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Many states maintain official lists of inventories or registers of historic and cultural resources. As with the National Register of Historic Places, these registers provide an important planning tool. Along with celebrating a state's history, they identify properties for protection against potentially harmful governmental acts and for special funding and other incentives. In California, for instance, listing or eligibility for listing in the California Register of Historic Places serves as one of the bases for review under the California Environmental Quality Act, and for identification of properties eligible for state tax incentives.

Criteria for Listing Historic Properties

As with the National Register of Historic Places, state historic registers generally include a wide range of properties such as historic districts, sites, buildings, structures, and other objects that are significant in state history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture, and the criteria for listing properties is necessarily broad. In Illinois, for example, the Illinois Register of Historic Places, a place:

must have special historical, architectural, archaeological, cultural, or artistic interest or value...The criteria shall include, but not be limited to, requirements that Registered Illinois Historic Places be limited to those places that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association, and: (1) that are associated with events or the lives of persons that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or (2) 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 (3) that exemplify elements of our cultural, economic, social or historic heritage; or (4) that have yielded, or are likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

Logically, state registers tend to include properties of state or local significance. The criteria for listing in California Register of Historical Places is illustrative:

Resources eligible for listing include buildings, sites, structures, objects, or historic districts that retain historic integrity and are historically significant at the local, state or national level under one or more of the following four criteria: 1) It is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of local or regional history, or the cultural heritage of California or the United States; 2) It is associated with the lives of persons important to local, California, or national history; 3) It embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, region, or method of construction, or represents the work of a master or possesses high artistic values; or 4) It has yielded, or has the potential to yield, information important to the prehistory or history of the local area, California, or the nation.

While the criteria for inclusion in a historic register may be set forth under state law, some states have placed the responsibility for developing legislation in a state historic preservation office or committee. There is no right approach. However, it is essential that criteria are officially adopted and published, upon consultation with experts in the field.

Information on the identification and nomination process and types of properties listed in a state registered should be made available to the public. The California Office of Historic Preservation, for example, has published a technical bulletin on its register.

Identification/Inventory Process

Probably, the most important consideration in establishing and implementing a state historic register is the identification process. A good state program will have clear standards and uniform procedures for conducting surveys and identifying relevant professional qualifications. Additional considerations include: who may nominate properties for listing in a state register, what agency or commission is charged with the designation, and the necessary professional qualifications to do the work.

Historic properties are included in a state register pursuant to four types of actions:

      • comprehensive surveys;
      • the nomination of properties for listing in the National Register of Historic of Places;
      • at the request of individuals or organizations; and
      • through a state agency inventorying process.

Listing of Properties in Response to a Comprehensive Survey

Many states identify historic and cultural resources within their state through a comprehensive survey process. These surveys are used as a basis for identifying properties for listing on state and local registers and implementing other state and federal preservation programs, such as the Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Although express statutory authority to conduct surveys is not generally required, state surveys are often accomplished pursuant to a specific statutory directive. For example, section 42-45-5 of the General Laws of Rhode Island directs the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission to:

(i) Inventory and catalog all buildings, sites, objects, and artifacts of historical, architectural, or archaeological interest which are within the custody or jurisdiction of the departments and agencies of state government. This inventory and catalog shall include buildings, ruins, and other structures, monuments, paintings, photographs, flags, furniture, clothing, military equipment and uniforms, archaeological materials, and all other articles of historic, architectural, or archaeological interest. All departments and agencies will assist the commission in making this inventory and catalog. The commission shall inform each department and agency of those items contained in the inventory which are within its custody or jurisdiction by furnishing copies of the catalog or an extract thereof to each department and agency concerned. Copies of all amendments to the catalog, or extracts thereof, shall also be furnished to each department and agency concerned.

The Rhode Island Commission has used this authority to survey the entire state. Professional surveyors have compiled detailed information on historic and cultural sites, including descriptions of the physical characteristics and condition of individual properties or sites and photographs. In addition, the state has prepared short histories on the physical development of each community, so that properties could be evaluated within the context of that development. Taking the project a step further, the commission has produced 60 survey publications about the state's 39 towns. Survey documentation for each of these properties is available for review at the Archives and Library of the Division of Historical and Cultural Programs. Other states, like Vermont, have developed historical monographs that help place historic sites in the context of the state's history.

The process of surveying property for inclusion on a state register or inventory may be accomplished by SHPO staff, by professional consultants, certified local governments, state and federal agencies complying with state and federal legislation, and neighborhood associations and private property owners. To ensure uniformity, a good state program will provide detailed instructions on the inventorying or survey process. For example, the Maryland Historical Society has published two useful booklets for professional surveyors: Standards and Guidelines for Architectural and Historical Investigations in Maryland. The publications set forth comprehensive standards for conducting architectural and archaeological surveys in the state, including professional criteria and detailed guidelines for completing documentation.

The Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has similarly published a historic resources survey manual, also in an effort to develop a uniform and reliable method of identifying historic and cultural properties within the state. Finally, The National Park Service's National Register Bulletin entitled Guidelines for Local Surveys is also instructive.

Some states make their survey results publicly available, thereby providing greater access to invaluable information and ensuring greater protection for its historic resources. For example, the Illinois Preservation Services Division has created the Historic Architectural and Archaeology Resources Geographic Information System (HAARGIS), providing public access to data, scanned photographs and background documentation for almost 78,000 buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts in the state. New data is to be added continually. According to the state office,

The new database includes not only the survey data about properties and historic districts, it also puts the location of those properties on a map. And it identifies on the same map other spatial features that place historical properties in their geographical context. These spatial features include streets and roads; county and municipal boundaries; section, range, and township lines; waterways; railroads; floodplains; high probability archaeology areas; federal lands; and House and Senate district boundaries. Accompanying topographical map images and aerial photographs can be used as a background to those map features. It is the next best thing to being there!

Special considerations arise with archaeological properties, such as the potential for the presence of an archaeological site, how to delineate the area of potential effect, professional qualifications, and so forth. Guidelines for Phase I Archeological Investigations, published by the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, provides detailed information on conduction an archeological survey. The Maryland Historical Trust has published a similar booklet, Standards and Guidelines for Archeological Investigations in Maryland.

Listing of Properties also Nominated to the National Register of Historic of Places

As may be expected, many historic properties are included on both State Historic Registers and the National Register of Historic Places. Indeed, the criteria for listing in a state historic register are often based on those for listing on the National Register and some states even insist that the two registers be identical. Consequently, simultaneous or parallel listings result as part of a state's process for nominating properties for listing on the National Register. Provided that the criteria for designation are sufficiently similar and applicable procedural requirements, such as notice, are met under both laws, this approach can be useful. It ensures that important properties are protected under state programs and cuts down on potentially duplicative administrative time and effort.

Some state preservation programs even require that state listings meet the National Register criteria and some even insist that the two registers be identical. This approach helps to ensure that state listings have the same level of integrity and credibility as those included in the National Register; helps to decrease confusion among members of the public regarding multiple registers; and, provided that applicable state notice and procedural requirements are met, helps to cut down on potentially duplicative administrative time and effort. 

Maryland, for example, requires that all properties included in, or determined eligible for, the National Register must be included in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties. Article 83B, Section 5-615 of the Maryland Code provides:

(a) The Trust shall compile a Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties which shall consist of all districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects of known or potential value to the prehistory, history, upland and underwater archeology, architecture, engineering, and culture of this State.

(b) The Trust shall compile a Maryland Register of Historic Properties which shall include all properties listed in or determined by the Director to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. The Trust shall adopt regulations specifying procedures and criteria of eligibility for inclusion of properties in the Maryland Register of Historic Properties.

(c) Determinations of eligibility made by the Director may be appealed to the Governor's Consulting Committee on the National Register of Historic Places whose determination shall be final.

(d) Any information from the Inventory or Register relating to the location and character of a historic property shall be confidential if the Director determines that disclosure will create a substantial risk of harm, theft, or destruction to the property or the area or place where the property is located.

Keep in mind that states incorporating National Register listings into their own state registers should not rely solely on the National Register nomination process as the basis for maintaining a state register. Many times, National Register nominations come forward on a piecemeal basis in response to a specific tax incentive program. As noted above, a good preservation program will conduct comprehensive surveys (see discussion above) to ensure that potential sites are identified.

Listing of Properties in Response to Specific Requests

State historic preservation programs may include a process for nominating properties for listing in a state register by a wide range of individuals and entities, including neighborhood groups, preservation organizations, and others. This approach helps to ensure that properties qualifying for inclusion are fully considered. Otherwise, properties tend not to be nominated for listing for reasons that have more to do with politics than merit.

New Mexico, for example, provides that any individual or group may prepare a nomination form for a property to be considered for listing in the State Register of Cultural Properties by completing an Application for Registration (Form A) in accordance with the Form A Instructions. Visit the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division for more information.

Illinois, similarly, provides that "any person may apply to have a place considered for nomination to the Illinois Register of Historic Places." Specific procedures and documentation requirements are set out in the state's administrative code (see Ill. Admin. Code § 4140.10).

Listing of Properties Under the Ownership or Control of a State Agency

State agencies are typically responsible for identifying, documenting, and nominating all properties they own or control that appear to qualify for a state historic register. While many states place the primary responsibility for identifying or surveying state-owned historic properties and archeological sites within each agency, the state historic preservation office and/or preservation review board (see discussion on "maintaining the register" below), should have authority to oversee the identification process and make final decisions regarding eligibility or listing in a state register.

In California, for example, each state agency is charged with the responsibility of inventorying all state-owned structures over 50 years of age within its jurisdiction that may be listed in – or eligible for – listing in the National Register of Historic Places or as a registered state landmark. The SHPO, in turn, is charged with determining what properties will be placed on a "master list of historical resources." The master list is used by the state historic preservation office to guide funding decisions and is the basis for reviewing potentially harmful actions affecting state-owned property.

(a) On or before January 1, 1982, each state agency shall formulate policies to preserve and maintain, when prudent and feasible, all state-owned historical resources under its jurisdiction listed in or potentially eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places or registered or eligible for registration as a state historical landmark pursuant to Section 5021.   The State Historic Preservation Officer shall provide such agencies with advice and assistance as needed.

(b) On or before July 1, 1983, each state agency shall submit to the State Historic Preservation Officer an inventory of all state-owned structures over 50 years of age under its jurisdiction listed in or which may be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places or registered or which may be eligible for registration as a state historical landmark. State-owned structures in freeway rights-of-way shall be inventoried before approval of any undertaking which would alter their original or significant features or fabric, or transfer, relocate or demolish those structures.

(c) The State Historic Preservation Officer, with the advice of the State Historical Resources Commission, shall establish standards, after consultation with agencies to be affected, for the submittal of inventories and development of policies for the review of historical resources identified pursuant to this section.  These review procedures shall permit the State Historic Preservation Officer to determine which historical resources identified in inventories meet National Register of Historic Places and state historical landmark criteria and shall be placed in the master list of historical resources.

(d) The State Historic Preservation Officer shall maintain a master list comprised of all inventoried structures submitted and determined significant pursuant to this section and all state-owned historical resources currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places or registered as a state historical landmark under state agency jurisdiction. The State Historic Preservation Officer shall inform agencies with historical resources on the master list of current sources of funding for preservation activities, including rehabilitation and restoration.

(e) On or before July 1, 1984, and annually thereafter, each state agency shall submit inventory updates to the State Historic Preservation Officer and a statement of its year's preservation activities.

 (f) Each state agency shall submit to the State Historic Preservation Officer for comment documentation for any project having the potential to affect historical resources listed in or potentially eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places or registered as or eligible for registration as a state historical landmark.

(g) As used in this section and Section 5024.5, "state agency" means any agency, department, division, commission, board, bureau, officer, or other authority of the State of California.

(h) As used in this section and Section 5024.5, "structure" means an immovable work constructed by man having interrelated parts in a definite pattern of organization and used to shelter or promote a form of human activity and which constitutes an historical resource.

See California Public Resources Code § 5024

In New Mexico, the Historic Preservation Division of the Office of Cultural Affairs is charged with preparing a long-range plan for the preservation of cultural properties within the state, defined as, "including identification, acquisition, restoration, and protection of historic and cultural properties" (N.Mex. Stat.§ 18-6-7). Periodically, the Preservation Division must provide copies of the state register to state agencies and departments and advise them on the status of its identification and registration process (Id. at § 18-6-8.1). The state has also established a process for the designation of cultural property located on lands owned or controlled by the state as a "state monument (Id. at § 18-6-17).

Maintaining Historic Registers

Responsibility for listing and maintaining a historic register may be placed on a state historic preservation office or a special advisory commission of individuals with particular expertise in architecture and archeology, usually established as a matter of state law.

The State of Maryland, for example, charges the Maryland Historical Trust with maintaining the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties. Listings are made by the Director of the Trust with appeal to the Governor's Consulting Committee on the National Register of Historic Places (Md. Code § 83B-5-615(c)).

New Mexico utilizes the commission approach. Pursuant to state law, a Cultural Properties Review Committee is established and charged with implementing and maintaining the states historic register. Committee members must include:

  • The State Historian at the State Records Center and Archives
  • One person professionally recognized in the discipline of architectural history
  • One person professionally recognized in the discipline of history
  • One person professionally recognized in the discipline of architecture
  • One person professionally recognized in the discipline of prehistoric archaeology
  • One person professionally recognized in the discipline of historic archaeology
  • One additional person who is professionally recognized in history, architectural history or architecture, or archaeology. a special committee appointed by the governor is charged with identifying cultural properties within the state
  • One person who is a member of a New Mexico Indian nation, tribe or pueblo; and
  • One person who is a resident of New Mexico and represents the general public.

Other than the state historian, members of the Committee are appointed by the Governor (See N. Mex. Stat. § 18-6-4 and 5). Similarly, in Arizona, a nine-member Historic Sites Review Committee reviews nominations for listing in the National and Arizona Registers of Historic Places.

Many states now use a review board, largely in response to the National Park Service's requirements for state historic preservation programs set forth at 36 C.F.R. Part 31. Regardless of which approach is taken, it is important to ensure that the individual or entity charged with maintaining the register has the requisite expertise to make informed decisions.

Learn More

Layperson's Guide to Preservation Law: Federal, State and Local Laws Governing Historic Resources
First published in 1997, this booklet provides a concise and comprehensible guide to federal, state and local laws governing historic resource protection. The 2008 edition includes updated information on transportation issues, eminent domain, easements, the American's with Disabilities Act, and the regulation of historic religious properties.