What is the National Register of Historic Places?

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As stated by the Guidelines for Completing National Register of Historic Places Forms, “The National Register of Historic Places is the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture. These [places] contribute to an understanding of the historical and cultural foundations of the nation.” These places include all prehistoric and historic properties of the National Park System, all National Historic Landmarks, and properties that have been successfully nominated for inclusion by State Historic Preservation Officers, Federal agencies, and even you.

To qualify for the National Register, a property must possess both historic significance and integrity. Significance is tied to “four aspects recognized by the National Register Criteria.”

  • Criteria A: Association with historic events or activities.
  • Criteria B: Association with important persons.
  • Criteria C: Distinctive design or physical characteristics.
  • Criteria D: Potential to provide important information about prehistory or history.

The first two criteria are fairly straightforward. The site of an important battle (or in our case, the first profitable copper mine in Michigan) is a great example of significance under Criteria A. The birthplace of an American President would be one example falling under Criteria B. Criteria C is often associated with architecture or perhaps (in the case of the Copper Country) a well preserved company town/district. But it can also refer to an excellent example of workmanship or technical practice not tied to a specific piece of architecture. For instance, one building may not be individually significant, but a collection of structures could embody a distinctive method of creation, use, or process. Criteria D is generally associated with archaeological resources. The property may not include any standing/obvious features at the surface, but beneath that surface may be found years and years worth of resources related to some aspect of our nation’s history and/or prehistory.

Beyond historic significance, a nominated property must also contain a level of integrity. This is defined as “the authenticity of a property’s historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during the property’s prehistoric or historic period.” A property is measured against seven qualities that can determine historic integrity:

  • Location
  • Design
  • Setting
  • Materials
  • Worksmanship
  • Feeling
  • Association

A property does not need to meet all seven qualities, but it must meet at least one.

As you continue following my education in completing one of these nominations, I’ll return to these ideas of historic significance and integrity, and discuss how the Cliff mine and Clifton meet (and in some cases, don’t meet) these Criteria and qualities.

Next time I’ll discuss the importance of defining appropriate boundaries for your nominated property.

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About Sean Gohman

Currently a PhD Degree seeking student in the Michigan Tech University's Industrial Heritage and Archaeology program.

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