NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK PROGRAM
Until the passage by the United States Congress of the Historic Sites Act in 1935, efforts to preserve cultural heritage of national importance were carried out piece meal by Congress. This Act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to record and document historic properties and to designate properties having “national historical significance”. The authority to administer these properties was given to the National Park Service. Surveys over the subsequent decades, such as the Historic American Buildings Survey, gathered information about culturally or architecturally significant properties as part of the Historic Sites Survey program.
The National Park Service undertook the administration of the Historic Sites Survey data in 1960, giving more coherence to the National Historic Landmark (NHL) program. With the establishment in 1966 of the National Register of Historic Places, the NHL program was encompassed within it. Rules and procedures were formalized for inclusion and designation, including legislation in 1980 to require owner agreement in designation, as NHL designation often triggered local preservation laws.
An NHL is a building, district, object, site, or structure that is officially recognized by the United States government for its outstanding historical significance. There are over 85,000 places listed on the country's National Register of Historic Places, with some 2,500 NHLs. Landmarks exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Three states —Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania—account for almost 25% of the designations. NHLs also exist in United States commonwealths, territories and associated states.
Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area has received a grant from the National Park Service to identify sites within the Heritage Area that have the potential for listing as NHLs (or for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, if not of NHL rank). NHLs “possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.” Learn more about identifying sites and sharing your expertise.