Rural Heritage Resources

The National Trust is working with partners at the local, state and national levels to protect our rural heritage and foster "heritage-based" rural development and conservation approaches. The Rural Heritage Collaborative brings together the full range of National Trust resources and expertise, including existing programs as well as several new initiatives, to help protect our rural heritage and revitalize rural communities. 

In downtown Helena, AR, businesses are opening in once vacant historic buildings as the result of a National Trust for Historic Preservation rural heritage pilot project in the Arkansas Delta.

Main Street Revitalization

Small communities must work hard to keep their commercial areas competitive in today's marketplace. The National Trust Main Street Center is the nation's largest full-service commercial district revitalization organization.  Established in 1980, the Center developed the Main Street Four-Point Approach™, a comprehensive methodology that has been used by over 1,800 communities to revitalize their traditional commercial districts. These local Main Street programs have created more than 67,000 new businesses and 300,000 new jobs nationwide. The approach, which has been tailored to assist communities with populations as small as 350, focuses the work of local staff and volunteers in four key areas: organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring. The center offers fee-for-service technical assistance, conferences and workshops, and informational resources to individual Main Street communities as well as state, citywide, and regional coordinating programs across the country.

Toolkit for Conserving Rural Character

The National Trust is working with partners at the local, state and national levels to protect our rural heritage and foster "heritage-based" rural development and conservation approaches. The Rural Heritage Collaborative brings together the full range of National Trust resources and expertise, including existing programs as well as several new initiatives, to help protect our rural heritage and revitalize rural communities. 

Numerous tools, case studies and programs are available to assist you in saving and preserving your historic rural resources. Click here to explore the Toolkit for Conserving Rural Character.

Heritage Tourism

Heritage tourism can help attract visitors, boost local pride and foster economic development in rural areas.  With more than 15 years of experience working with communities across the country, the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Heritage Tourism Program has developed principles for successful and sustainable heritage tourism development and steps for getting started. Additional information about developing, promoting, and managing cultural heritage tourism can be found at, a website managed by the National Trust's Heritage Tourism Program on behalf of Partners in Tourism.  This site includes numerous heritage tourism success stories from around the country, including many examples of successful projects in rural communities and regions.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation's BARN AGAIN! Program helps farmers and ranchers find ways to maintain and use historic barns and agricultural buildings as part of modern agricultural production.  Created and managed in partnership with Successful Farming magazine, the BARN AGAIN! Program offers publications on technical issues, organizes educational workshops and recognizes good stewardship through an annual Awards Program. 

The National Trust recently published a booklet describing how historic barns can be used for sustainable agriculture. Written by Michigan small farmer and author Edward Hoogterp, this publication describes how older and historic barns can provide practical benefits to one of the most exciting and fastest-growing segments of the rural economy – sustainable agriculture.  Using several case studies, the publication explains how historic barns can meet important functional, economic and marketing needs of sustainable producers. Download a free copy here.

Community and Countryside Workshops

The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Community & Countryside workshops focus on community revitalization, historic preservation, land use and design issues in rural communities.  These two-day workshops offer case studies, illustrated presentations and small group activities for local elected and appointed officials as well as business and community leaders.

Regional Initiatives to Save Rural Heritage

  • The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Southern Office is leading the Rosenwald Schools Initiative. Between 1917 and 1932, some 5,300 mostly rural schools were built for African American children with funds provided by Julius Rosenwald.  Many communities are now seeking ways to adapt these historic structures—no longer used for schools—to serve new needs. The Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation is partnering with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to support the rehabilitation and restoration of Rosenwald Schools. In February of 2009, 15 Rosenwald School rehabilitation projects received grantsthrough this partnership. Several sessions at the 2009 National Preservation Conference in Nashville, TN focused on examples of successful adaptive reuse of Rosenwald Schools.
  • The Mountains/Plains Field Office worked with Preservation North Dakota and the State Historical Society of North Dakota to develop the Prairie Churches of North Dakotaproject, aimed at saving that state's ethnically and architecturally diverse collection of rural churches. With the help of a statewide small grants program, these rural churches are being rehabilitated for continued use or adapted for new uses, such as performing arts centers and community centers.
  • In Maryland, the Southern Field Office, Preservation Maryland, the Maryland Historical Trust and other groups are working to save endangered Tobacco Barns of Southern Maryland. A new grant program is providing assistance to property owners seeking to repair their tobacco barns and adapt them to serve new uses.

Improving Rural Public Policy

Federal agriculture, conservation and rural development policies greatly affect the health and vitality of rural communities and landscapes. The impact of these policies on rural heritage is also significant. Last year, the National Trust worked with our preservation partners and members of Congress to include language in the new federal Farm Bill legislation that supports the preservation of rural heritage. This includes programs to fund conservation easements on farm and ranch lands that contain historic resources, as well as authorization for regional rural development initiatives focusing on heritage and grants for surveys on historic barns. Appropriations are still needed to fund these last two programs.

We worked with former congressman Jim Leach of Iowa to establish the Main Street/Hope VI housing program to help fund affordable housing rehabilitation projects in the historic downtowns of communities under 50,000 population.

Financial Assistance

The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides financial assistance to preservation projects through the National Preservation Endowment, which includes a range of state, regional and national grant and loan programs. Information on funds that may be available for rural heritage projects in your area is available through the regional offices of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust Community Investment Corporation manages several programs that provide equity investment to real estate projects involving federal and state tax credits. Among these programs is the Small Deal Fund, which targets projects involving as little as $200,000 in federal tax credits.

Preservation Easements

Historic preservation easements offer one of the most effective legal tools for property owners seeking to permanently protect their historic properties, including those located in rural areas. Easements may also provide significant tax benefits to property owners. An introduction to easements prepared by the National Trust provides additional information about the benefits of preservation easements.