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Historic Preservation Act Introduced in Congress

3/17/2016:

Fifty years ago the National Historic Preservation Act was created to help preserve the diverse archaeological and architectural treasures of America that were quickly disappearing. As we’ve been reporting, many sites in North Dakota have been protected by the Act.

On this date in 1966, Senator Edward Muskie, with the support of Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, introduced two bills that would profoundly affect the ability to preserve and record significant historic places. The Senate bill provided financial and other aid to encourage and assist in the preservation and maintenance of historic structures. The legislation promoted and coordinated historic preservation activities of the Federal, State, and local governments, and other public bodies, private organizations, and individuals.

On introducing the legislation, Senator Muskie stated, “Many of our buildings and sites, which are rich in American history, architecture, archeology, and culture, are threatened by bulldozers or neglect. Already, half of our most historically significant structures have been destroyed. If we wait another five years, there may be no need for this legislation. By then, most of the structures, which could and should have been saved, may have fallen.”

The mid-1960s were a time of rapid change, socially and politically, including the arrival of the Baby Boomer generation into the workplace. Cities were expanding into suburbs and inner cities were being revitalized. Old landmarks were giving way to modern structures. Senator Muskie further noted that, “Our landmarks lend stability to our lives. They are a point of orientation. They help establish values of time and place and belonging.”

With companion legislation introduced in the House by Congressman William B. Widnall of New Jersey, one purpose of the legislation was to find, survey, and register significant structures. The selection of worthy sites would be governed by an advisory council. Grants and loans would be provided for the acquisition and restoration of registered buildings. Architects and technicians would be trained to fill the critical shortage of professional personnel in the field. It was the triumph of more than a century of struggle by a grassroots movement of committed preservationists. The resources of both private and public organizations would be marshaled to save the nation’s heritage of stone and mortar.

Old landmarks would be revitalized and become a viable part of the landscape. More importantly, as Senator Muskie pointed out, the legislation “will help us save for the future the best of what we have inherited from the past.” North Dakota has a total of 440 sites as of this writing – many counties have one or two or three sites – Grand Forks County has the most with 68. Stay tuned for more Dakota Datebook stories on North Dakota sites.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Source: Congressional Record, Proceedings and Debates of the 89th Congress, Second Session, Volume 112- Part 5. US Government Printing Office, 1966; March 17, 1966 page 6097