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National Register Historic Districts

A historic district is a concentration of historic buildings, structures, sites, and/or objects united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development.  Individually, the properties or resources in a historic district may not have particular historical, architectural, engineering, or archeological distinction, but the collection must have significance in one of these areas.  Common examples of historic districts include collections of downtown commercial and civic buildings, residential neighborhoods, and industrial complexes. 

Districts are a special type of historic resource that requires the coordination and consent of multiple property owners.  There are several steps (noted below) that can take many months or even years to complete including grassroots organization, coordination with local and state officials, surveying historic resources to determine appropriate boundaries, and preparing the National Register nomination. 

Fort Scott Downtown

If an individual, organization, neighborhood, or community is interested in pursuing National Register designation for a historic district, they should contact the National Register Coordinator at 785-272-8681 ext. 216 or kshs.shpo@ks.gov to discuss the potential for a particular district. 

Historic District Nomination Process

Grassroots Organization

  • Create a small working committee to organize the local effort that includes a representative from key groups such as property owners, the local government, Main Street, Chamber of Commerce, historical society, etc. 
  • As a committee, develop general and flexible boundaries for the potential historic district.  Be as inclusive as possible, with the understanding that these boundaries may be refined as the process evolves. Tally how many buildings and structures these boundaries include and create a list of these properties by address. 
  • Determine whether or not a professional consultant is needed to achieve your goals.  
  • Seeking public support for an initiative to create a historic district should be an early priority of the local committee.  It is recommended that representatives of the local committee make contact with property owners to gain their written consent for the nomination process.  Collecting supportive signatures can be completed during advertised public meetings, by mail, or in person.  Ultimately, a majority of owners must not oppose the nomination process.

Survey Historic Resources

  • Contact the National Register Coordinator to coordinate survey efforts.  Some resources may already be surveyed, and the web-based record may only need to be updated. 
  • Gather survey data on each resource.  This can be completed by local volunteers or paid consultants.  Click HERE for more information on surveying historic resources.   
  • Upload the survey data, photographs, and site maps to the Kansas Historic Resources Inventory.
  • Produce a neatly hand-drawn or computer-produced map noting every resource surveyed.  Make sure the map is keyed to a list of all properties noted by address.
  • Request feedback from SHPO regarding the potential National Register eligibility of the area surveyed and appropriate district boundaries. 

Preparing & Submitting a Historic District National Register Nomination

  • The nomination form requires documentation on each resource (contributing and noncontributing), a documented history of the district, and justification of its significance and eligibility.  
  • Example nominations are available for reference, but it is recommended that the local committee select an experienced writer, historian, or professional consultant to prepare the nomination. 
  • Submit a draft nomination for review and feedback to the SHPO.  The staff may request edits and revisions to ensure all parts of the form are accurately completed and ready for formal consideration. 
  • Once complete, the nomination will be scheduled for consideration by the Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review, a group of eleven members appointed by the governor.  This board meets quarterly and nominations are selected between 60 and 90 days in advance of meetings. 
  • Property owners, local governments, and nomination sponsors will be notified by mail of a nomination’s consideration no less than 30 days prior to a state review board meeting.  Review board meetings are open to the public and all are welcome to attend. 
  • Should the Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review approve of the nomination, it will be forwarded to the National Register office in Washington, D.C. for final review.  The National Register staff has 45 days from the time of receipt to review and comment on the nomination.   

Frequently Asked Questions about Historic Districts
Printable Flyer with Frequently Asked Questions

What is the National Register of Historic Places?
The National Register is maintained by the National Park Service and was created in 1966 as a way to identify and encourage the preservation of our nation’s historic places.  The register includes historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts significant in our nation’s past.  To be eligible, properties must be important in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, or culture at the local, state, or national level.

What is a historic district?
A historic district is a concentration of historic buildings, structures, sites, and/or objects united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development.  Any one of the properties in a historic district may not have particular historical, architectural, engineering, or archeological distinction, but the collection must have significance in one of these areas.  A historic district can include historic resources beyond just buildings, including brick streets and sidewalks, entrance gates, landscape features, monuments, etc.

Why nominate a district to the National Register?
An area may have a concentration of historic resources that is eligible for listing in the National Register.  Listing these resources as a collection, rather than individually, streamlines the process and is more inclusive.  Additionally, some properties in a historic district may not meet the criteria for individual listing in the National Register, but they may contribute to the overall significance of the district.  Contributing resources could then be eligible for the same rehabilitation tax credits and grants as individually listed properties.

Is a professional consultant required for surveying and nominating a historic district to the National Register?
It is not required that a professional consultant be hired to survey historic resources and nominate a historic district; however, it is strongly encouraged that you contract with a professional writer, historian, or preservation consultant to prepare the nomination.  Matching grant funding is available through the Historic Preservation Fund, a competitive grant program offered by the Kansas Historical Society, to hire professionals to complete surveys and nominations.

What services might a professional consultant provide?
Generally, professional preservation consultants survey historic resources, provide recommendations on National Register eligibility and potential historic district boundaries, assist with public meetings, prepare National Register nominations, prepare grant and tax credit applications, etc.  Contracting individuals and organizations are encouraged to ask any consultant/contractor for references and recent work samples.

How are boundaries drawn for historic districts? 
Boundaries for historic districts are typically drawn to include a significant concentration of historic properties of a similar type, such as commercial and public buildings in a downtown or a neighborhood of residences.  Most historic districts include some non-historic or substantially altered properties, but their number and scale must not overwhelm a district’s sense of time, place, and historic development.  This National Register bulletin provides guidance on determining boundaries for historic districts.

What is a contributing resource?
A contributing resource is a building, structure, object, or site within the boundaries of the district that adds to the historic quality and significance of the district.  To be contributing, a resource must retain enough of its historic physical features to convey its significance within the district’s period of significance.  Alterations can impact a resource’s historic appearance and integrity.  A contributing resource may be eligible for financial incentives. 

What is a noncontributing resource?
Resources that do not contribute to the significance of the district are labeled noncontributing.  These resources may be less than fifty years old, they may be older resources that have been significantly altered, or they may be resources not associated with the historic theme or time period of the district. A noncontributing resource is not eligible for financial incentives.

Who determines the contributing / noncontributing status of a property within a historic district?
The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) staff evaluates each resource within a historic district to determine the contributing or noncontributing status.  This status is subject to change – even after the historic district has been listed in the National Register.  For example, a historic building that is designated noncontributing at the time of nomination due to various alterations may become contributing if the alterations are reversed in such a manner that restores the building’s historic appearance.  Conversely, a building that is designated contributing at the time of nomination may become noncontributing if alterations negatively impact the building’s historic appearance.

How do I determine if my property contributes to a National Register historic district?
The first step is to determine if your property is within the boundaries of a historic district.  A database of register listings is accessible to the public.  You may also call the Cultural Resources Division of the Kansas Historical Society at 785-272-8681 ext 240. 

Is there opportunity for public input during the nomination of a historic district?
Local discussion is encouraged to take place well in advance of the completion of a nomination.  Once a National Register nomination is finalized, it must be reviewed and considered by the Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review.  Federal regulations require the SHPO to notify all property owners within a proposed historic district and local governments at least 30 days in advance of the Review Board meeting at which a nomination is to be considered.  If a majority of property owners submit notarized objections, the historic district will not be listed in the National Register.  The support of a majority of property owners is crucial to the success of a district nomination. 

What happens if several owners in a proposed historic district object to the National Register nomination, but the majority of the owners support the nomination?  Can the owners who object to the nomination keep their properties out of the historic district?
No.  The entire district can be listed if a majority of the owners do not object to the nomination.

Are there financial incentives available for properties in a National Register historic district?
Owners of contributing resources in a National Register historic district qualify to apply for state and federal rehabilitation tax credits and the Heritage Trust Fund grant.  Applications to the SHPO are required in advance of beginning a project and must comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

What types of projects require the review of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)?
Our state’s preservation law (KSA 75-2724) requires the SHPO be given an opportunity to comment on proposed projects affecting historic properties or districts.  Please refer to the Guide to the State Historic Preservation Statute for more information.  In addition to the state preservation law, all federally funded or permitted projects must be reviewed in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 for impacts to cultural resources.  Click here for more information on Section 106 consultation. 

Does National Register designation protect a property from demolition?
No.  National Register designation ensures a more thorough review of major projects and demolition proposals, but it does not prohibit demolition.  Our state’s preservation law (KSA 75-2724) requires the SHPO be given an opportunity to comment on proposed projects affecting historic properties or districts.  Please refer to the Guide to the State Historic Preservation Statute for more information.