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What kind of information does a National Register nomination require?

Listing in the National Register will require research to document a property's history and explain its construction or development within a historical context.  The comprehensive nomination form also requires a description of the physical features of the property, photographic documentation, and maps noting its geographic location and the location of sites or buildings.  The significance of the property must also be explained within its local, statewide or national context, and the preparer must also build an argument to show how the property meets one of the four National Register eligibility criteria:

Criterion A - Properties that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

Criterion B - Properties that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

Criterion C - Properties that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

Criterion D - Properties that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

In general, buildings, structures, objects and historic districts are shown to meet Criteria A, B or C; archaeological districts and sites are shown to meet Criterion D.  Properties receive the same protections and benefits regardless of the eligibility criterion or level of significance (local, national, or statewide).

In addition to satisfying at least one of the criterion, the property must retain enough integrity, or historic fabric and character, to be eligible for listing.  Elements of integrity include:

  • Integrity of location
  • Design
  • Setting
  • Workmanship
  • Materials
  • Feeling
  • Association

Typically, an eligible property need not possess all seven of these integrity factors, but must at least meet more than one.

About the Description and Statement of Significance

The nomination form consists of simple fill-in-the blank responses and two written narratives: the Description, and the Statement of Significance.  In the Description, the author explains how the property looked when first built, how it looks today, and how it has changed over time to arrive at its current condition.  While some speculation in the Description is acceptable, the text is best thought of as a statement of facts.  A nomination author who is unfamiliar with architectural terms, or with how to describe a property, can find helpful guidance in the National Register publication How to Complete the National Register Registration Form [External Link - You are now leaving the .gov domain. ] and from handbooks like A Field Guide to American Houses, written by Virginia and Lee McAlester, available at most bookstores.

While the Statement of Significance also contains many facts, the author assembles those facts into a statement of opinion.  Understanding the nature of historical significance helps nomination authors to write a clear and powerful Statement of Significance.

Historical significance is an idea that comes from an examination of the historic property and facts the preparer views as important.  A property cannot be significant in and of itself.  Instead, a property becomes significant only when the preparer writes a convincing argument that demonstrates its importance.  In one sense, a property’s National Register eligibility has as much to do with the quality of the work on the nomination form as it does with the quality of the property itself.  So, while the grandest Kentucky mansion may seem obvious for National Register listing, it will not be listed without a convincing argument that explains its significance.

About Historic Context

The National Register process requires authors to show properties as significant within a historic context.  A historic context should be included within the Statement of Significance giving an overview of a particular topic, carefully selected by the author, that explains the significance of the nominated property.  In the historic context overview, the nominated property is compared with similar kinds of properties that have already achieved National Register listing.

By way of example, consider an imaginary school to see how to evaluate it in a number of hypothetical historic contexts.  Let’s say there is a school, built in Lexington in 1840, designed by famous Kentucky architect Matthew Kennedy, where a locally important teacher, Emma B. Ward, went to school in 1910.  This school could be evaluated within at least four historic contexts:

  • Education in Fayette County, 1820-1860
  • Architecture associated with Matthew Kennedy
  • 19th Century school construction in Kentucky
  • Central Kentucky properties associated with Emma B. Ward, 1900-45

To be eligible for the National Register, the school needs to be significant within only one context.  In each context statement, the school is compared against other kinds of properties that are relevant to the context’s theme.  Let’s look at the way in which that evaluation occurs.

The first context, focused on events that were important in the history of Fayette County education, would compare the nominated school with other places that provided Fayette Countians with an education, such as one-room schools in the rural areas, sites of now-demolished school buildings, and private homes that operated academies prior to public funding for education.  The second context, by contrast, would compare the architectural values of the school against the aesthetics of other buildings designed by Matthew Kennedy.  The third context would compare the school against other schools whose designs, construction details, and plans marked significant changes in educational practices.  Finally, the fourth context would consider the impact that the school had on an important person, and compare that impact with other places that had an important influence on her.  You can see that each of these four contexts establishes a particular way in which the nominated place could be seen as significant.

Non-professional and professional historians alike need not write extensive historic context narratives to support their nomination's Statement of Significance.  To assist, the Heritage Council’s National Register Coordinator can provide nomination forms that demonstrate how properties similar to yours have been evaluated in their historic contexts.  You can pattern your historic context after those if the context for your property parallels the context in the sample nomination.  Also, if your property happened to be significant within the particular historic context on the sample form, you are welcome to use that historic context verbatim on your nomination.  For example, if someone has already written the context "Education in Fayette County, 1820-1860" for another property, and the property you want to nominate is significant within that context, then you may use it on your form.

Nomination preparers must also document the property with black-and-white photography and show its location on a USGS topographic quad map.  The National Register does not require many photographs to fully document a property.  In some cases, one photograph of the outside of the resource can be sufficient.  The USGS map is used to pinpoint the property site and to calculate locational coordinates for that site.  The Heritage Council's National Register Coordinator will complete this task for non-professional preparers, as long as the correct quad map is furnished.

For More Information

Contact:

Marty Perry
National Register Coordinator
(502) 564-7005, ext. 132
marty.perry@ky.gov

 

Last Updated 3/25/2008