What is a Historic Park?

Dan Cavallari

In the United States, certain sites are designated as Historic Parks. These sites are then set aside as a place of historical or social significance and are granted certain protections from development and other risks. An historic park can also be created around a natural feature as its focal point. When designated as such by the federal government, the site is known as a National Historic Park and is usually maintained by the National Park Service unless they are privately owned and maintained, which is the exception rather than the rule.

Gettysburg became a historic park after the famous battle that was fought there in 1863.
Gettysburg became a historic park after the famous battle that was fought there in 1863.

A National Historic Park focuses on one particular historic element. This element must be deemed historically significant by scholars and researchers, and the site must then be designated a historic site by an act of Congress or by special order of the United States Secretary of the Interior. This means that in-depth research must be done on the site before it can be designated as a Historic Park, and this step in the process could take quite a long time. All Historic Parks, as of 1966, are then listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which is a list of sites in the United States that are deemed worthy of preservation and protection because of their historical significance.

A Historic Site is slightly different than a Historic Park, but the difference is mostly semantic. A site can be historic because of the events that took place there, making it essentially a piece of history; a park, however, is a designation given by a governing body, and is therefore not historic. It contains elements that are historic instead. Therefore, parks are more often referred to as historical rather than historic. This distinction does not change the significance of the area or the protections it is entitled to.

In the United States, 45 places are designated as National Historic Parks; the list includes the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park and Colonial National Historic park in Virginia, Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in Massachusetts, San Juan Island National Historical Park in Washington, and others throughout the U.S. 88 places are designated as National Historic Sites; these places are not necessarily protected for conservation, but they often are. They include Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site in Colorado, Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Pennsylvania, Fort Bowie National Historic Site in Arizona, and others throughout the U.S.

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