Contributing property

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The Freedman's Bank Building, previously known as the Treasury Annex, is a contributing property to the Lafayette Square Historic District and Financial Historic District. Treasury Annex.JPG
The Freedman's Bank Building, previously known as the Treasury Annex, is a contributing property to the Lafayette Square Historic District and Financial Historic District.

In the law regulating historic districts in the United States, a contributing property or contributing resource is any building, object, or structure which adds to the historical integrity or architectural qualities that make the historic district significant. Government agencies, at the state, national, and local level in the United States, have differing definitions of what constitutes a contributing property but there are common characteristics. Local laws often regulate the changes that can be made to contributing structures within designated historic districts. The first local ordinances dealing with the alteration of buildings within historic districts was enacted in Charleston, South Carolina in 1931. [1]


Properties within a historic district fall into one of two types of property: contributing and non-contributing. A contributing property, such as a 19th-century mansion, helps make a historic district historic, while a non-contributing property, such as a modern medical clinic, does not. The contributing properties are key to a historic district's historic associations, historic architectural qualities, or archaeological qualities. A property can change from contributing to non-contributing and vice-versa if significant alterations take place.


According to the National Park Service, the first instance of law dealing with contributing properties in local historic districts was enacted in 1931 by the city of Charleston, South Carolina; it designated the "Old and Historic District." [1] The ordinance declared that buildings in the district could not have changes made to architectural features that were visible from the street. By the mid-1930s, other U.S. cities followed Charleston's lead. An amendment to the Louisiana Constitution led to the 1937 creation of the Vieux Carre Commission, [1] which was charged with protecting and preserving the French Quarter in the city of New Orleans. The city passed a local ordinance that set standards to regulate changes within the quarter. [1] Other sources, such as the Columbia Law Review in 1963, indicate differing dates for the preservation ordinances in both Charleston and New Orleans.

The Columbia Law Review gave dates of 1925 for the New Orleans laws and 1924 for Charleston. [2] The same publication claimed that these two cities were the only cities with historic district zoning until Alexandria, Virginia adopted an ordinance in 1946. [2] The National Park Service appears to refute this. [1]

In 1939, the city of San Antonio, Texas, enacted an ordinance to protect the area of La Villita, the original Mexican village marketplace. [1] In 1941 the authority of local design controls on buildings within historic districts was being challenged in court. [3] In City of New Orleans vs Pergament (198 La. 852, 5 So. 2d 129 (1941)), Louisiana state appellate courts ruled that the design and demolition controls were valid within defined historic districts. Beginning in the mid-1950s, controls that once applied only to buildings within historic districts were extended to individual landmark structures. [3] The United States Congress adopted legislation in 1950 that declared the Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. a historic district and protected. [1] By 1965, 51 American communities had adopted preservation ordinances. In 1976 the National Historic Preservation Act was passed by Congress. By 1998, more than 2,300 U.S. towns, cities and villages had enacted historic preservation ordinances. [1]


Plaque acknowledging Little Red Schoolhouse as a contributing property to Newberry Historic District in Newberry, Florida Newberry Hist Dist School plaque01.jpg
Plaque acknowledging Little Red Schoolhouse as a contributing property to Newberry Historic District in Newberry, Florida

Contributing properties are defined through historic district or historic preservation zoning laws, usually at the local level. [4] Zoning ordinances pertaining to historic districts are designed to maintain a district's historic character by controlling demolition and alteration to existing properties. [5] In historic preservation law, a contributing property is any building, structure, object or site within the boundaries of the district that contributes to its historic associations, historic architectural qualities or archaeological qualities of a historic district. [6] It can be any property, structure or object that adds to the historic integrity or architectural qualities that make the historic district, either local or federal, significant. [6] Definitions vary but, in general, they maintain the same characteristics. [6] [7] Another key aspect of a contributing property is historic integrity. Significant alterations to a property can sever its physical connections with the past, lowering its historic integrity. [8] Contributing properties are integral parts of the historic context and character of a historic district. [9] A property listed as a contributing member of a historic district meets National Register criteria and qualifies for all benefits afforded a property or site listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places. [10]

Each property within a National Register historic district — contributing or non-contributing — is classified as one of four property types: building, object, structure, or site. [11]

Contributing versus non-contributing

This medical clinic building in the East Grove Street District in Bloomington, Illinois is an example of a non-contributing property. Bloomington Il EGHD1 noncontributing.JPG
This medical clinic building in the East Grove Street District in Bloomington, Illinois is an example of a non-contributing property.

The line between contributing and non-contributing can be fuzzy. In particular, American historic districts nominated to the National Register of Historic Places before 1980 have few records of the non-contributing structures. State Historic Preservation Offices conduct surveys to determine the historical character of structures in historic districts. Districts nominated to the National Register of Historic Places after 1980 usually list those structures considered non-contributing. [8]

As a general rule, a contributing property helps make a historic district historic. A well-preserved 19th-century mansion will generally contribute to a district, while a modern gas station generally will not. Historic buildings identified as contributing properties can become non-contributing properties within historic districts if major alterations have taken place. Sometimes, an act as simple as re-siding a historic home can damage its historic integrity and render it non-contributing. In some cases, damage to the historic integrity of a structure is reversible, while other times the historic nature of a building has been so "severely compromised" as to be irreversible. [12] For example, in the East Grove Street District in Bloomington, Illinois, contributing properties include the Queen Anne-style George H. Cox House (1886) and the Arts and Crafts-style H.W. Kelley House (1906), and non-contributing properties include the Italianate-style George Brand House (1886), whose original exterior has been covered with a sun room and asbestos siding, and a 1950s physician's office built in a style radically different from the surrounding neighborhood. [12]

Related Research Articles

The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the United States federal government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance or "great artistic value". A property listed in the National Register or located within a National Register Historic District, may qualify for tax incentives derived from the total value of expenses incurred in preserving the property.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">National Historic Landmark</span> Designation by the US government

A National Historic Landmark (NHL) is a building, district, object, site, or structure that is officially recognized by the United States government for its outstanding historical significance. Only some 2,500, or roughly three percent, of over 90,000 places listed on the country's National Register of Historic Places are recognized as National Historic Landmarks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Historic districts in the United States</span>

Historic districts in the United States are designated historic districts recognizing a group of buildings, archaeological resources, or other properties 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 vary greatly in size and composition: a historic district could comprise an entire neighborhood with hundreds of buildings, or a smaller area with just one or a few resources.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sycamore Historic District</span> Historic district in Sycamore, Illinois, USA

The Sycamore Historic District is a meandering area encompassing 99 acres (400,000 m2) of the land in and around the downtown of the DeKalb County, Illinois county seat, Sycamore. The area includes historic buildings and a number of historical and Victorian homes. Some significant structures are among those located within the Historic District including the DeKalb County Courthouse and the Sycamore Public Library. The district has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since May 2, 1978.

The history of the National Register of Historic Places began in 1966 when the United States government passed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), which created the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Upon its inception, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) became the lead agency for the Register. The Register has continued to grow through two reorganizations, one in the 1970s and one in 1980s and in 1978 the NRHP was completely transferred away from the National Park Service, it was again transmitted to the NPS in 1981.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">National Register of Historic Places property types</span> Types of properties of the U.S. National Register of Historic Places

The U.S. National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) classifies its listings by various types of properties. Listed properties generally fall into one of five categories, though there are special considerations for other types of properties which do not fit into these five broad categories or fit into more specialized subcategories. The five general categories for NRHP properties are: building, district, object, site, and structure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Central Park West Historic District</span> Historic district in Manhattan, New York

The Central Park West Historic District is located along Central Park West, between 61st and 97th Streets, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, United States. The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 9, 1982. The district encompasses a portion of the Upper West Side-Central Park West Historic District as designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and contains a number of prominent New York City designated landmarks, including the Dakota, a National Historic Landmark. The buildings date from the late 19th century to the early 1940s and exhibit a variety of architectural styles. The majority of the district's buildings are of neo-Italian Renaissance style, but Art Deco is a popular theme as well.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Churches in Sycamore Historic District</span> Churches in historic Sycamore, Illinois, United States

As of 2007 there are five church buildings in the Sycamore Historic District, located in Sycamore, Illinois, United States which are listed as contributing properties to the district. The Sycamore Historic District was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on May 2, 1978. When it was nominated to join the National Register there were seven church buildings within the district. One of those included is a residential structure that was utilized as a church when it was first constructed; the Arthur Stark House was once home to the Sycamore Universalist Church congregation. In the time since its listing, two churches have been destroyed or demolished. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. John was destroyed by fire in 2004 and the United Methodist Church in Sycamore is no longer extant, replaced by a modern office building.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ashtabula Harbour Commercial District</span> Historic district in Ohio, United States

The Ashtabula Harbor Commercial District is a historic district in the northern section of the city of Ashtabula, Ohio, United States. Comprising a commercial section near the city's Lake Erie waterfront, the district includes buildings constructed largely in the late nineteenth century, at which time Ashtabula was a flourishing port city.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charleston Historic District</span> Historic district in South Carolina, United States

The Charleston Historic District, alternatively known as Charleston Old and Historic District, is a National Historic Landmark District in Charleston, South Carolina. The district, which covers most of the historic peninsular heart of the city, contains an unparalleled collection of 18th and 19th-century architecture, including many distinctive Charleston "single houses". It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Broadway–Flushing, Queens</span> Neighborhood of Queens in New York City

Broadway–Flushing is a historic district and residential subsection of Flushing, Queens, New York City. The neighborhood comprises approximately 2,300 homes. It is located between 155th and 170th Streets to the west and east respectively, and is bounded on the north by Bayside and 29th Avenues, and on the south by Northern Boulevard and Crocheron Avenue. Broadway–Flushing is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mill conversion</span>

Mill Conversion or mill rehab is a form of adaptive reuse in which a historic mill or industrial factory building is restored or rehabilitated into another use, such as residential housing, retail shops, office, or a mix of these non-industrial elements (mixed-use).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Preservation Society of Charleston</span>

Founded in 1920, the Preservation Society of Charleston is the oldest community-based historic preservation organization in the United States. Susan Pringle Frost founded the organization, first known as the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings, in 1920 along with a small group of friends.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Davenport Register of Historic Properties</span>

This is a list of the Davenport Register of Historic Properties in Davenport, Iowa, United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Broad Street (Charleston, South Carolina)</span> Street in Charleston, South Carolina

Broad Street is a street in Charleston, South Carolina. It is known for its wealth of historic resources as well as being on the American Planning Association (APA)'s list of "great streets". Broad Street is characterized by its historic architecture maintained through a history of persistent and scrupulous historic preservation. Broad Street today is a mix of residences, historic buildings, public uses, as well as restaurants and nightlife uses.

The City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board is responsible for designating and preserving structures of historical importance in Seattle, Washington. The board recommends actions to the Seattle City Council, which fashions these into city ordinances with the force of law. The board is part of the city's Department of Neighborhoods.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Manning Commercial Historic District (Manning, Iowa)</span> Historic district in Iowa, United States

The Manning Commercial Historic District is a nationally recognized historic district located in Manning, Iowa, United States. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. At the time of its nomination it contained 37 resources, which included 26 contributing buildings, four contributing structures, and seven non-contributing buildings.



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Early Models". Working on the Past in Local Historic Districts. National Park Service. Archived from the original on June 9, 2007. Retrieved April 23, 2007.

    However, the archived copy [see above] which is at an "archive dot org" web page, will not reflect updates, if and when the publisher -- nps dot gov -- makes changes to their web site. Therefore, in case such new changes do exist, if those new changes might be of interest, then here is a new ["cite"] link, to allow checking the new version of that web page. That new location (or "URL") was found on March 26, 2023, using a "search" feature of the "nps dot gov" web site. It is:

    "Early Models". Working on the Past in Local Historic Districts. National Park Service. Archived from the original on March 26, 2023. Retrieved March 26, 2023.
  2. 1 2 "The Police Power, Eminent Domain, and the Preservation of Historic Property (in Notes)", (JSTOR), Columbia Law Review, Vol. 63, No. 4. (Apr., 1963), pp. 708-732. Retrieved 23 April 2007.
  3. 1 2 Pyke, John S. Jr. "Architectural Controls and the Individual Landmark", (JSTOR), Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 36, No. 3, Historic Preservation. (Summer, 1971), pp. 398-405. Retrieved 23 April 2007.
  4. For a catalog of early historic district zoning ordinances, see "Further reading" number one, Morrison, J. Historic Preservation Law, pp. 6-9, 12-15, 126, 1965 ed.
  5. Hughes, L. Keith. "Use of Zoning Restrictions to Restrain Property Owners from Altering or Destroying Historic Landmarks (in Notes)", (JSTOR), Duke Law Journal, Vol. 1975, No. 4. (Sep., 1975), pp. 999-1019. Retrieved 23 April 2007.
  6. 1 2 3 Historic and Scenic Preservation Local Option Property Tax Reimbursement Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine , Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Retrieved 19 February 2007.
  7. ORDINANCE NO. 2001-02, (PDF), Danville, California ordinance, California Office of Historic Preservation. Retrieved 19 February 2007.
  8. 1 2 National Register Historic Districts Q&A, South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Retrieved 19 February 2007.
  9. Iowa City Historic Preservation Handbook Archived 2006-12-23 at the Wayback Machine , (PDF), Iowa City Urban Planning Division. Retrieved 26 March 2007.
  10. Historic Districts Archived 2007-08-10 at the Wayback Machine , Town of Wake Forest, North Carolina, Official site. Retrieved 9 April 2007.
  11. "How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation". National Park Service, 1997, 10.
  12. 1 2 East Grove Street District Archived 2009-03-25 at the Wayback Machine , (PDF), National Register Nomination Form, HAARGIS Database, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Retrieved 26 March 2007.


  • Morrison, Jacob H. Historic Preservation Law, New Orleans: Pelican Pub. Co., 1957. Further editions published in 1965, 1972 and 1974. ISBN   9780891330196, ISBN   0891330194.