National Historic Landmark Update

The long awaited update of the National Historic Landmark designation for Nantucket has been approved and signed by the Secretary of the Interior. Although the island has been recognized as a national treasure since 1966 – the first year the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark programs were implemented – only Nantucket’s structures built prior to 1900 were considered contributing to the island’s historic character. The update extends the period of significance from 1900 to 1975; it also recognizes the significance of Nantucket’s 19th and 20th century resort industry and the island’s national role in the evolution of land conservation and historic preservation – in addition to Nantucket’s whaling era.

The NHL designation does not change local controls, but it can provide benefits for property owners of architecturally significant buildings of the 20th century. The distinction means these buildings can be considered contributing in the eyes of the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC), an important step when “relief” from building codes is sought for historic structures or when owners wish to place preservation easements on the post-1900 structures. Prior to the update, the MHC could not approve these requests. The update will also make federal tax credits available for owners of 20th century structures, who wish to participate in historic rehabilitation projects.

Although the extended date will not necessarily make a property owner eligible for these benefits, as the structure would still need to be deemed historic, it is a critical step for preserving these structures and a great honor. National Historic Landmarks remain the highest designation for historic buildings and districts in the country.

The NHL update project was begun by the Nantucket Preservation Trust in 2008 with a grant from the Community Preservation Fund.

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