Urban Renewal Program. Hoping the plan would rejuvenate the cities, it in fact increased the destruction in the downtown areas.[12] The increase in population around this time, as well, and the manufacturing of cars called for a rapid change, therefore hindering our nation and its culture.[13] “With the urbanization, tear downs, and rebuilding is destroying the physical evidence of the past.” During the 1950s and 1960s people saw the negative changes in their city and developed a concern for their “quality of life that reflected their identity.”[14]

As a response to the nationwide destruction brought about by federally initiated programs, a report coordinated by Lady Bird Johnson analyzed the country and the effects of urban renewal. With Heritage So Rich, an accumulation of essays, wrote “an expansive inventory of properties reflecting the nation’s heritage, a mechanism to protect those properties from unnecessary harm caused by federal activities, a program of financial incentives, and an independent federal preservation body to coordinate the actions of federal agencies affecting historic preservation.”[15] The book triggered public awareness of the issue and offered a proposition to handle the situation through the National Historic Preservation Act.[10]

National Historic Preservation Act

The National Historic Preservation Act was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson on October 15, 1966.[16] This act established several institutions: Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, State Historic Preservation Office, National Register of Historic Places, and the Section 106 review process.[14] The Section 106 Process is further explained and defined in 36 CFR Part 800.

Meeting four times a year, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation consists of 23 members from both public and private sectors, with the chairman appointed by the president.[17] The Council’s role is to advise the President and Congress on historic preservation issues, to develop policies and guidelines handling any conflicts of federal agencies, and to participate in the Section 106 review process.[18]

The National Register of Historic Places, overseen by the National Park Service, is nation's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects worthy of preservation,[19] and are officially designated "historic properties" regardless of whether they are archaeological or historic. To be eligible for listing, a property must meet one of four criteria and have sufficient integrity.[20] Being listed on or eligible for listing on the National Register does not automatically prevent damage or destruction but it qualifies these approved properties for grants, loans, and tax incentives.[21]

The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and Officer was established by the NHPA to coordinate statewide inventory of historic properties, nominate properties to the National Register, maintain a statewide preservation plan, assist others, and advise and educate locals.[22] There are a total of 59 SHPO officers, one for each state with eight additional ones, which include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and others.

Section 106 review process

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act mandates federal agencies undergo a review process for all federally funded and permitted projects that will impact sites listed on, or eligible for listing on, the National Register of Historic Places. Specifically it requires the federal agency to "take into account" the effect a project may have on historic properties. It allows interested parties an opportunity to comment on the potential impact projects may have on significant archaeological or historic sites. The main purpose for the establishment of the Section 106 review process is to minimize potential harm and damage to historic properties.[23]

Any federal agency whose project, funding or permit may affect a historic property, both those listed or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, must consider the effects on historic properties and "seek ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate" any adverse effects on historic properties. The typical Section 106 Review involves four primary steps: 1 - Initiation of the Section 106 Review; 2 - Identification of Historic Properties; 3 - Assessment of Adverse Effects; and 4 - Resolution of Adverse Effects. Further steps may be required if there is a disagreement among the consulting parties on adverse effects or the resolution of the effects.[24]

The federal agency overseeing the project inventories the project area (or contracts with a qualified consultant) to determine the presence or absence of historic properties. They then submit to the SHPO a Determination of Effect/Finding of Effect (DOE/FOE) outlining to the SHPO the project, the efforts taken identify historic properties, and what effects, if any, the project may have on historic properties. If the project is believed to have no adverse effect on eligible historic resources and the SHPO and other consulting parties agree, then the Section 106 process is effectively closed and the project may proceed. Alternatively, if an adverse effect is expected, the agency is required to work with the local State Historic Preservation Office to ensure that all interested parties are given an opportunity to review the proposed work and provide comments. This step seeks ways for the project to avoid having an adverse effect on historic properties. Ideally, a Memorandum of Agreement is reached between all consulting parties outlining agreed to mitigation or avoidance of historic properties, but this is not always the case. Without this process historical properties would lose a significant protection. This process helps decide different approaches and solutions to the project, but does not prevent any site from demolition or alteration.[14]

Later amendments

In 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) opened more opportunities for the NHPA to take effect. The NEPA protects a larger amount of area of property compared to the NHPA, because it includes the environment around it, which will sometimes inherently include historic sites. In 1976, Congress extended the Section 106 review process to include buildings, archaeological sites, and other historic resources eligible for listing, not just those already on the the National Register. In 1980, Section 110 was added. It added further requirements for federal agencies such as the need to establish their own internally staffed historic preservation programs. In 1992, amendments increased protection for Native American and Native Hawaiian preservation efforts.[10]


Early preservation efforts were driven by patriotism and a desire to protect the new establishment of the nation by wealthy, private individuals. Early efforts focused primarily on individual structures as opposed to areas such as a neighborhood in a city or a rural landscape. The preserved structures were often turned into museums to create a showcase and generate tourism.[25] The focus of preservation eventually shifted from patriotism to the aesthetics of a structure or area and ultimately to the their structural relationships with society at large.[26] According to Dr. Robin Elizabeth Datel, modern motivations for preservation can be summed up in four points:

  • to retain diverse elements of past
  • to perpetuate the distinctive identities of places
  • to involve amateurs in landscape care
  • to practice a conservation approach to environmental change.[27]

The economic benefits of preservation continue to become more important and better understood and documented. Preservation efforts produce the most number of jobs in the nation’s economy[28] and these jobs create new businesses and tourism, increase property values, and enhanced the quality of life in a community.

Effects of the NHPA

The National Historic Preservation Act has led to major changes in the employment trends in historic preservation fields. Archaeologists, historians, historic architects, and others have been employed in vast numbers in the field of cultural resource management. Cultural resource management is an umbrella term which encompasses archaeology, historic preservation and other disciplines when employed for the purposes of compliance with NHPA and other federal and state-mandated historic preservation laws.

Prior to the passage and subsequent enforcement (through litigation) of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and other laws, most archaeologists, historians, and other historic preservation specialists were employed primarily in the field of academia, working at universities or other places of higher learning. However, since the passage of the NHPA, ever-increasing numbers of these professionals are employed in support of the cultural resources management industry. Large public works projects often require that teams of archaeologists perform limited excavations in order to properly inventory buried archaeological remains and assess their eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. This industry has also allowed a larger swath of individuals to participate in archaeology and history as, unlike in the academic arena, a PhD is not required to earn a professional livelihood.

The Secretary of the Interior's Professional Qualification Standards require a graduate degree plus at least one year of full-time experience, at least four months of fieldwork, and demonstrated ability to carry research to completion. As a result, most cultural resource management firms (as well as environmental consulting firms which possess a cultural resource management component) staff masters-degreed professionals to manage particular projects while typically a PhD-level professional may maintain oversight of several projects. Additionally, the basic field work often required in support of performing the Section 106-mandated inventories of cultural resources is conducted by individuals with or earning bachelor's degrees. As a result, many undergraduates and recent graduates in the fields which support the implementation of the National Historic Preservation Act have found gainful employment. In the past, they stood little chance of earning a living in these fields without an advanced degree. However, CRM is still one of the lowest paying fields for educated professionals.


“Preservation...this reaching back and looking forward may enable current residents to feel that they are part of a continuum and to achieve a “sense of stability and belonging.”[29]

“There is a need in every generation to study the past, to absorb its spirit, to preserve its’s a collaboration of ourselves and our ancestors, the result is a deeper understanding for individuals and in consequence, a broader culture for the nation.”[30]

“Americans aware of the value inherent in many older structures: not that they are old, but that they contains so much of ourselves. This awareness of human values, whether conscious or hidden behind the expression of other motivations, plays a real part in the growing movement for preservation of older structure.”[31]

“Recognizing that increased knowledge and better administration of historic resources would improve the planning and execution of Federal undertakings and benefit economic growth and development nationwide.”[10]

“If the preservation movement is to be must attempt to give a sense of orientation to our society, using structures, and objects of the past to establish values of time and place.”[32]


  1. Christopher J. Duerken et all., A Handbook on Historic Preservation Law, edited by Christopher J. Duerken (Washington D.C.: Conservation Foundation: National Center for Preservation Law, 1983), 1.
  2. Christopher Tunnard, “Landmarks of Beauty,” With Heritage So Rich, chaired by Albert Rains, directed by Laurence G. Henderson (New York: Random House, 1966), 30. & Mitchell Schwarzer, “Myths of Permanence and Transience in the Discourse on Historic Preservation in the United States,” Journal of Architectural Education 48, no. 1 (September 1994): 3-4.
  3. Thomas F. King, Cultural Resource: Law and Practice, 2nd ed. (New York: Altamira Press, 2004), 19.
  4. Duerken, 8.
  5. King, 19.
  6. Walter Muri Whitehall, “The Right of Cities to be Beautiful,” With Heritage So Rich, chaired by Albert Rains, directed by Laurence G. Henderson (New York: Random House, 1966), 48.
  7. Adina W. Kanefield, Federal Historic Preservation Case Law, 1966-1996, rev. ed., (accessed April 19, 2008).
  8. King, 20.
  9. Duekern, 8.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Kanefield.
  11. Whitehall, 49.
  12. King, 21.
  13. Tunnard, 30.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 King, 22.
  15. Robert Stipe, A Richer Heritage: Historic Preservation in 21st Century (Chapel Hill: University of Chapel Hill Press, 2003), 35.
  16. Stipe, 35.
  17. Stipe, 38.
  18. Duerken, 9. & Kanefield.
  19. King, 40.
  20. A property does not have to be officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places to receive protection, they just have to be considered eligible for listing on the NRHP. One historian notes that National Park Service administrators "...responded enthusiastically to their growing professional authority by issuing a new, systematic outline of American history to serve as a guideline for the agency." John A. Matzko, Reconstructing Fort Union (University of Nebraska Press, 2001), p. 65.
  21. Charles E. Fisher, “Promoting the Preservation of Historic Buildings: Historic Preservation Policy in the United States,” APT Bulletin 29, no. ¾ (1998): 8.
  22. King, 42.
  23. Stipe, 49.
  24. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, "Protection Historic Properties: A Citizen's Guide to Section 106 Review," Updated Brochure 2011.
  25. Fisher, 7.
  26. Schwarzer, 2.
  27. Robin Elizabeth Datel, “Preservation and a Sense of Orientation for American Cities,” Geographical Review 75, no. 2 (April 1985): 125.
  28. Donovan D. Rypkema, The Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader’s Guide (Washington D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1994), 11.
  29. Datel, 130.
  30. Tunnard, 29.
  31. George Zabriskie, “Window to the Past,” With Heritage So Rich, chaired by Albert Rains, directed by Laurence G. Henderson (New York: Random House, 1966), 57.
  32. With Heritage So Rich, 207.

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