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The Nuts and Bolts of Registering a Bridge
By Bob and Trish Kane
A conversation with Raymond W. Smith, Historic Preservation Program Analyst,
State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Over the past two years, covered bridge enthusiasts throughout the mid-Atlantic region have
regularly asked us questions about the State and National Register of Historic Places, the process
to have a covered bridge listed and what the historic designation really protects or means. They
are all excellent questions and we thought you might be interested in hearing what your fellow
bridge enthusiasts are asking as it might help you anticipate issues or answer questions as you try
get a covered bridge registered.
To that end, we pulled together the most frequently asked questions on covered bridge
registration and sought out answers for you. For the best, possible answers we went to our
contact person in Albany, New York Raymond W. Smith, Program Analyst with the NY State
Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Ray has been extremely supportive of our
efforts to get New York's bridges listed on the National Register and he's most knowledgeable
about the process and details. In addition, Ray is extremely helpful because when asked if he
would be willing to address some of these questions and concerns, he readily agreed!
Below you will find your most frequently asked questions with Ray's expert reply. With luck,
this Q & A will serve as a useful reference during your preservation endeavors. If you have a
question that is not addressed below, please feel free to contact us and we will do our best to get
an answer for you.
Yours in Registration, Bob and Trish Kane
What is the National Register?
The National Register of Historic Places is the
Nation's official list of the Nation's important historic properties worthy of preservation.
Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of
a national program that coordinates and supports public and private efforts to identify, evaluate,
protect and preserve historic properties that are significant in American history for future
generations of Americans. The National Register is administered by the National Park Service,
which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
What does it mean to have properties listed in the State or National Registers of
Properties that have been listed in the National
Register have been evaluated and are considered to be historically significant and worthy of
preservation. Listing in the National and State Registers affords properties a measure of
protection from the effects of federal and/or state sponsored projects.
What criteria are used to determine if a Covered Bridge qualifies for
National Register properties are documented and
evaluated according to uniform standards. The quality of significance in American history,
architecture, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects
that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials and workmanship. With specific
reference to New York's covered bridges, we have developed a statewide historic context for
evaluation, along with the following registration requirements. (By extension, these might also be
applied to covered bridges located in other states):
- The bridge should have been built during the specified period of significance (in New York,
between ca.1800 and 1920).
- The truss design and the majority of structural components must remain substantially intact.
Structural reinforcement that leaves the original truss intact will not automatically be considered
as loss of integrity.
- The truss structure should continue to be understandable as it functioned historically; it should
be capable of functioning, but need not be in use as a vehicular bridge.
- Alterations that may have occurred over time as periodic maintenance (e.g., replacement of
roof, deck or siding material) are considered routine, and do not negate the integrity of an
otherwise eligible wood truss bridge.
- A bridge significant primarily for vernacular engineering design and practice need not be on its
original location, but should be in a setting that is appropriate for the property type and one
similar to the original location.
How old does a Covered Bridge have to be to be listed?
To be considered, a bridge generally needs to be at
least 50 years old. Bridges less than 50 years of age must be demonstrated to be of exceptional
significance to be considered eligible for listing. Ordinarily, covered bridges that have been
moved from their original locations, or that have achieved significance within the past 50 years are
not considered eligible for the National Register. However, bridges will qualify if they are integral
parts of historic districts that do meet the criteria. A structure that has been removed from its
original location but is primarily significant for architectural value, or is the surviving structure
most importantly associated with a historic person or event, could qualify.
How long does the nomination process take?
The process varies from state to state depending on
state workload, planning and registration priorities, and the schedule of the review board. The
process takes a minimum of 90 days to fulfill all review and notification requirements, provided
that a complete and fully documented nomination form has been prepared for the property. Upon
submission to the National Park Service, a decision on whether to list the property is made within
45 days. (In New York, the length of time from initial submission to final listing generally takes
from six months to one year.)
What are the advantages, if any, of having a Covered Bridge listed on the National
The National Register is a recognized and visible
component of public and private planning, and promotes tourism, economic development and
appreciation of historic resources. Listing in the register gives official recognition that a property
is of significance to the nation, the state, or the community. In addition to honorific recognition,
specific benefits include consideration in the planning for government-assisted projects and
qualification for preservation incentives such as the federal rehabilitation tax credits. It also may
qualify a property for certain state or federal grants for historic preservation, when funds are
What are the disadvantages?
Listing in the register is primarily an honor for the
property. Since listing in the register places no restriction upon what actions a private owner may
take with respect to the historic property, there really are no disadvantages.
If a bridge is privately owned, can it still be nominated for listing on the National
Yes it can. The private owner is given the opportunity
to formally object to listing in the National Register; in such a case, the property will still be
evaluated against the criteria to determine its eligibility for listing. Under federal law, owners of
private property listed in the National Register are free to maintain their property as they choose.
They can demolish or build additions, paint it any color they please and sell, mortgage or use it for
any purpose allowed by local zoning laws, provided that no Federal monies have been used to
restore or maintain the bridge.
Does a bridge being listed in the National Register guarantee that it will always be
protected and never be torn down?
This is a common misconception--no, it does not
guarantee that it cannot be torn down. A state or federally assisted project affecting the listed
property is subject to review and comment by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). If
the project is determined to have an adverse effect, a mitigation plan is developed and must be
agreed to by all parties before the project can proceed. Mitigation requires that alternatives be
explored and evaluated; outcomes can range from avoidance, to complete preservation, to
recording and demolition of the historic property.
If you are notified that a bridge is likely to be torn down and it is listed in the National
Register, what actions, if any, do you take to try to prevent this from happening?
First, we have to know about it. Next, we will attempt
to determine whether there is state or federal involvement in the project, since this will determine
the ability of the SHPO to become involved in the discussion of alternatives.
Are there any steps, not only as a society, but as individuals, that we should take if we
hear about the possibility of a bridge being torn down?
The process of systematic identification and recording
of historic structures such as covered bridges creates a knowledge base for informed planning
decisions. The work done by advocacy groups such as the able volunteer committee of New York
State Covered Bridge Society in collecting data and monitoring the condition of historic bridges is
most valuable as an "early warning system."
Other than the actual loss of a covered bridge, what circumstances would cause a
bridge to be removed from the National Register?
Loss of integrity can cause removal. If the bridge
were determined to have lost those qualities that made it significant enough to warrant listing, the
property could be removed from the registers.
What are the criteria or formula you use to determine whether a bridge has been
"rebuilt" or "restored?" (See question above -"What criteria are used to determine if
a Covered Bridge qualifies for listing?")
To be considered for listing, a bridge must possess
substantial integrity to its period of significance. Selective, limited replacement of damaged or
deteriorated structural members over time is to be expected. However, wholesale replacement of
truss system members can compromise the historic character of the bridge to the extent that it
may lack sufficient integrity to warrant listing in the National Register.
How is the allocation for funding of repairs determined?
Here I can speak only with reference to New York,
where the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation administers historic preservation
grants through the Environmental Quality Bond Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Municipalities and not-for-profit organizations that own properties listed in the State and National
Registers are eligible to apply annually for 50 percent matching grants to assist preservation
What advice do you have for groups who are considering listing their covered bridges
on the State or National Registers?
Before you begin to seek historic designation of your
property, stop to sort out the rumors from reality. The National Register of Historic Places
program has existed in its present form for more than 30 years. Registered properties continue to
generate enjoyment, use, pride and economic return for their owners. Contact your State Historic
Preservation Office to request specific information about listing requirements and the National
Register nomination process as it is administered in your state.
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Joe Nelson, P.O Box 267, Jericho, VT 05465-0267, firstname.lastname@example.org
No part of this web site may be reproduced without the written permission of Joseph C.
This file revised January 18, 2002