Section 4.3: Glossary of Preservation Terms

Find Your Preservation Story – Glossary of Preservation Terms

If you’re new to preservation, the lingo can be quite confusing. Here’s a helpful breakdown of preservation terminology from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Designation—Act of identifying historic structures and districts subject to regulation in historic preservation ordinances or other preservation laws.  Please note that listing a property in the National Register of Historic Places imposes no restrictions on the property owner.  Any restrictions on an owner’s right to manage his or her property in any manner are imposed by state or local law, unless an owner plans to use federal funds or permits for a project that would destroy a historic property.  To help would-be preservationists understand the National Register of Historic Places, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s PreservationNation blog has created a video series “National Register of Historic Places Guide,” featuring  Jim Gabbert, a historian with the National Park Service. You can access Episode 1, “National Register Basics,” here:

Historic Character – The term refers to all those visual aspects and physical features that comprise the appearance of every historic building.

Historic Significance—The importance for which a property has been evaluated and found to meet the National Register criteria. This may also apply to your state or local historic register; for specifics, contact your State Historic Preservation Office or local preservation commission.

Integrity—The authenticity of a property’s historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during the property’s historic or prehistoric period.

Mothballing—To control the long-term deterioration of a building while it is unoccupied as well as finding methods to protect it from sudden loss by fire or vandalism.

Preserve—To maintain a structure’s existing form through careful maintenance and repair.

Reconstruct—To re-create an historic building that has been damaged or destroyed; to erect a new structure resembling the old using historical, archaeological, and architectural documents.

Rehabilitate—To repair a structure and make it usable again while preserving those portions or features of the property that are historically and culturally significant.  For example, rehabilitation might include an updated kitchen while retaining the historic stairwell and fireplaces.  This is a good approach for private houses.

Remodel—To change a building without regard to its distinctive features or style.  Often involves changing the appearance of a structure by removing or covering original details and substituting new materials and forms.

Renovate—To repair a structure and make it usable again, without attempting to restore its historic appearance or duplicate original construction methods or material.

Restore—To return a building to its form and condition as represented by a specified period of time using materials that are as similar as possible to the original materials.

Section 106—Provision in the National Historic Preservation Act that requires federal agencies to consider the effects of proposed undertakings on properties listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. (16 U.S.C. § 470f, with regulations at 36 C.F.R. Part 800)

Section 4(f)—Provision in Department of Transportation Act that prohibits federal approval or funding of transportation projects that require “use” of any historic site unless (1) there is “no feasible and prudent alternative to the project,” and (2) the project includes .all possible planning to minimize harm.. (49 U.S.C § 303)

Stabilize—To protect a building from deterioration by making it structurally secure, while maintaining its current form.

“Taking” of property—Act of confiscating private property for governmental use either through “eminent domain” or by regulatory action that denies all reasonable and beneficial use of property.

This project was supported in part by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Historical Resource Development Program.