National Register nomination forms and the instructions for completing them may be requested from the AHC or downloaded from the NPS website. Anyone may submit a nomination form, along with supporting photographs and maps, to the Historical Commission for consideration. But hiring a preservation consultant familiar with the National Register process usually results in a smoother and quicker nomination listing.
The National Register nomination form is comprised of several sections. Some of them capture such basic information as the property’s or district’s historic name, its location in terms of an address or geographical area, a boundary description and precise locational data, and so on. Th e heart of the nomination, however, lies in sections 7 and 8, where the case must be presented for the integrity (physical intactness) and significance of the nominee. Simply narrating the history of a place, no matter how well-researched and complete, does not provide enough information for National Register listing. A successful nomination must likewise include a thorough physical description of the place— including notable changes—and an informed discussion of why it is important, whether at the local level or beyond.
Section 7 of the nomination form contains the case for integrity where the character of the resource or district is described in detail based on standard architectural language. This information is supplemented by photographs and maps for a district and sometimes also includes simple floor plans for a building. Historic integrity is based on the property’s physical characteristics. The building or district has integrity if it retains enough of its original or historic appearance to illustrate its important history. A late-nineteenth-century farmstead consisting of the main house, smokehouse, barn, and open fields, for example, would retain enough sense of place to convey its agricultural past (and thus have historic integrity), even though its other secondary structures no longer exist and its original acreage has been greatly reduced. The integrity of archaeological sites is intact if they contain enough cultural material to provide information about a prehistoric or historic period. Resources being individually nominated must meet a higher level of integrity than the contributing resources in a historic district.
Historic significance and historic context are discussed in section 8 of the nomination form. In this section’s “Statement of Significance,” the applicable criteria, criteria considerations, area of significance, period of significance, and level of significance are recorded and explained. A narrative history of the resource usually also appears in this section. The National Register program
defines “historic significance” as “the importance of a property to the history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, or culture of a community, state, or the nation.” As indicated by this quote, a National Register resource represents an important aspect of local, state, or national history. Significance is based on a historic theme (the area of significance), a time period (the period of significance) and a geographical location. Every nominated property has at least one area of significance that it represents (such as education, for a school building), a time period in which it achieved its importance, and a place.
Furthermore, a resource’s or district’s significance is evaluated under at least one of four overarching criteria (Criteria A–D). A convenient shorthand for remembering these criteria is that A relates to activity, B stands for biography, C refers to construction, and D is for dirt. Th e activity or event evaluated under criterion A may range from a one-day occurrence, such as a Civil War battle, to multi-year trends, like the development of streetcar suburbs in Birmingham. A resource associated with the significant work of a historic figure is evaluated under criterion B, and it must represent the productive period in which the person achieved significance. (A scientist’s laboratory, for example, represents his or her contributions to history, not the scientist’s birthplace.) Criterion C encompasses architecture, construction techniques, and engineering. Resources may be individually eligible for architectural style, building type, or method of construction. Th e buildings in a historic district, though not all individually eligible, must illustrate important historic styles, typologies, or construction methods. As a collection of resources, they convey a sense of place and time. Criterion D, however, relates almost exclusively to archaeological sites (hence remembering it by the term “dirt”). Th e site must contain, or be likely to contain, enough unique cultural material to give us new insights into the past. In addition to meeting at least one of these four criteria, a resource usually must also be located on its original site and have achieved significance over fifty years ago.
Surprisingly, cemeteries and graves of historic persons, birthplaces, and houses of worship generally are not considered eligible for the National Register. Along with reconstructions of historic buildings, resources that have been moved, and commemorative objects, these properties cannot be listed unless they contribute to the historic character of a district or meet at least one of several specific exceptions (known as criteria considerations) outlined by the National Register program
The AHC staff presents nominations to the Alabama National Register Review Board at a public meeting. Th e board, comprised of volunteers from around the state with expertise in such fields as architecture, history, and archaeology, determines if the property should be nominated to the National Register. If the AHC staff concurs with the board’s decision, they submit the nomination with its supplementary materials to the Keeper of the National Register (Keeper) at the NPS office in Washington, DC. The Keeper is the official arbiter of listing a property in the Register.
Listing in the National Register positively promotes a resource or a historic district within the community. The nomination process can be an important first step in preserving and protecting historically significant buildings, structures, sites, and objects for future generations. To access the electronic National Register nomination forms online, visit the NPS website at www.nps.gov/nr.
About the Author
Susan Enzweiler was a historic preservationist at the Alabama Historical Commission for over twenty years. She is now a freelance writer.