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About National Historic Landmarks

Preserving our historic treasures has always been important to the American people. For the past 200 years, visionary men and women have worked hard to save irreplaceable landmarks of American history for the benefit of future generations.

Imagine the unimaginable – an America without Monticello. In 1923 the federal government declined its third opportunity to acquire Thomas Jefferson’s estate on behalf of the nation. Facing the possibility that this treasure would decay beyond repair, a small group of Virginians stepped up to save Jefferson’s house and grounds. They formed a private, non-profit organization to purchase, restore, and preserve the estate. Ninety years later the Thomas Jefferson Foundation welcomes half a million visitors a year to Monticello, and has become a model organization for non-profit historic preservation.

By the middle of the last century it was clear that America needed a systematic approach to the incredibly diverse challenges of historic preservation.

So in 1960 the National Park Service consolidated the several programs that identified our most significant historic places, and began using the formal designation National Historic Landmark.  A rigorous nominating and evaluation process was established, and over the years fewer than 2,500 buildings, sites, and ships have been designated as National Historic Landmarks. Less than two percent of these are located within National Park Service units, and most are not owned or supported by government entities.

In 1966 Congress established the National Register of Historic Places to serve as a more comprehensive list of cultural and historic resources worthy of preservation. Like the National Historic Landmark program, it has a formal process of nomination and evaluation. There are currently over 80,000 properties and 130,000 districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Both of these websites have searchable databases and an abundance of educational resources, and are well worth exploring. Of particular interest is this collection of dozens of Theme Studies.

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