If we wish to have a future with greater meaning, we must concern ourselves…with the total heritage of the nation and all that is worth preserving from our past as a living part of the present.
– National Trust for Historic Preservation, ed. With Heritage So Rich: Special Committee on Historic Preservation, United States Conference of Mayors. Washington, DC: Preservation Press, 1996.
What is the National Register of Historic Places?
The National Register is the nation’s official list of buildings, districts, sites, structures, and objects important in American history, culture, architecture, or archaeology. In Massachusetts, the National Register program is administered through the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) or Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) on behalf of the National Park Service. Nominations are based on comprehensive local inventories of cultural resources. Inventories are generally compiled on a community wide basis by local historical commissions and record basic information about the historic, architectural,and archaeological significance of individual properties and districts in a community. The completed inventory allows preservation decisions to be made within a consistent context,and identifies properties that are eligible for listing in the National Register.
How do I get my property listed in the National Register?
Contact your local historical commission or the MHC to determine whether an inventory form has been prepared for your property or if any additional information is required; ask your local historical commission to forward their recommendation to the MHC regarding your property’s eligibility for the National Register. The MHC staff will then evaluate your property to determine whether it meets the criteria for listing in the National Register either individually or as part of a National Register District.
The MHC staff evaluation team meets regularly to evaluate properties for the National Register. The object of the evaluation is to determine whether the property meets the criteria for listing. Decisions are based on MHC’s knowledge of the resource and its integrity, and an understanding of the significance of the resource within its context. The inventory serves as the basis for all evaluation decisions. When the evaluation team does not have sufficient information to render a decision, additional information may be requested. When National Register districts are being evaluated, MHC staff may make a site visit prior to completing the evaluation.
If your property is eligible, the MHC will send you a nomination form and an instruction manual. You may wish to work with a local historic preservation organization like WHALE or your local historical commission in completing the nomination.
MHC staff will review your nomination submission for completeness and may request additional information. When complete, the nomination will be edited and processed by MHC staff, who will present it to the State Review Board of the Massachusetts Historical Commission at one of its quarterly National Register meetings. The State Review Board will review the nomination and vote whether or not to nominate the property to the National Register of Historic Places. After being voted eligible, the nomination will then be forwarded to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., for evaluation for its eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
What are the benefits of being listed on the National Register?
- Recognition: The National Register recognizes the significance of a property to the community, state, and/or nation.
- Tax Incentives: National Register listing allows the owners of income-producing properties certain federal tax incentives for substantial rehabilitation according to standards set by the Department of Interior.
- Protection: National Register properties are afforded limited protection from adverse effects of federally assisted projects;
- Through automatic inclusion in the State Register of Historic Places, limited protection from and review of state actions.
What is the criteria for Listing on the National Register?
Properties must meet at least one of the four criteria for listing in the National Register:
- association with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history;
- association with the lives of persons significant in our past;
- embodiment of distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent
a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
- likelihood of yielding information significant in history or prehistory.
Are grants available for properties listed on the National Register?
Inclusion in the State Register of Historic Places, which comes automatically with National Register listing,provides eligibility for matching state grants for restoration of properties owned by private nonprofit organizations and municipalities, when such grants are available. Currently, there are no grants available for private homeowners for rehabilitation of their historic properties.
Will National Register listing restrict the use of my property?
Listing in the National Register in no way interferes with a property owner’s right to alter, manage, or sell the property when using private funds, unless some other regional and/or local ordinance or policy is in effect. If you use state or federal funds to alter your property, or need state or federal permits, the alteration will be reviewed by the MHC staff. Local funding and permitting do not trigger MHC review.
What is a National Register Historic District?
Properties may be nominated to the National Register either individually or, if they are located within areas containing other significant properties, as districts. A National Register District may include any number of properties. The benefits and protections afforded by such a listing are the same if a property is listed individually or within a district.
How do I proceed to list my property in the National Register?
First you must submit a letter to MHC requesting a National Register evaluation for your property, stating why you want to have the property listed. Local historic preservation organizations like WHALE can complete the application for you on a fee-for-service basis. Contact the WHALE office at 508-997-1776 for more information.
If my house is listed on the National Register or in a National Register District, are grant monies available for rehabilitation work?
Unfortunately, at present, there are no federal or state funds for private homeowners. Income producing or commercial properties may be eligble for federal and state rehabilitation tax credits for approved restoration work if the property is listed on or eligible for the national register for historic places or in a National Register Historic District.
Can my house be individually listed on the National Register if it is already in a National Register District?
If your house is already in a National Register District then it is eligible for all of the benefits of the National Register and need not be individually listed. In fact, MHC will not accept or review applications for individual listings of properties in a National Register District.