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National Register: Questions & Answers

What is the National Register?

The National Register of Historic Places is the federal government's official list of properties that are significant in American history and worthy of preservation. Properties listed in the National Register include individual buildings, historic districts, and archaeological sites.

Is my property listed on the National Register?

As of 2012, more than 19,000 Rhode Island structures, buildings, and sites are listed on the National Register. Use our RI-Historic Property Search tool, or check out our RI properties on the National Register. These listings pages may be incomplete. If you have a question about the National Register status of a property, even if it does not appear in the RI-NR Search or the list of properties, please email Jeffrey Emidy or call him at (401)222-4134.

How do properties get listed on the National Register?

In Rhode Island historic properties are nominated to the National Register by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. The RIHPHC Review Board reviews and evaluates nominations to the National Register. When the Review Board approves the nomination of a property, the State Historic Preservation Officer signs the nomination document, and it is forwarded to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C.

How are historic places evaluated for entry in the National Register?

To be eligible for listing on the National Register a property must have integrity and must meet one of four eligibility criteria established by the Department of the Interior.

A National Register property conveys an accurate and authentic sense of its past.

Eligibility criteria
To be eligible for listing in the National Register, a property must be significant in the history of the nation, the state, or its own community. The National Register criteria recognize several different kinds of significance:

1. A property may be significant because it is associated with events or activities which have been important in our past. This may be an association with a specific single event, such as a military battle, or it may be an association with a theme or a trend, such as agriculture, which was important in a community's history.

2. A property may be significant because it has close association with a person who was important in the history of the nation, state, or local community.

3. A property may be significant for its design or physical characteristics. Such a property may embody in a special way the distinctive characteristics of a building type (such as schools, mills, houses), or of a method of construction (such as post-and-beam framing), or of an architectural period or style (such as Greek Revival). Some properties are significant because their architectural quality is high or because they are the work of a master architect or builder.

4. Properties may be significant because they have the potential to provide new information about our past (such as archaeological sites that may contain artifacts that will reveal important aspects of the lives of our ancestors).

Criteria considerations

Ordinarily, cemeteries, birthplaces or graves of historical figures, properties owned by religious institutions or used for religious purposes, buildings that have been moved, commemorative properties, and properties which are younger than 50 years old are not eligible for the National Register. Exceptions to these considerations are sometimes made.

What help is available to the owners of National Register properties?

Owners of income-producing properties are eligible to apply for federal income tax credits. Low-interest loans may be available to owners of National Register properties.

All owners of National Register properties may consult with the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission's staff for free advice about protecting the value of their historic places.

Are National Register properties protected from deterioration and demolition?

Unfortunately, no. Listing in the National Register is a great honor for a property, but it does not guarantee that the property will never be damaged or demolished. National Register listing provides protection only when public funds or government licenses are involved.

Federal and state projects which might have an impact on these properties are reviewed by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. Some communities offer additional protection to their historic places through their local zoning ordinance.

I know an important historic place which is not on the National Register. Why isn't it listed?

Many significant historic places are eligible for the National Register but are not yet listed. The RIHPHC estimates that approximately 20,000 properties in Rhode Island may meet the eligibility criteria. Of these many properties, about 12,000 are now listed on the National Register. RIHPHC works with property owners and with town and city governments to list properties on the National Register.

f you would like to know the current status of a historic place you know about which is not included on this list, email Jeffrey Emidy or call him at (401)222-4134.

How can I get my property listed on the National Register?

If you will provide us with some materials, we can help you make a preliminary determination about the National Register potential of your property. The nomination of a property to the National Register is an exacting and sometimes lengthy process, but the Commission staff will be glad to work with you throughout the process.

Please include a written description of your property (including acreage, outbuildings, other physical features), the history of the property if you know it, a set of digital photographs showing the exterior and the interior of the property, and a rough sketch of the first-floor plan.

Properties are nominated to the National Register by the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO). Nomination forms (including essays about the appearance and the historic significance of the property, photos, maps, plans, and the like) are usually prepared by expert consulting preservationists. The forms are reviewed at the RIHPHC by the staff and are then submitted to the Rhode Island Review Board, which is composed of professionals in the fields of American history, architectural history, architecture, archeology, and other disciplines.

The Review Board makes a recommendation to the SHPO to approve the nomination if, in the Board's opinion, it meets the National Register critieria, or to disapprove the nomination if it does not.

The Review Board meets the first Monday of alternating months – starting with February. The meetings are open to the public, and you are welcome to attend. Agendas are available in advance.

For further information, email Jeffrey Emidy or call him at (401)222-4134.

Can I see a nomination document?

Nominations to the National Register are kept at the RIHPHC office. For more information, email Jeffrey Emidy or call him at (401)222-4134.

How are owners and others notified of National Register consideration for their property?

During the time the proposed nomination is reviewed by the SHPO, property owners and local, state, and federal officials are notified of the intent to consider a property for nomination. Local officials and property owners are given the opportunity to comment on the nomination. Owners of private properties have the opportunity to object to or concur with the nomination.

If the owner of a private property (or the majority of owners for a property with multiple owners) objects to listing, the property will not be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. If the property cannot be listed because the owner objects, the SHPO may forward the nomination to the National Park Service for the National Register staff to determine if the property is eligible for the National Register. If the property is determined to be eligible, the Advisory Council on Historic preservation must be afforded the opportunity to comment on any federal project that may affect it.

If the SHPO and the Review Board agree that a property is eligible, and if the owner has not objected to the nomination, the nomination is forwarded to the National Park Service to be considered for listing.

How long does the nomination process take?

The process of listing a property in the National Register can be lengthy. Substantial research into primary and secondary documents may be necessary to prepare a nomination form and to appropriately evaluate the eligibility of a property, and such research can be time consuming. The nomination includes essays that describe the historic and current appearance of the property and that explain how the property meets the eligibility criteria. In addition, photographs accompany the nomination; often maps and plans must be prepared as well. All of the components of the nomination document must be in archivally stable formats. Each nomination is reviewed by the staff of the RIHPHC until it is complete.

Once a complete and fully documented nomination form has been accepted, owners and officials are notified of their rights to comment or object. This process takes a minimum of 90 days to insure that all review and notification requirements have been met. Once a nomination has been submitted to the National Park Service with the SHPO's signature, a decision to list the property is made within 45 days.

How can I learn more?

The RIHPHC and the National Park Service will provide assistance if you wish to know more. RIHPHC staff will help with the presentation of your property to the Review Board and will let you know the National Register status of any property. The National Park Service provides written guidance on completing National Register forms, on researching historic properties, and on the process of evaluation. National Register Bulletins, which address specific aspects of the registration process or the evaluation of certain classes of properties, can be accessed online and are available at the RIHPHC office if you want to consult them. The RIHPHC can provide you with introductory brochures for the National Register in English or Spanish or with fact sheets that outline the effects of National Register listing, the criteria for listing, the rights of owners to comment or object, and the difference between registration and historic district zoning.

If you would like to read the federal regulations that set up the National Register and the processes that accompany registration, see the Code of Federal Regulations (36CFR60), or call us and we'll be glad to send you the relevant sections.

The RI-National Register Search can help you learn more about specific Rhode Island properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Search the database to discover information about a single property (like the Westerly Armory on Railroad Street) or multiple properties (like armories statewide).

Why can't I find a property in the Rhode Island Historic Properties Search?

The data available is not 100% complete, and will be updated periodically. If you want to confirm a listing, email Jeffrey Emidy or call him at (401)222-4134.