Historic Sites Act of 1935
Fifty years ago the National Historic Preservation Act was created to help preserve the diverse archaeological and architectural treasures of America. Approved in October of 1966, the National Historic Preservation Act was important in that it provided for the preservation of significant historical features through a grant-in-aid program to the States. It also established a National Register of Historic Places and a Historic Preservation fund. But this act stemmed from two earlier laws designed to save our heritage.
In 1906, the Antiquities Act was passed. It allowed for the protection of all historic and prehistoric sites on Federal land. It also authorized the President to declare areas of public lands as National Monuments and to reserve or accept private lands for that purpose. That was the first important step in preserving unique sites and paved the way for our national park system.
But on this date preservationists were celebrating the passage of another significant step forward. The Historic Sites Act had become law the day before, on August 21, 1935. It was of major importance in that it made it national policy to preserve historic sites and objects, something lacking in the Antiquities Act. Designed to increase the preservation powers of the National Park Service, it provided procedures for identifying significant properties and for the acquisition, administration and protection of such sites. It required the National Park Service to survey historic and archaeological sites, buildings, and objects for the purpose of determining which ones possessed exceptional value for commemorating or illustrating the history of the United States.
The Park Service was also required to secure, collate, and preserve drawings, plans, photographs, and other data related to these sites, buildings, and objects. These requirements became the basis of the Historic American Buildings Survey program, followed later by the Historic American Engineering Record and the Historic American Landscapes Survey.
The Historic Sites Act resulted from an effort to preserve our heritage, however, the timing of the act actually allowed the Works Progress Administration to create thousands of jobs during the Great Depression. An important element of the act provided for the restoration, reconstruction, rehabilitation, preservation, and maintenance of the sites. In North Dakota, the effects were significantly felt in the reconstruction of such sites as Fort McKeen and Fort Abercrombie and in the improvements to the area around the Chateau de Mores as well as many other sites across the state. Ultimately, jobs designed to help one generation resulted in the preservation of history for many generations to come, a priceless legacy of the Historic Sites Act of 1935.
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
Federal Historic Preservation Laws; US Department of the Interior National Park Service Cultural Resources Programs, Washington, D.C. 1993