The National Register of Historic Places officially recognizes historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts throughout America. The prestigious list was created under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is administered by the National Park Service for the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. In West Virginia the Archives and History Commission acts as the state review board for nominations to the National Register. The program is coordinated by the Historic Preservation Office, a part of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
The National Register of Historic Places is an active, popular program, and the number of listed places increases from year to year. As of 2012, there were more than 1,000 listings in West Virginia. Many of these listings included several structures or other contributing resources, and some were large historic districts. There were more than 20,000 contributing resources in 2012.
National Register properties are scattered throughout the state, although most numerous in the historic Eastern Panhandle and in Charleston, Wheeling, and other major cities. The listings include the Matewan Historic District in Mingo County (also a National Historic Landmark); the state capitol complex; the Pence Springs Resort in Summers County; West Virginia Independence Hall, our state’s birthplace in Wheeling; Halltown Union Colored Sunday School in Jefferson County; and numerous other sites and structures.
Properties are approved for the National Register of Historic Places according to their significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, or culture. The significance may derive from events or people associated with a property, its architecture, or the fact that it has provided or may provide important information in history or prehistory. Ordinarily, cemeteries, church structures, birthplaces or graves of historic figures, sites that are primarily commemorative in nature, or buildings that have been moved or reconstructed are not eligible for the National Register. There are exceptions in all of these categories, however. For example, a church might be listed for its architectural significance even though it remained a place of worship; Charleston’s St. John’s Episcopal Church falls into this category. Ordinarily, a property must be at least 50 years old to be considered for the National Register.
Properties may be nominated for their local, state, or national significance. Sites deemed to be of exceptional national significance may also be named National Historic Landmarks, a higher and much less common level of recognition. There are 16 National Historic Landmarks in West Virginia.
Most properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places are privately owned. Listing on the National Register conveys important benefits beyond official recognition. These benefits include eligibility for certain grants and tax credits. National Register status does not protect properties against alteration or even demolition, although local historic landmarks commissions or review boards may offer limited protection. A property may be removed from the National Register of Historic Places if it loses its historic integrity.
Last Revised on January 23, 2013
Chambers, S. Allen. Buildings of West Virginia. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.
State Historic Preservation Office. Historic West Virginia: The National Register of Historic Places. West Virginia Division of Culture & History, 2000.