Historic preservation

This article is about the preservation of cultural heritage. For cultural heritage as a concept, see Cultural heritage. For vocation and practice of managing cultural heritage, see Cultural heritage management.
Demolition of the former Penn Station concourse raised public awareness about preservation

Historic preservation (US), heritage preservation or heritage conservation (UK), is an endeavour that seeks to preserve, conserve and protect buildings, objects, landscapes or other artifacts of historical significance. The term tends to refer specifically to the preservation of the built environment, and not to preservation of, for example, primeval forests or wilderness.[1]



In England, antiquarian interests were a familiar gentleman's pursuit since the mid 17th century, developing in tandem with the rise in scientific curiosity. Fellows of the Royal Society were often also Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries.

Picture of Berkhamsted from the Norman Castle's Motte
The ruins of Berkhamsted castle (viewed from its Norman motte) and Berkhamsted Common were the location of two successful early preservation events in the nineteenth century. (Enlarged: A train passes Berkhamsted castle, on an embankment that was once part of the castle's outer defences.)

Many historic sites were damaged as the railways began to spread across the UK; including Trinity Hospital and its church in Edinburgh, Furness Abbey, Berwick and Northampton Castle, and the ancient walls of York, Chester and Newcastle. In 1833 Berkhamsted Castle became the first historic site in England to be officially protected by statute under the London and Birmingham Railway Acts of 1833-37, though the new railway line in 1834 did demolish the castle's gatehouse and outer earthworks to the south.[2]

Another early preservation event also occurred at Berkhamsted. In England from early Anglo-Saxon times, Common land was an area of land which the local community could use as a resource. Between 1660 and 1845, 7 million acres of such land was enclosed by private owners by application to parliament. In 1863, Ashridge, once part of Berkhamsted castle's royal park was sold to Earl Brownlow. In 1866, Lord Brownlow tried to enclose Berkhamsted Common with 5-foot (2 m) steel fences in an attempt to claim it as part of his estate. Augustus Smith MP led gangs of local folk and hired men from London's East End in direct action to break the fences and protect Berkhamsted Common for the people of Berkhamsted on the night of 6 March, in what became known nationally as the Battle of Berkhamsted Common.[3][4][5] In 1870, Sir Robert Hunter (later co-founder of the National Trust in 1895) and the Commons Preservation Society succeed in legal action that ensured protection of Berkhamsted Common and other open spaces threatened with enclosure. In 1926 the common was acquired by the National Trust.[6][7][8]

John Lubbock, MP was a moving force behind the implementation of the Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882.

By the mid 19th century, much of Britain's unprotected cultural heritage was being slowly destroyed. Even well-meaning archaeologists like William Greenwell excavated sites with virtually no attempt at their preservation, Stonehenge came under increasing threat by the 1870s. Tourists were chipping off parts of the stones or carving their initials into the rock. The private owners of the monument decided to sell the land to the London and South-Western Railway as the monument was "not the slightest use to anyone now". John Lubbock, an MP and botanist emerged as the champion of the country's national heritage. In 1872 he personally bought private land that housed ancient monuments in Avebury, Silbury Hill and elsewhere, from the owners who were threatening to have them cleared away to make room for housing. Soon, he began campaigning in Parliament for legislation to protect monuments from destruction. This finally led to the legislative milestone under the Liberal government of William Gladstone of the Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882. The first government appointed inspector for this job was the archaeologist Augustus Pitt-Rivers. This legislation was regarded by conservative political elements as a grave assault on the individual rights of property of the owner, and consequently, the inspector only had the power to identify endangered landmarks and offer to purchase them from the owner with his consent. The Act only covered ancient monuments and explicitly did not cover historic buildings or structures. In 1877 the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was founded by the Arts and Crafts designer William Morris to prevent the destruction of historic buildings, followed by the National Trust in 1895 that bought estates from their owners for preservation.[9]

The Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882 had only given legal protection to prehistoric sites, such as ancient tumuli. The Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1900 took this further by empowering the government's Commissioners of Work and local County Councils to protect a wider range of properties. Further updates were made in 1910.

Tattershall Castle, preserved at personal expense by Lord Curzon and a catalyst for broader heritage protection laws.

Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire, a medieval manor house had been put up for sale in 1910 with its greatest treasures, the huge medieval fireplaces, still intact. However, when an American bought the house they were ripped out and packaged up for shipping. The former viceroy of India, George Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, was outraged at this cultural destruction and stepped in to buy back the castle and reinstall the fireplaces. After a nationwide hunt for them they were finally found in London and returned.[10] He restored the castle[11] and left it to the National Trust on his death in 1925. His experience at Tattershall influenced Lord Curzon to push for tougher heritage protection laws in Britain, which saw passage as the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act 1913.

The new structure involved the creation of the Ancient Monuments Board to oversee the protection of such monuments. Powers were given for the board, with Parliamentary approval, to issue preservation orders to protect monuments, and extended the public right of access to these. The term "monument" was extended to include the lands around it, allowing the protection of the wider landscape.[12]

The National Trust

The National Trust was founded in 1894 by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Canon Rawnsley as the first organisation of its type in the world. Its formal purpose is:

The preservation for the benefit of the Nation of lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest and, as regards lands, for the preservation of their natural aspect, features and animal and plant life. Also the preservation of furniture, pictures and chattels of any description having national and historic or artistic interest.

In the early days, the Trust was concerned primarily with protecting open spaces and a variety of threatened buildings; its first property was Alfriston Clergy House and its first nature reserve was Wicken Fen. Its first archaeological monument was White Barrow. The focus on country houses and gardens, which now comprise the majority of its most visited properties, came about in the mid 20th century, when it was realised that the private owners of many of these properties were no longer able to afford to maintain them.

The Town and Country Planning Act 1944, and the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, took steps toward historic preservation on an unprecedented scale. Concern about the demolition of historic buildings arose in institutions such as the pressure group the Society for the Preservation of Historic Buildings, which appealed against demolition and neglect on a case by case basis.[13]

English Heritage

English Heritage formed in 1983, is a registered charity that looks after the National Heritage Collection in England.[14] This comprises over 400 of England's historic buildings, monuments and sites spanning more than 5,000 years of history. Within its portfolio are Stonehenge, Dover Castle, Tintagel Castle and the best preserved parts of Hadrian's Wall.

Originally English Heritage was the operating name of an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government, officially titled the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, that ran the national system of heritage protection and managed a range of historic properties.[15] It was created to combine the roles of existing bodies that had emerged from a long period of state involvement in heritage protection. In 1999 the organisation merged with the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England and the National Monuments Record (England), bringing together resources for the identification and survey of England's historic environment. On 1 April 2015, English Heritage was divided into two parts: Historic England, which inherited the statutory and protection functions of the old organisation, and the new English Heritage Trust, a charity that would operate the historic properties, and which took on the English Heritage operating name and logo.[14][15][16] The British government gave the new charity an £80 million grant to help establish it as an independent trust, although the historic properties remained in the ownership of the state.

United States

In the United States one of the first historic preservation efforts was the Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site, in Newburgh, New York. This property has the distinction of being the first-ever property designated and operated as a historic site by a U.S. state, having been so since 1850.

Another early historic preservation undertaking was that of George Washington's Mount Vernon in 1858.[17] Founded in 1889, the Richmond, Virginia-based Preservation Virginia (formerly known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities) was the United States' first statewide historic preservation group.[18][19]

Charles E. Peterson was an influential figure in the mid-20th century establishing the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), advising on the establishment of Independence National Historical Park, helping with the first graduate degree program in historic preservation in the United States at Columbia University, and author.

The architectural firm of Simons & Lapham (Albert Simons and Samuel Lapham) was an influential supporter of the nation's first historic preservation ordinance in Charleston, South Carolina in 1930, affording that city a regulatory means by which to prevent the destruction of its historic building stock. In 1925, efforts to preserve the historic buildings of the French Quarter in New Orleans led to the creation of the Vieux Carré Commission and later, to the adoption of a historic preservation ordinance.[20][21]

The preservation of this historic building in Washington, D.C. resulted in an award for Excellence in Historic Preservation by the local government.[22]

The US National Trust for Historic Preservation, another privately funded non-profit organization, began in 1949 with a handful of structures and has developed goals that provide "leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to save America's diverse historic places and revitalize our communities" according to the Trust's mission statement. In 1951 the Trust assumed responsibility for its first museum property, Woodlawn Plantation in northern Virginia. Twenty-eight sites in all have subsequently become part of the National Trust, representing the cultural diversity of American history. In New York City, the destruction of Pennsylvania Station in 1964 shocked many nationwide into supporting preservation. On an international level, the New York-based World Monuments Fund was founded in 1965 to preserve historic sites all over the world.

Under the direction of James Marston Fitch, the first advanced-degree historic preservation program began at Columbia University in 1964.[23] It became the model on which most other graduate historic preservation programs were created.[24] Many other programs were to follow before 1980: M.A. in Preservation Planning from Cornell (1975); M.S. in Historic Preservation from the University of Vermont (1975); M.S. in Historic Preservation Studies from Boston University (1976); M.S. in Historic Preservation from Eastern Michigan University (1979) and M.F.A. in Historic Preservation was one of the original programs at Savannah College of Art & Design. James Marston Fitch also offered guidance and support towards the founding of the Master of Preservation Studies Degree within the Tulane School of Architecture in 1996.[25] The M.Sc. in Building Conservation degree program is offered by the School of Architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. In 2005, Clemson University and the College of Charleston created an M.S. degree program based in Charleston, SC. The first undergraduate programs (B.A.) appeared in 1977 from Goucher College and Roger Williams University (then called Roger Williams College), followed by Mary Washington College in 1979.[26] As of 2013 there were more than fifty historic preservation programs offering certificates, associate, bachelor's and master's degrees in the United States.[27]


In Canada, the phrase "heritage preservation" is sometimes seen as a specific approach to the treatment of historic places and sites, rather than a general concept of conservation. "Conservation" is taken as the more general term, referring to all actions or processes that are aimed at safeguarding the character-defining elements of a cultural resource so as to retain its heritage value and extend its physical life.

Historic objects in Canada may be granted special designation by any of the three levels of government: the central government, the provincial governments, or a municipal government. The Heritage Canada Foundation acts as Canada's lead advocacy organisation for heritage buildings and landscapes.

National Register of Historic Places

National Historic Landmark

Historic districts

A historic district in the United States is a group of buildings, properties, or sites that have been designated by one of several entities on different levels as historically or architecturally significant. Buildings, structures, objects and sites within a historic district are normally divided into two categories, contributing and non-contributing. Districts greatly vary in size, some having hundreds of structures while others have just a few.

The U.S. federal government designates historic districts through the U.S. Department of Interior, under the auspices of the National Park Service. Federally designated historic districts are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[28] Historic districts allows rural areas to preserve their characters through historic preservation programs. These include "Main Street" programs that can be used to redevelop rural downtowns. Using historic preservation programs as an economic development tool for local governments in rural areas has enabled some of those areas to take advantage of their history and develop a tourism market that in turn provides funds for maintaining an economic stability that these areas would not have seen otherwise.[29][30]

A similar concept exists in the United Kingdom: a Conservation area is designated in accordance with the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 in order to protect a zone in which there are buildings of architectural or cultural heritage interest.

National Parks

Main article: National Park

In 1835, the English poet William Wordsworth described the Lake District as a[31]

sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.

It was, however, the United States that led the world in the creation of National Parks, areas of unspoiled natural wilderness, where the intrusion of civilization are intentionally minimal.

The department of the interior designated several areas of Morristown, New Jersey as the first historic park in the United States national park system. It became designated as the Morristown National Historical Park.[32] The community had permanent settlements that date to 1715, is termed the military capital of the American Revolution, and contains many designations of sites and locations. The park includes three major sites in Morristown.

In the United Kingdom, James Bryce the ambassador to the US praised the system of National Parks and campaigned to have them introduced in Great Britain. Little came of it until mounting public pressure during the early 20th century from the Ramblers' Association and other groups led to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.


Landscapes and sites of outstanding universal value can be designated as World Heritage Sites. A requirement of such designation is that the designating nation has appropriate legislation in place to preserve them.

Influential people


Although volunteers continue to play a large role in historic preservation activities, the field has seen an increased level of professionalization. Today, there are many career options in historic preservation in the public, non-profit and private sectors. Institutes of secondary education (universities, colleges, etc.) in the United States offer both certificate and degree (A.A.S, B.A., B.F.A., B.S., M.A., M.F.A., M.S. and PhD) programs in historic preservation. Some pupils—at schools with such programmes available—choose to enroll in "joint degree" programs, earning a degree in historic preservation along with one in another, related subject, often an MArch, MUP or JD degree.

Possible career fields include:

Architectural conservator
Focus specifically on the physical conservation of building materials.
Architectural historian/historian
Primarily researches and writes statements expressing the historical significance of sites.
Historic preservation planner
Most are employed by local, county, state or federal government planning agencies to administer tax abatement programs, ensure compliance with local ordinances and state and Federal legislation, and conduct design reviews to ensure that proposed projects will not harm historic and archaeological resources. At the state level, they are known as a State Historic Preservation Officer while at other levels of government they may be known as a Federal or Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. Some may also serve as consultants to local governments, conducting Section 106 reviews in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
Preservation architect
Design and develop architectural conservation plans and work specifications in consultation with Engineers, Historians and Planners, ensuring compliance with local design guidelines to protect sensitive historic building fabric. Most are employed by private architecture firms though some find work with government agencies.
Preservation craftsperson/traditional trades practitioner
Employs knowledge of traditional building techniques and contemporary conservation technologies to complete the conservation, repair or restoration of historic buildings.
Preservation engineer
Work with Architects to devise conservation solutions of a structural or material -specific nature. Most are employed by private architecture and/or engineering firms.
Public historian/resource interpreters
Most are employed by government agencies and private foundations to interpret the significance of historic resources for the general public.
Historic site administrator
Non-profit sector careers
Engage in a variety of activities concerned with historic preservation advocacy, easements, and private foundations at the local, regional, statewide, or national levels.

Professional organisations

See also


  1. Maryland Association of Historic District Commissions, Handbook (1997).
  2. Michael Wheeler (1 January 1995). Ruskin and Environment: The Storm-cloud of the Nineteenth Century. Manchester University Press. pp. 125–. ISBN 978-0-7190-4377-2.
  3. Cobb 1883, p. 26.
  4. Sherwood 2008, p. 245.
  5. Birtchnell 1988.
  6. "Mr. Shaw-Lefevre on the Preservation of Commons". The Times. 11 December 1886. p. 10.
  7. Ashbrook, Kate. "Modern commons: a protected open space?" (PDF). Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  8. "Exhibition and commemorative walk marks anniversary of battle to save Berkhamsted Common". Hemel Gazette. Johnston Publishing Ltd. 12 October 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  9. Bryson, Bill. "At Home: A Short History of Private Life" Transworld Publishers, 2010
  10. Denise Winterman. "The man who demolished Shakespeare's house". BBC News Magazine.
  11. Adrian Pettifer (2002). "English Castles: A Guide by Counties". Boydell & Brewer. pp. 145–7.
  12. Mynors, p.9.
  13. "The Society for the Preservation of Historic Buildings (SPHB)". Sphb.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-10-29.
  14. 1 2 "New Era for English Heritage". English Heritage. English Heritage Trust. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  15. 1 2 "Our History". English Heritage. English Heritage Trust. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  16. Lean, Geoffrey (28 February 2015). "Does our history have a future in the hands of the English Heritage Trust?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  17. Lea, Diane. "America's Preservation Ethos: A Tribute to Enduring Ideals." A Richer Heritage: Historic Preservation in the Twenty-First Century. ed. Robert Stipe. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. p.2
  18. Helium Studio. "Preservation Virginia". Apva.org. Retrieved 2012-10-29.
  19. Lindgren, James Michael. Preserving the Old Dominion: historic preservation and Virginia traditionalism. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993. 3. Print.
  20. Blevins, Documentation of the Architecture of the Architecture of Samuel Lapham and the Firm of Simons & Lapham, Masters of Fine Arts in Historic Preservation Thesis, Savannah College of Art & Design, 2001
  21. Ellis, Scott S. (2010). Madame Vieux Carré: the French Quarter in the Twentieth Century. University of Mississippi. p. 43.
  22. "Mayor Gray Announces Winners of Historic Preservation Awards". Government of the District of Columbia. Retrieved October 22, 2014.
  23. Murtagh, William J. Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America. New York: Sterling Publishing, Co., 1997.
  24. Michael Tomlan. "Historic Preservation Education: Alongside Architecture in Academia." Journal of Architectural Education, Vol. 47, No. 4. (1994): 187-196.
  25. Master of Preservation Studies | Tulane School of Architecture
  26. Preservation News (Oct 1, 1979)
  27. http://www.ncpe.us/academic-programs/#.UqsZqvSry-M National Counsel for Preservation Education website accessed 12/13/2013
  28. Federal, State and Local Historic Districts, TOOLBOX, FAQ, National Park Service. Retrieved 19 February 2007
  29. Stenberg, Peter L. (October 1995). "Historic Preservation as Part of Downtown Redevelopment." Rural Development Perspectives, Vol. 11, no.1, pp. 16-21. Washington, DC : Economic Research Service. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  30. John, Patricia LaCaille (July 2008). "Historic Preservation Resources." Rural Information Center Publication Series no. 62. National Agricultural Library. Rural Information Center. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  31. Wordsworth, William (1835). A guide through the district of the lakes in the north of England with a description of the scenery, &c. for the use of tourists and residents (5th ed.). Kendal, England: Hudson and Nicholson. p. 88.
  32. "Morristown National Historical Park - Morristown National Historical Park". Nps.gov. 2012-10-12. Retrieved 2012-10-29.
  33. "Biography of Ann Pamela Cunningham" National Women's History Museum. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  34. Archived August 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.


  • Birtchnell, Percy (1988). Short History of Berkhamsted. Berkhamsted: Book Stack. ISBN 978-187137200-7. 
  • Cobb, John Wolstenholme. Two Lectures on the History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted. London, UK: Nichols and Sons * Jokilehto, Jukka. A History of Architectural Conservation. Oxford, UK: Butterwort/Heinemann, 1999. 
  • Fitch, James Marston. Historic Preservation: Curatorial Management of the Built World. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1990.* Munoz Vinas, Salvador. Contemporary Theory of Conservation. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Butterworth Heinemann, 2005.
  • Page, Max & Randall Mason (eds.). Giving Preservation a History. New York: Routledge, 2004.
  • Price, Nicholas Stanley et al. (eds.). Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute, 1996.
  • Ruskin, John. The Seven Lamps of Architecture. New York: Dover Publications, 1989. Originally published, 1880. Important for preservation theory introduced in the section, "The Lamp of Memory."
  • Sherwood, Jennifer. "Influences on the Growth of Medieval and Early Modern Berkhamsted". In Wheeler, Michael. A County of Small Towns: the Development of Hertfordshire's Urban Landscape to 1800. Hatfied, UK: Hertfordshire. 
  • Stipe, Robert E. (ed.). A Richer Heritage: Historic Preservation in the Twenty-First Century. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Tyler, Norman, Ted J. Ligibel, and Ilene R. Tyler. Historic Preservation: An Introduction to its History, Principles, and Practice. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.
  • Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène Emmanuel. The Foundations of Architecture; Selections from the Dictionnaire Raisonné. New York: George Braziller, 1990. Originally published, 1854. Important for its introduction of restoration theory.
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