Preserving National Historic Landmarks?

64 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2017

Date Written: 2016


The National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) represent the nation’s effort to formally recognize its most significant historic resources. With roots dating back to the Historic Sites Act of 1935, it is perhaps surprising to note that many of the properties to have achieved this high level of designation are still not protected from alteration or even outright demolition, and that nationally significant historic properties continue to be lost. As the Historic Sites Act celebrates its eightieth anniversary, questions remain as to how these critically important heritage assets can be better protected and how to best define the appropriate relationship between the federal government and this elite stratum of historic properties.

A promising solution lies in the targeted use of preservation easements. In recent years, preservation easements have played an important role in efforts to protect the built environment, but these efforts have not focused on utilizing this tool to specifically target NHLs. By making such a shift, additional NHLs could be permanently protected – ensuring that the nation’s most significant historic properties are not unnecessarily left in continued jeopardy. Ultimately, the story of the NHL program is, in many respects, one of unrealized potential, but ideally one that can chart a path forward regarding how to protect some of the most important elements of our collective built heritage.

Keywords: Historic Preservation; Preservation Law; Preservation Easements

Suggested Citation

Phelps, Jess R., Preserving National Historic Landmarks? (2016). 24 NYU Environmental Law Journal 137 (2016). Available at SSRN:

Jess R. Phelps (Contact Author)

The Lyme Timber Company LP ( email )

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