National Historic Landmark Status

By November 9, 2017 No Comments

What does it mean to be a National Historic Landmark?

If you have been following news of the NCWHS effort to add women’s history content to the NHL program, you might like to learn more about what the NHL program does and means.  The numerous designations within the National Park Service can be challenging to master: in terms of those places managed by the NPS there are National Historic Sites, National Historic Parks, National Monuments, and a range of other types and kinds of places to visit, while the agency also administers programs like the National Register of Historic Places, which recognizes thousands of properties nationwide (places not owned by the NPS, but by private individuals; local and state governments; tribal entities; non-profit organizations; and corporations and other businesses) for the historical and architectural significance.


One type of designation in the latter category is the National Historic Landmark, a designation granted for the nation’s most important buildings, landscapes, objects and neighborhoods; of approximately 2500 NHLs, only 400 are owned by the federal government (a list arranged by state can be found here).  Most are private properties that have been recognized as important documents of the nation’s history. As the NPS explains, NHLs may be a location with the strongest association with a turning point or significant event in our nation’s history; be the best location to tell the story of an individual who played a significant role in the history of our nation; be an exceptional representation of a particular building or engineering method, technique, or building type in the country; or provide the potential to yield new and innovative information about the past through archeology.

In order to become an NHL, someone must first propose the property to the NPS.  If the staff agrees that the site might be eligible, and the property owner is amenable, a complex nomination for is drafted, often with advice and guidance from the NHL offices.  The Landmarks Committee then reviews the nomination and makes a recommendation to the National Park System Advisory Board (at one of two meetings each year) that in turn goes to the Secretary of the Interior, who makes the decision.  The process typically takes from two to five years.

NCWHS is currently partnering with the NHL program to ensure that sites related to women’s history receive this important designation. If you know of a property that may qualify for designation as an NHL, please let us know by e-mailing

For more on the regulations that govern this program, click here; on the effects of becoming an NHL, click here.  The NHL Program offers a series of free webinars for anyone interested in learning more about the nomination process. For more information on the webinars, click here.