Historic districts in the United States are designated historic districts recognizing a group of buildings, properties, or sites by one of several entities on different levels as historically or architecturally significant. Buildings, structures, objects and sites within a historic district are normally divided into two categories, contributing and non-contributing. Districts greatly vary in size: some have hundreds of structures, while others have just a few.
The U.S. federal government designates historic districts through the United States Department of Interior under the auspices of the National Park Service. Federally designated historic districts are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but listing usually imposes no restrictions on what property owners may do with a designated property. State-level historic districts may follow similar criteria (no restrictions) or may require adherence to certain historic rehabilitation standards. Local historic district designation offers, by far, the most legal protection for historic properties because most land use decisions are made at the local level. Local districts are generally administered by the county or municipal government.
The first U.S. historic district was established in Charleston, South Carolina in 1931, predating the U.S. federal government designation by more than three decades. Charleston city government designated an "Old and Historic District" by local ordinance and created a board of architectural review to oversee it. New Orleans followed in 1937, establishing the Vieux Carré Commission and authorizing it to act to maintain the historic character of the city's French Quarter. Other localities picked up on the concept, with the city of Philadelphia enacting its historic preservation ordinance in 1955.
The regulatory authority of local commissions and historic districts has been consistently upheld as a legitimate use of government police power, most notably in Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York (1978). The Supreme Court case validated the protection of historic resources as "an entirely permissible governmental goal." In 1966 the federal government created the National Register of Historic Places, soon after a report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors had stated Americans suffered from "rootlessness." By the 1980s there were thousands of federally designated historic districts. Some states, such as Arizona, have passed referendums defending property rights that have stopped private property being designated historic without the property owner's consent or compensation for the historic overlay.
Historic districts are generally two types of properties, contributing and non-contributing. Broadly defined, a contributing property is any property, structure or object which adds to the historical integrity or architectural qualities that make a historic district, listed locally or federally, significant. Different entities, usually governmental, at both the state and national level in the United States, have differing definitions of contributing property but they all retain the same basic characteristics. In general, contributing properties are integral parts of the historic context and character of a historic district.
In addition to the two types of classification within historic districts, properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places are classified into five broad categories. They are, building, structure, site, district and object; each one has a specific definition in relation to the National Register. All but the eponymous district category are also applied to historic districts listed on the National Register.
A listing on the National Register of Historic Places is governmental acknowledgment of a historic district. However, the Register is "an honorary status with some federal financial incentives." The National Register of Historic Places defines a historic district per U.S. federal law, last revised in 2004. According to the Register definition a historic district is:
a geographically definable area, urban or rural, possessing a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, or objects united by past events or aesthetically by plan or physical development. A district may also comprise individual elements separated geographically but linked by association or history.
Districts established under U.S. federal guidelines generally begin the process of designation through a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the official recognition by the U.S. government of cultural resources worthy of preservation. While designation through the National Register does offer a district or property some protections, it is only in cases where the threatening action involves the federal government. If the federal government is not involved, then the listing on the National Register provides the site, property or district no protections. For example, if company A wants to tear down the hypothetical Smith House and company A is under contract with the state government of Illinois, then the federal designation would offer no protections. If, however, company A was under federal contract the Smith House would be protected. A federal designation is little more than recognition by the government that the resource is worthy of preservation.
In general, the criteria for acceptance to the National Register are applied consistently, but there are considerations for exceptions to the criteria and historic districts have influence on some of those exceptions. Usually, the National Register does not list religious structures, moved structures, reconstructed structures, or properties that have achieved significance within the last 50 years. However, if a property falls into one of those categories and are "integral parts of districts that do meet the criteria" then an exception allowing their listing will be made. Historic district listings, like all National Register nominations, can be rejected on the basis of owner disapproval. In the case of historic districts, a majority of owners must object in order to nullify a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. If such an objection occurred, then the nomination would become a determination of National Register eligibility only.
Most U.S. state governments have a listing similar to the National Register of Historic Places. State listings can have similar benefits to federal designation, such as granting qualification and tax incentives. In addition, the property can become protected under specific state laws. The laws can be similar or different from the federal guidelines that govern the National Register. A state listing of a historic district on a "State Register of Historic Places," usually by the State Historic Preservation Office, can be an "honorary status," much like the National Register. For example, in Nevada, listing in the State Register places no limits on property owners. In contrast, state law in Tennessee requires that property owners within historic districts follow a strict set of guidelines, from the U.S. Department of Interior, when altering their properties. Though, according to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, all states must have a State Historic Preservation Office, not all states must have a "state historic district" designation. As of 2004, for example, the state of North Carolina had no such designation.
Local historic districts usually enjoy the greatest level of protection legally from any threats that may compromise their historic integrity because many land-use decisions are made at the local level. There are more than 2,300 local historic districts in the United States. Local historic districts can be administered at the county or the municipal level; both entities are involved in land use decisions.
Local historic districts are identified by surveying historic resources and delineating appropriate boundaries that comply with all aspects of due process. Depending on local ordinance or State law, property owners permission may be required; however all owners are to be notified and given a chance to share their opinion. Most local historic districts are constricted by design guidelines that control changes to the properties included in the district. Many local commissions adopt specific guidelines for the "tout ensemble" of each neighborhood, although some smaller commissions rely on the Secretary of Interior Standards. For most minor changes, homeowners can consult with local preservation staff at the municipal office and receive guidance on and permission for the changes. Major changes however, require homeowners to apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA), and the changes may be decided upon by the historic commission or architectural review board. The COA process is carried out with all aspects of due process, with formal notification, hearings, and fair and informed decision making.
According to the National Park Service, historic districts are one of the oldest forms of protection for historic properties. The city of Charleston, South Carolina is credited with beginning the modern day historic districts movement. In 1931 Charleston enacted an ordinance which designated an "Old and Historic District" administered by a Board of Architectural Review. Charleston's early ordinance reflected the strong protection that local historic districts often enjoy under local law. It asserted that no alteration could be made to any architectural features which could be viewed by the public from the street. Local historic districts, as in New Orleans and Savannah, Georgia, predate the Register by 10 years or more as well.
Local historic districts are most likely to generate resistance because of the restrictions they tend to place on property owners. Local laws can cause residents "to comply with (local historic district) ordinances."
The issue of local historic districts and the impact on property values is a concern to many homeowners. The effects have been extensively studied using multiple methodologies including before-and-after analysis and evaluating comparable neighborhoods with and without local designation status. Recent factual analysis has been conducted by independent researchers in a number of states, including New Jersey, Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Colorado, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, and elsewhere. As stated by economist Donovan Rypkema, "the results of these studies are remarkably consistent: property values in local historic districts appreciate significantly faster than the market as a whole in the vast majority of cases and appreciate at rates equivalent to the market in the worst case. Simply put – historic districts enhance property values." In a 2011 study Connecticut Local Historic Districts and Property Values, it was found that "property values in every local historic district saw average increases in value ranging from 4% to over 19% per year."  Similarly, in New York City between 1980 and 2000, local historic district properties on a price per square foot basis increased in value significantly more than non-designated properties. Equally important, local historic district property values were found to resist market downturns better than historic non-designated properties. A recent study investigating the data on single-family residential mortgage foreclosures and comparable non-designated neighborhoods found that designated properties were significantly less likely to experience foreclosure. Local historic district designation has proven to protect property values from wild fluctuations and provides stability in the housing market.
The original concept of an American historic district was as a protective area surrounding more important, individual historic sites. As the field of historic preservation progressed, those involved came to realize that the structures acting as "buffer zones" were actually key elements of the historic integrity of larger, landmark sites. Preservationists came to the view that districts should be more encompassing, blending together a mesh of structures, streets, open space and landscaping to define the historical character of a historic district.
As early as 1981 the National Trust for Historic Preservation identified 882 American cities and towns that had some form of "historic district zoning" in place; local laws meant specifically to protect historic districts. Before 1966, historic preservation in the United States was in its infancy. That year the U.S. Conference of Mayors penned an influential report which concluded, in part, that Americans suffered from a sense of "rootlessness." They recommended historic preservation to help provide Americans with a sense of orientation. The creation of the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, on the heels of the report, helped to instill that sense of orientation the mayors were looking for. The mayors also recommended that any historic preservation program not focus solely on individual properties but also on "areas and districts which contain special meaning for the community." Local, state and federal historic districts now account for thousands of historic property listings at all levels of government.
Christiansted National Historic Site commemorates urban colonial development of the Virgin Islands. It features 18th and 19th century structures in the heart of Christiansted, the capital of the former Danish West Indies on St. Croix Island.
The site consists of six historic structures: Fort Christiansværn (constructed from 1738 to 1749), the Danish West India and Guinea Company Warehouse (1749), the Church of Our Lord Sabaoth Steeple Building (1753), Customs House (built 1840-1842), the Scale House (1856), and Government House (1747). The Danish West India and Guinea Company held slave auctions within the walled compound of their warehouse until 1803, when the slave trade was outlawed.Contributing property
In the law regulating historic districts in the United States, a contributing property or contributing resource is any building, object, or structure which adds to the historical integrity or architectural qualities that make the historic district, listed locally or federally, significant. Government agencies, at the state, national, and local level in the United States, have differing definitions of what constitutes a contributing property but there are common characteristics. Local laws often regulate the changes that can be made to contributing structures within designated historic districts. The first local ordinances dealing with the alteration of buildings within historic districts was in Charleston, South Carolina in 1931.Properties within a historic district fall into one of two types of property: contributing and non-contributing. A contributing property, such as a 19th-century mansion, helps make a historic district historic, while a non-contributing property, such as a modern medical clinic, does not. The contributing properties are key to a historic district's historic associations, historic architectural qualities, or archaeological qualities. A property can change from contributing to non-contributing and vice versa if significant alterations take place.Enchanted Rock
Enchanted Rock (16710 Ranch Rd 965, Fredericksburg TX) is a pink granite mountain located in the Llano Uplift approximately 17 miles (27 km) north of Fredericksburg, Texas and 24 miles (39 km) south of Llano, Texas, United States. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, which includes Enchanted Rock and surrounding land, spans the border between Gillespie County and Llano County, south of the Llano River. Enchanted Rock covers approximately 640 acres (260 ha) and rises approximately 425 feet (130 m) above the surrounding terrain to elevation of 1,825 feet (556 m) above sea level. It is the largest pink granite monadnock in the United States. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, a part of the Texas state park system, includes 1,644 acres (665 ha). Designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1936. In 1971, Enchanted Rock was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.Enchanted Rock was rated in 2017 as the best campsite in Texas in a 50-state survey conducted by Msn.com.Goliad State Park and Historic Site
Goliad State Park and Historic Site is a 188.3 acres (76 ha) state park located along the San Antonio River on the southern edge of Goliad, Texas. In addition to recreational facilities the park property includes three historic sites - the reconstructed Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, the ruins of Mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario and the reconstructed birthplace of Ignacio Zaragoza. The park itself and Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga are included in the Goliad State Park Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 12, 2001.Grand Boulevard (Corona)
Grand Boulevard is a beltway in Corona, California that was recognized by the National Register of Historic Places in 2011 as a part of the Grand Boulevard Historic District.It is an ordinary surface street that circles the city's historic downtown area and is approximately half a mile from the city center. It is unusual for being perfectly circular. The street was designed by Hiram Clay Kellogg (In memory of him, there is a street in Corona named Kellogg St). Grand Blvd. was home to international races in 1913, 1914, and 1916. Grand is easily accessible through an exit on California State Route 91.Kings Mountain State Park
Kings Mountain State Park is a South Carolina state park located in the Piedmont region of South Carolina. It is situated in Cherokee County near the city of Blacksburg, about 40 miles southwest of Charlotte, North Carolina near Interstate 85.
This large hilly park includes the Living History Farm, which is representative of a typical early 19th-century Piedmont farm. It includes a barn, cotton gin, blacksmith, and carpenter shop.
The park also surrounds 65-acre (26 ha) Lake York as well as the smaller Lake Crawford.The park is adjacent to Kings Mountain National Military Park.Lake Cliff, Dallas
Lake Cliff is a neighborhood in the northern part of the Oak Cliff area of Dallas, Texas (USA). It surrounds Lake Cliff, a small freshwater lake.Lithonia, Georgia
Lithonia is a city in eastern DeKalb County, Georgia, United States. The city's population was 1,924 at the 2010 census. Lithonia is in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
"Lithonia" means "city/town of stone". Lithonia is in the heart of the Georgian granite-quarrying and viewing region, hence the name of the town, from the Greek λίθος lithos, for stone. The huge nearby granite dome, Stone Mountain, is composed largely of a rock called Lithonia gneiss, a form of granite. The area has a history of rock quarries. The mines were served by the Georgia Railroad and Atlanta, Stone Mountain & Lithonia Railway. Some of the rock quarries have been converted to parkland and the rail lines to rail-trail.
Lithonia is one of the gateways to the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, which is largely contained inside Stonecrest, GA.Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park in central Texas about 50 miles (80 km) west of Austin in the Texas Hill Country. The park protects the birthplace, home, ranch, and final resting place of Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the United States. During Johnson's administration, the LBJ Ranch was known as the "Texas White House" because the President spent approximately 20% of his time in office there.Mammoth, Utah
Mammoth is a semi-ghost town in northeastern Juab County, Utah, United States.Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C.
Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C. is located at the corner of 8th and I Streets, Southeast in Washington, D.C. Established in 1801, it is a National Historic Landmark, the oldest post in the United States Marine Corps, the official residence of the Commandant of the Marine Corps since 1806, and main ceremonial grounds of the Corps. It is also home to the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps ("The Commandant's Own") and the U.S. Marine Band ("The President's Own"). Barracks Marines conduct ceremonial missions in and around the National Capital Region as well as abroad. They also provide security at designated locations around Washington, D.C. as necessary, carry out the distance education and training program of the Marine Corps through the Marine Corps Institute, and Barracks officers are part of the White House Social Aide Program.
Marine Barracks Washington and the Historic Home of the Commandants were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. A 6-acre (2.4 ha) property with eight contributing buildings was included in the listing. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.McKittrick Canyon
McKittrick Canyon is a scenic canyon within the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas and Eddy County, New Mexico. The steep, towering walls of McKittrick Canyon protect a rich riparian oasis in the midst of the Chihuahuan Desert.
The majority of McKittrick Canyon is part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but is separated from the main park area and managed as a "day-use only" area with limited visitation hours. However, a large part of North McKittrick Canyon is located in the Guadalupe Ranger District of Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. Access to McKittrick Canyon is by a 4.2-mile (6.8-km) gated side road that leads to the mouth of McKittrick Canyon from U.S. Route 62/180. Here the National Park Service maintains a parking area, restroom facilities, and visitor center, which is staffed most of the year by volunteers.Mother Neff State Park
Mother Neff State Park is a 259-acre (105 ha) state park located on the Leon River west of Moody, Texas in Coryell County. The park is part of Mother Neff State Park and F.A.S. 21-B(1) Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 2, 1992.
The park's initial 6 acres (2.4 ha) were donated by Mrs. Isabella Eleanor Neff, mother of Governor Pat Morris Neff in 1916. Upon her death in 1921, Governor Neff created the Mother Neff Memorial Park, making it the first state park in Texas. The additional land was deeded to the state in 1934 by private owners; Governor Neff deeded 250 acres (100 ha) and Mr Frank Smith deeded 3 acres (1.2 ha). The park was opened to the public in 1937.
Company 817 of the Civilian Conservation Corps built the park from 1934 to 1938. The Company quarried stone and cut wood to build the structures that are still in use in the park today.
Most of Mother Neff Park sits in the flood plain of the Leon River and flooding shut the park down in 1992 and again in 2007.
Texas F.A.S. [federally assisted secondary road] 21-B(1) (County Road 314 locally known as Old River Road or Oglesby Neff Park Road) is a 6-mile (9.7 km) length of road built in 1939. The Texas State Highway Department constructed the road using allocated federal funds. The road follows the Leon River for much of its length from the west entrance of the park to Farm to Market Road 107.Munger Place Historic District
The Munger Place Historic District is a neighborhood and historic district in Old East Dallas, Texas (USA), generally lying between North Fitzhugh Avenue on the southwest, Gaston Avenue on the northwest, Henderson Avenue on the northeast, and Columbia Avenue on the southeast. Detailed boundaries are defined in the Munger Place Ordinance. It is a Dallas Landmark District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.Panna Maria, Texas
Panna Maria (Polish for Virgin Mary) is a small unincorporated community in Karnes County, Texas, United States. It is the oldest Polish settlement in the United States.Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site
Seminole State Park and Historic Site is located on US Route 90, east of the Pecos River High Bridge, 9 miles (14 km) west of Comstock in Val Verde County in the U.S. state of Texas. The park is conducive to camping, biking, bird watching, back packing and archeological study. Cave art and archeological artifacts date back to the earliest human habitation in the area. The park is part of the larger Seminole Canyon Archeological District on the National Register of Historic Places listings in Val Verde County, Texas.Sisterdale, Texas
Sisterdale is an unincorporated farming and ranching community established in 1847 and located 13 miles (21 km) north of Boerne in Kendall County, in the U.S. state of Texas. The community is located in the valley of Sister Creek. The elevation is 1,280 feet (390 m).St. Joseph Oratory
St. Joseph Oratory, founded in 1855, is a historic German Catholic church located at 1828 Jay Street in the Eastern Market–Lafayette Park neighborhood area just outside downtown Detroit, on the city's central east side. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and deemed "of national importance" because of its stained glass. Three subsidiary buildings—the rectory, convent, and the Wermers House—were added to the listing in 1992. Formerly a parish church of the Archdiocese of Detroit, it is presently an oratory dedicated to the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite (the Tridentine Mass) under the care of the canons of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.Torrey Lake Petroglyph District
The Torrey Lake Petroglyph District extends for about 3.2 miles (5.1 km) along Torrey Creek in Fremont County, Wyoming. The site includes about 175 petroglyphs, as well as eleven lithic scatters and a sheep trap. The petroglyphs are in the Interior Line Style, or Dinwoody style, consistent with other rock at in central Wyoming. Site investigations have uncovered a number of petroglyphs that had previously been hidden under lichen. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 4, 1993.
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