Focusing on History: Using the National Register of Historic Places

November 22, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

     The National Register of Historic Places is a federal government program created in 1966 that aims to identify and protect cultural and historic places deemed worthy of preservation, whether they be buildings, structures, sites, objects or districts. The program has been a huge success with over 80,000 sites on the list, and more being added every year. Nearly all counties in the United States contain at least one place listed on the National Register. Inclusion on the National Register provides community, regional and national recognition while also preserving the sites for generations to come. The program is managed by the National Park Service.

 

   Within the four counties of the Catskills, the National Register currently includes an estimated 409 locations, with 173 locations listed for Ulster County, 96 locations for Greene County, 75 locations for Sullivan County and 65 locations for Delaware County. Regional travelers are likely familiar with some of the sites on the list, such as Huguenot Street in New Paltz, the Stockade District in Kingston and the Saugerties Lighthouse for example. However, for every site that you are familiar with there are likely several (or many) more that you have not seen or even knew existed. For this reason, referencing the National Register can be an invaluable resource for photographers to research new photographic destinations and ideas. Example historical sites within the Catskills include covered bridges, stone houses, churches, synagogues, lighthouses, fire towers, theaters, schools, stone bridges, railroad stations and much more.

 

     New York State maintains a publicly accessible and searchable website that includes all the state sites included on the National Register. While the site can be hard to find and slightly cumbersome to use at first, it is a great starting point and an invaluable resource for your research. Each location includes pictures of the historic site in addition to its government application for inclusion on the register. The application contains a detailed description of the site’s historical significance, its history and, usually, some historical context. (Go to www.nysparks.com, from the “Historic Preservation” tab choose “Historic Preservation Office”, click “Online Tools”, then click “Enter Document Imaging”, click “Agree” to the two disclaimers. Click basic criteria and enter as much or as little information as you want. Most often, to keep it simple, from the “County” drop-down, I choose either Ulster, Greene, Sullivan or Delaware. After you’ve made your selection, click the “Results” tab for the list of locations.) As an alternative, and for an easy, albeit basic, reference, Wikipedia contains a listing of sites by county throughout New York State. 

 

     It is important to note that the National Register includes both public and private property. For those sites identified as public property, enjoy photographing them to your heart’s content. However, for those sites identified as private property, be sure not to trespass or seek permission from the rightful owners. If you are unsure of the property’s status, which can occur more often than you think, be sure to research the site thoroughly and, if in doubt, do not trespass or seek permission from the rightful owners.

 

     In summary, the National Register is a list of the most important cultural and historic treasures in the United States. Photographers that are new to the Catskills region, or any county in the country for that matter, can utilize the register to help plan their itineraries while locally based photographers can use the register to go beyond the obvious and add to their regional portfolio. Visiting these locations will often take you off the typical tourist trail while simultaneously offering the photographer the ability to not only shoot some amazing sites but to also learn about the region’s history. 


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