We have exciting news: a Heritage Conservancy-nominated property was recently approved for listing on the National Register of Historic Places! And this one proves that homes don’t need to date back to the 18th century to be considered historic. The mid-20th century Fullam House in Newtown (pictured above), which was designed by Paul Rudolph who is one of America’s most iconic architects, was added to this important list.
What do we mean when we say something is historic? The term often means different things to different people. Many people use the term “historic,” where those involved in preservation distinguish between the term “historic” and “historical.” Something that is historical is simply an event that happened in the past, regardless of its significance. To be historic, something needs to have been important in our history.
To put it simply: every old building is historical, but not all of them are historic.
One way to discern which of these categories a structure falls into is to see if it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This register is the official list of our country’s historic buildings, districts, sites, structures, and objects worthy of preservation. It was established as part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is overseen by the National Park Service.
To be deemed eligible for this designation, there is a long, detailed process of submission to give to the state historic preservation office before it is even considered by the National Park Service. In order to be listed (or declared eligible for listing), a property must first meet the National Register Criteria for Evaluation; this involves examining the property’s age, integrity, and significance.
Age is a relatively simple criterion: Is the property old enough (at least 50 years old) to be considered historic? Integrity is a lesser-known term–simply speaking, to have “historic integrity,” a property must still look very much the way it did in the past. The final item—significance—is the most time-consuming aspect of documentation. Significance is when a property is “associated with events, activities, or developments” that were important in the past. A property may be significant for its connection to the lives of important people in history. (The classic “George Washington slept here” comes to mind.) Most properties are significant because of their role in significant architectural history, landscape history, or engineering achievements. The archetypical Bucks County stone farmhouse, Pennsylvania bank barn or historic farm properties, and small crossroads villages are common examples of these themes. Engineering achievements may include classic stone arch bridges or something as dramatic as the Brooklyn Bridge or Washington Monument.
So why would someone go through the long process of getting something listed on the National Register of Historic Places? First of all, it is an honor just for a property to be evaluated by experts at the local, state and national level. For many property owners, this designation offers protection when a Federal agency project may affect historic property and assess its effects and seek ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate any adverse effects on historic properties. There is a broad spectrum of projects that Federal agencies review, including road widenings, utility transmission lines and cell towers, and flood control measures.
Heritage Conservancy has by far been the Bucks County agency that has produced the most successful National Register nominations. These have included 18th-century farms, historic towns (such as Doylestown and other smaller villages), and even mid twentieth century works of noted masters such as Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and George Nakashima.
Thank you to the owners for being such great stewards of their property in working to have it listed. It is a nation-wide victory to have the Fullam House listed on the National Register of Historic Places.