National Register of Historic Places: How To Nominate Your Property & The Listing Process
Cameron R. Strause*
The National Register of Historic Places (“National Register”) is the most comprehensive list of historic properties in the United States. The National Register was created as part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. This act was vital in establishing programs and laws to help guide historic preservation in the United States. The National Register includes over 90,000 properties throughout all 50 states. With over 3,400 sites and structures, containing over 42,000 historic features, Kentucky has the fourth-highest number of listings in the entire country! Only Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York have more listings on the National Register. The Kentucky Historic Sites Database, which can be found through the Kentucky Heritage Council’s (“KHC”) website, contains information on over 100,000 historic sites that have been surveyed throughout the commonwealth. The National Register is an integral preservation tool at the state and national level.
Properties can come in different shapes and sizes. Buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts are all that may be eligible for inclusion on the National Register. Some of the larger properties are owned by the federal government. Usually, the National Park Service (“NPS”) operates federally-owned properties to manage visitors and provide maintenance. However, most listings are private property that has been nominated by their owner. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that your property might be eligible for enlistment on the National Register.
Enlistment on the National Register does not come from a random designation. There is a thorough set of instructions on how to nominate a property and details about what the evaluation process includes. Most of this information is easily accessible via the NPS website. According to the site, the first step in the nomination process for private property owners is usually to contact the State Historic Preservation Office (“SHPO”). Property owners should contact the SHPO in the state their property is located in. If contacting a local SHPO isn’t possible, it is best to check their website for relevant information and forms required to initiate the nomination process. The NPS website includes instructions intended to assist property owners in submitting a nomination and completing the “National Register Registration Form”. Online resources, including sample nominations, are available on the NPS website. The evaluation process and specific criteria used can also be found on the NPS website.
After initial forms and paperwork have been submitted, it is time for a property to be evaluated. All properties are evaluated based on the same set of standards. Nominated properties must be at least 50 years old (with some rare exceptions). Properties may be deemed eligible due to their association with important historical events or historically significant figures. Ornate and especially artistic properties can also be eligible. These properties sometimes highlight a specific architectural type or feature elements representative of a specific era in history. In some cases, properties that have yielded, or are likely to yield archaeological materials, are designated to the National Register. The vast majority of listings on the National Register meet these criteria. However, in rare cases, exceptions are made for properties that are especially historically significant. A checklist like the one used to evaluate properties can be found on the NPS Website.
Nominations for the National Register are not required to be submitted by property owners. Government agencies, preservation organizations, and historical societies also can submit a nomination. Regardless of who submits a nomination, property owners and local government will be notified. This is partially to provide the owner or owners the chance to object to a listing. If there are no objections, nominations undergo review by the National Register Review Board and the SHPO. According to the NPS, the length of this review may vary. However, they do state the process usually takes a minimum of 90 days. In March 2023, the Kentucky Historic Preservation Review Board met via Zoom to discuss two potential listings in the National Register. The Zoom link and agenda were posted publicly on the KHC website. For example, the KHC website also has the Bardstown Holiday Inn, in Nelson County, as a National Register draft nomination to be considered in March 2023. The nomination form is posted publicly on the KHC Site. Once a complete nomination has been approved at the State level, it is submitted to the NPS in Washington DC for review and “listing by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places”. A determination is made by the NPS within 45 days of a nomination being submitted.
There are ample benefits to a property’s inclusion on the National Register. The National Register provides formal recognition of a property’s historic significance. When a property is added to the National Register, it is also added to the National Register Archives. The National Register Archives is a research database with vital information on the National Register’s various properties. The documentation of previously undocumented historic properties is beneficial to the field of historic preservation. Documenting sites enables preservationists to plan and protect endangered properties, including those facing complete destruction. The National Register is just one of many methods used to document historic properties for future research and preservation.
There are financial incentives associated with the inclusion of a property on the National Register. For property owners interested in active preservation, Federal Preservation Grants are available to assist in planning and rehabilitation. Federal Investment Tax Credits are another option for property owners. Certified Local Government Programs can provide assistance with the nomination process. Grants through these programs may be available for preservation planning and associated activities. In Kentucky, grants are awarded on a 60/40 matching basis, according to the KHC. For nonprofit organizations, it becomes easier to acquire preservation easements. To check the availability of State tax benefits and grant opportunities, property owners should reach out to their SHPO.
Listing a property on the National Register does not only provide financial incentives. It is a great networking opportunity for owners with an interest in history. Property owners often have a chance to meet fellow preservationists through workshops, conferences, and various organizations. Regardless of a property owner’s interest in history, the National Register gives owners a physical way to distinguish their property. Bronze Plaques are available to mark properties as being listed on the National Register. This is a common way for all different types of properties to honor and mark their inclusion on the National Register. More details about how to order a bronze plaque can be found on the NPS website.
It is important to note a couple of reminders for owners that may be apprehensive about nominating their property. A property owner is allowed to make any changes to his/her property or structure. Enlistment on the National Register comes with no restrictions. According to federal law, property owners may alter their property however they please. This even includes complete destruction. A property owner maintains complete ownership of their property following enlistment. It is not made public. Lastly, if a property owner objects to a nomination or inclusion into the National Register, the decision is theirs. If a property owner does not want their property listed, it will not be listed. These are important things to keep in mind when contemplating nomination. Property owners maintain the same rights as always.
Property owners may be surprised that enlistment on the National Register is within reach. All it requires is a property to meet the criteria, paired with submitting a nomination. Enlistment on the National Register can be very rewarding. The process remains one of the best ways to get involved in historic preservation, while also learning about the history of a property. Resources to assist property owners in completing the nomination process are plentiful. Citizens’ active participation in historic preservation has exponential benefits for a community and its future. It is up to the average citizen to preserve and protect our cultural heritage. Each person plays a role in the preservation of our history for future generations. Now it is up to the American people to answer the call.
*Research Associate, Strause Law Group, PLLC.
 Nat’l Park Serv., United States National Register of Historic Places listings, Wikipedia (Feb. 6, 2022), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_National_Register_of_Historic_Places_listings#cite_note-3.
 Ky. Heritage Council, National Register of Historic Places, heritage.ky.gov (June 6, 2023),
 Nat’l Park Serv., How to List a Property, National Register of Historic Places, (Nov. 17, 2022), https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/how-to-list-a-property.htm#:~:text=Nominations%20can%20be%20submitted%20to,your%20State%20Historic%20Preservation%20Office.
 Ky. Heritage Council, supra note 2.
 Nat’l Park Serv., supra note 3.
 Ky. Heritage Council, supra note 2.
 Nat’l Park Serv., supra note 3.