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About the Commission: Program Overview

The Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission is the state office that identifies and protects historic buildings, districts, and archaeological sites. 

The Commission conducts statewide surveys of historic sites and buildings; nominates significant properties to the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register; administers programs of financial aid including grants, loans, and tax credits; enforces federal and state laws to protect cultural resources; and regulates archaeology on state land and under state territorial waters. The Commission also is responsible for developing and carrying out programs to document, support, and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Rhode Island's people. The RIHPHC professional staff includes historians, archaeologists, and architects.

Essentially the Historic Preservation program does three types of things:  documentation of historical resources, development and reuse of historic buildings, and regulatory review.


RIHPHC does the work necessary to find and research Rhode Island's historic buildings and archaeological sites. In relation to its size, Rhode Island has more historic buildings and sites than any other state. RIHPHC has compiled data on more than 54,000 buildings and 2,600 archaeological sites. Our online database provides information about 21,000 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Knowledge about historic properties is a critical part of community and State Planning, is a valued educational resource, helps owners qualify for economic benefits, and speeds up project review reducing potential costs. For every city and town RIHPHC has published a report that gives a brief history of the community's development, contains an inventory of historic properties, and offers planning recommendations. These reports are available online. Under the State Planning Law, RIHPHC has helped every city and town to write the historic preservation section of their local comprehensive master plan, and we continue to help local governments with technical assistance and grants to eligible communities. RIHPHC statewide studies have documented Native American archaeology, historic landscapes, outdoor public sculpture, state-owned historic properties, and Rhode Island's six statehouses. RIHPHC worked with the RI Department of Transportation to inventory historic bridges, and worked with the federal Historic American Engineering Survey to inventory historic engineering and industrial sites.


RIHPHC administers programs of financial aid including grants, loans, and tax credits. The vitality of our cities, towns, and neighborhoods is heavily dependent on successful reuse of Rhode Island's inventory of historic houses, factories, and commercial properties. RIHPHC programs of Tax Credits, Grants, and Loans have preserved 2,614 historic buildings and leveraged direct investment of $2.6 billion. These projects have revitalized older neighborhoods, created thousands of jobs, renovated affordable homes, increased household income, and generated millions of dollars in new state and local tax revenue.

These economic benefits of historic preservation in Rhode Island apply to investments RIHPHC has directly created through loans, grants, and tax credits. These benefits also apply to the many historic preservation projects that our work has encouraged but not directly supported. Furthermore, visiting historic attractions is one of the most important components in Rhode Island's $4 billion tourism industry. 


State and Federal law requires RIHPHC to review and approve federal and state financed or permitted projects that might destroy historic properties. 

RIHPHC Project Review includes transportation projects carried out by the RI Department of Transportation, Community Development Block Grants in every city and town, Coastal Resources Management Council permits, federal Department of Housing and Urban Development affordable housing projects, etc. We also provide technical assistance to the Division of Central Services in the Department of Administration and review projects that involve historic buildings owned by the State including the State House, the Newport Colony House, and various courthouses and armories.

RIHPHC sees its regulatory mission as having two parts: protect historical resources and assist Rhode Island projects to secure needed federal and state approval. RIHPHC staff members help government agencies and individual citizens to meet historic preservation requirements.  We do this by giving fast turn-around; our goal is to respond to every request for review within 30 days and within 15 days for most. Our staff historians, archaeologists, and architects provide expert technical assistance to applicants in designing and carrying out projects in order to meet historic preservation requirements. Each year, RIHPHC issues approximately 1,400 project comments.


RIHPHC Heritage program commemorates the history and culture of Rhode Island's ethnic groups and fosters mutual understanding. We put on the annual Heritage Day Festival at the State House and other smaller events throughout the year. Thirty-two ethnic subcommittees have been organized for particular heritage groups. Each year Heritage programs serve approximately 50,000 people.