“The historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people . . . the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, economic, and energy benefits will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans” – National Historic Preservation Act, 1966
Read the full text of the National Historic Preservation Act.
America’s relationship with its past changed fundamentally when President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) into law and formally recognized historic preservation as an important policy of the United States. These sentiments still inspire:
The Congress finds and declares that (a) the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage; (b) the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people…
The American people took those words to heart in the last half-century, transforming their communities from coast to coast through historic preservation and generated widespread social and economic impacts. The NHPA established the legal framework and incentives to preserve historic buildings, landscapes, and archaeology. These heritage resources shape our sense of place, anchor economic revitalization, and ensure a more sustainable future for our nation.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation identifies 15 million active local preservationists and 50 million more individuals sympathetic to the cause of saving places that matter. Today the National Register of Historic Places includes more than 1.7 million resources in more than 89,000 listings. Historic districts large and small, urban and rural, provide dynamic places for people to live and work. Millions of visitors from around the world visit and enjoy places like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the French Quarter of New Orleans, Buffalo’s Olmsted park system, prehistoric effigy mounds in Iowa, the Spanish missions of California, Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the Pueblo of Taos, New Mexico, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church in Atlanta, and the Iolani Palace in Honolulu.
The NHPA helps stabilize neighborhoods and downtowns, contributes to public education, attracts investment, creates jobs, generates tax revenues, supports small business and affordable housing, and powers America’s heritage tourism industry. Publicly owned historic properties, from community landmarks to federal facilities and national parks, also maintain community pride and identity, aid local and regional economies through their operation and maintenance, and foster a variety of public uses.
Federal historic rehabilitation tax credits have helped create 2.3 million jobs, saved 38,700 historic structures, and attracted $106 billion in private investments. Compliance with federal requirements has engaged local communities across the country in better planning for development. Grants from the Historic Preservation Fund have supported restoration of historic treasures, assisted with community recovery from disasters, and improved education history. In addition:
It is time to celebrate the legacy of the NHPA and leverage this moment to assure a more vibrant future for preservation in America.
Enacted after the destruction of numerous buildings and sites in the years following World War II, the NHPA encourages Americans to identify and preserve our nation’s cultural and historic resources. The law establishes a national preservation program and procedural protections, including:
- The National Register of Historic Places, through which communities identify and document significant historic and cultural sites to facilitate their preservation
- Federal preservation programs in each agency
- State historic preservation programs, and later through amendments, tribal and local government programs
- The Section 106 Review Process, which requires the federal government to take into account the effects of its undertakings on historic and cultural resources
- The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to advise the President and Congress and to collaborate with other government entities on historic preservation opportunities
- The Historic Preservation Fund to provide grants to states, Certified Local Governments, and Indian tribes for projects relating to historic preservation
- Public-private partnerships in support of common historic preservation goals