Have a cemetery that is older than fifty years old? Think it represents a unique or quintessential architectural style or is someone significant buried there? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the National Register might be for you. There are several important things to understand about the National Register and the kinds of protection and resources it may or may not provide for you. Much of the support for preserving a historic cemetery will come from your local, city or county level planning offices. Make sure to contact your city office first and ask about your local list of historic places.
Being on the National Register can be a great way to attract visitors to your cemetery! Often used as a way to organize the historical attractions in a city, being on the National Register offers a certain level of prestige that can be attractive to history buffs visiting your area.
Being on the National Register can open up your organization to more grant and other funding opportunities. The National Register can add another layer to applying for grant funding. It takes a lot of time and effort to do the research required for the National Register. That commitment is attractive to funders and makes it easier to justify why the upkeep is worth paying for.
Things to consider:
Your first step should be researching local, city and county level protections for historic places. If your cemetery isn’t listed as significant on a local level, it will be hard to make a case for why it’s important on the national level. Most cities or counties will have a list of historic places that receive some level of attention from planning officials. This is largely dependent on where you live so make sure to get all the designations sorted out on a local level before you set out for the National Register.
Getting your cemetery listed on the National Register requires a detailed history of why the cemetery is important or unique. It can be difficult for cemeteries register at the national level. However, it is certainly not impossible. Start with your local State Historic Preservation Office to see what they suggest if you want to consider the National Register. Does the State office think you have a good idea? Then time to research. Make sure you base anything you write on facts that can be verified in other ways like newspaper records, court documents, or oral history. Keep in touch with your local preservation officials.
Being on the National Register doesn’t automatically protect your cemetery from demolition or removal. All the protection/enforcement of places on the National Register comes from the local, city-level protections you have in place. The first question you want to ask yourself is whether your cemetery is on a local list of significant places. Ask city officials about the protections offered to historic places in your town or county. If it’s not on any local lists, getting your cemetery some local protection should be the first thing to check off your list.
Your experience with review of proposed changes to the cemetery will depend on your local historic planning regulations. Depending on what your local processes looks like, this generally means ensuring that no historic architectural elements are taken away or radically altered. Ask your local planning office for more information about historic design review. It’s important to understand that this kind of designation might restrict the kind of work you can do at the cemetery, but that will depend on your local regulations.
Think this may be the right fit for your cemetery? Check out the nomination for the Salem Pioneer Cemetery in Salem, Oregon below! Want to see more? Check out the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office database to explore the nominations for places in your area!
Salem Pioneer Cemetery National Register Nomination: