Historic Landscapes

There are many types of historic landscapes to consider as cultural resources. They may be urban, rural or suburban or agricultural, recreational, institutional, industrial, cemeterial, or residential in nature. Some historic landscapes may represent important military battles or engagements, such as the Brandywine Battlefield or the Gettysburg Battlefield. Even scenic highways and rivers can be considered as part of historic landscapes. Some historic landscapes are significant because of their association with historic events, activities or persons. Some are significant for the design aesthetic they embody as the work of a master landscape architect or gardener or horticulturalist. Other landscapes are significant for the vernacular tradition they represent. Ethnographic landscapes contain a variety of natural and cultural resource associated with a particular people.

Looking at landscapes, rather than individual buildings or properties allows us to more fully understand the significance of the historic event or theme. Many properties may lack sufficient architectural integrity for individual eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places, but as part of a larger resource may contribute to a historic district or historic landscape. Looking at the big picture of historic landscapes has changed the way historic resources are evaluated and understood. The National Park Service offers two informative publications on this topic, National Register Bulletin #18 "How to Evaluate and Nominate Designed Historic Landscapes," and Preservation Brief #36 "Protecting Cultural Landscapes: Planning, Treatment and Management of Historic Landscapes." Both publications and a host of others on related topics are available online via the NPS website at National Register of Historic Places Program: Publications and Preservation Briefs.

Historic landscapes, just as all historic resources, have character-defining features which help identify the presence of and boundaries for the resourcea historic landscape. In historic landscapes, character-defining features might include: vegetation patterns, topography, water features such as streams, ponds, rivers and fountains, roads, paths , steps, walls, buildings, fences, benches, lights and sculpture. Different types of historic landscapes obviously will have different character-defining features. The important components of a historic battlefield will be far different from those of a historic park or college campus or a rural village or agricultural landscape.