Project 66 reinstated the National Survey of Historic Sites and Places, and established National Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.
Until World War II, the National Parks Service had been surveying America’s historic sites with a view to listing them in a register of historic places. The War closed down operations and repeated attempts to revive the work and gain funding were shot down. However, as the NPS approached its 50th birthday it set up Mission 66, a program to expand upon and improve its service. In 1957 there was finally enough congressional support to fund the “National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings.”
The first National Historic Landmarks were announced on October 9. 1960, though not without some quirks. The first to receive official National Historic Landmark status, even before the official announcement, was the Sergeant Charles Floyd Grave and Monument in Sioux City, Iowa. However, subsequent political maneuvering gave the Blair House, recipient of the first national marker, back-dated National Historic Landmark status, making it the new “first.” Later, even Blair House lost that status when, against all logic, Monocacy Battlefield, listed as a national monument in 1935, was granted National Historic Landmark status. The battlefield’s designation was back-dated to 1935 – a date before the survey had even been started!
To Mark or Not to Mark – National Historical Markers
The Park Service also revived the issue of plaques for National Historic Landmarks, first discussed before World War II. Initially the government was to provide them, until it realized the cost; then, the owner of the property was to purchase them. Finally, after some political wrangling, the NPS found a cheaper supply of plaques and provided them to any owner who wanted one. The classic square style is still in use today.
The national survey continued long past the four years its leaders said it needed. In 1966, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act, expanding the NPS’ ability to preserve, document and protect historic properties. This law allowed for the creation of the National Register of Historic Places which had first been whispered about as a “different type of landmark” in 1940. The Act also required the creation of State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) in each of the USA’s divisions.
The National Park Service and Local Preservation Initiatives
Today, National Register of Historic Places applications are initiated through a given state’s Historic Preservation Office. The SHPOs also have the right to run state registers and inventories, should they choose. More recently, the National Park System has implemented Certified Local Governments which aid local governments with setting up preservation plans and designating local landmarks.
According to the National Park Service, in 2009 there were around 2,500 National Historic Landmarks and over 80,000 National Historic Sites on the National Register of Historic Places. These structures and sites highlight a rich and exciting heritage and represent over a century of preservation effort at the grass-roots, state and federal levels.
- Bernstein, Fred A. Mission 66, Architecture, December 2000
- Mackintosh, Jerry: The Historic Sites Survey and National Historic Landmarks Program – A History. National Park Service, 1985.