Letter in Support of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966

Article excerpt

On July 31, 1966, David F. Rogers, a citizen of Lincoln, Mass., wrote to Congressman Wayne N. Aspinall, chairman of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. In his single-page, typed letter (p. 352), Rogers voiced his concern over potential development in his community that would threaten historic sites, and articulated his support for Senate Bill 3035, then under consideration by Aspinall's committee. In the last two sentences of his letter, Rogers asked the committee to act favorably on the bill and stated, "It may be our only hope."

Senate Bill 3035 had been introduced months earlier by Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson of Washington State, and much of its contents had been proposed by the authors of "With Heritage So Rich," a 1965 report sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. During the summer of 1966 committee hearings on the bill in the House, various experts presented testimony. Among them was Gordon Gray, chairman of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Chartered by Congress in October 1949, the Trust was empowered to own important historic properties and to provide support and leadership for preservation efforts. In his remarks before the committee, in support of the bill, Gray stated

   America's unceasing quest and
   drive for development and
   progress has unintentionally, and
   in many instances unknowingly,
   left a wake of senseless destruction.
   The new has risen on the ashes
   of a building, a neighborhood,
   a vista, an open space which
   should have been preserved
   and passed on to new generations.
   Our freedom, however, makes it
   possible for us to legislate now to
   protect, interpret and use that
   which remains of the landmarks
   across this country.

Senate Bill 3035 became known as the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA). It passed the House on October 10 and the Senate the next day. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law on October 15, 1966. Becoming Public Law 89-665, it has been called the most far-reaching preservation legislation ever enacted in the United States. It codified the recommendations made by the 1965 report by creating

* The National Register of Historic Places, an expansive inventory of historic properties;

* A mechanism to help protect properties on the register from unnecessary harm caused by federal activities;

* A program of financial incentives to encourage preservation of non federally owned historic properties; and,

* The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), an independent federal agency that advises the president and Congress on preservation matters and comments on the actions of federal agencies that affect historic properties.

The National Register of Historic Places, established by the NHPA, is maintained by the National Park Service and currently contains more than 80,000 listings of national, state, and local significance. Of these, more than 12,000 are historic or archaeological districts comprised of numerous individual buildings or sites. As a result, the actual number of individual properties in the register exceeds 1.4 million. Among them are 10 sites in Lincoln, Mass., home of David F. Rogers, the author of the featured letter. The private Brooks Home, which Rogers specifically mentioned in his letter, was listed on the register in 1973.

Teaching Suggestion

1. Document Analysis

Provide students with a copy of the featured document. Ask a volunteer to read it aloud while the others follow along. Lead a class discussion with the following questions: What type of document is this?

* When was it created?

* Who created it?

* What was the purpose of the document? Ask students to hypothesize about what Senate Bill 3035 sought to address.

2. Mock Hearing

Provide students with background information from the article about Senate Bill 3035, which became the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. …