Historic Living… Myths of the Historic Register

Ivy Hall. SCAD Screenwriting Center. Corner of Ponce and Piedmont. Photo courtesy Michelle Mechem

I am sure you have seen a plaque upon entering a home or building that designates it as being on the National Register for Historic Places. There are various rumors milling about as to what being on the register means for homes and districts. Here are a few myths and what the real truth is.


Gordon Lofts at Hotel Row in South Downtown Atlanta Photo courtesy Michelle Mechem

Myth – They can tell you what color to paint your house or if you can put on an addition or renovate.

Truth- The Historic Register is maintained nationally by the Department of the Interior. Eligible properties are nominated on the state level by the Historic Properties Division in Georgia. This does NOT restrict the rights of private property owners. It also has no control over if properties are maintained, repaired or restored. There is no requirement to follow historic preservation standards, unless the property owner is applying for tax credits


Myth- If one house is accepted to the register, the whole neighborhood automatically becomes a Historic District.

Truth- Homes cannot be placed on the register if the homeowner objects. A neighborhood also cannot be designated as a Historic District or Landmark District if the majority of the property owners object.


Myth- State and Federally funded projects can be stopped if the property is on the Historic Register.

Truth- Being on the Historic Register will allow further review of State and Federally funded projects as to their effect on historic property.


Whitehead Memorial Room at Emory University Hospital. Photo courtesy Michelle Mechem.

Myth- Surface mining can be stopped if a property on the Historic Register will be impacted.

Truth- The impact to properties on the Historic Register will be considered in the issuing of surface mining permits.


Myth- The register mandates special consideration for life safety and fire codes.

Truth- The register does not mandate anything. It does allow for consideration of alternatives for the life safety and fire codes when rehabilitating a historic property.


Myth- You get a free plaque from the Historic Register to display on your property.

Truth- Once accepted on to the register you may order a plaque, but it’s on your dime.


Hotel Clermont. Ponce de leon Ave. Photo courtesy Michelle Mechem.

So what does being on the Historic Register do? It identifies significant structures, buildings, objects, sites and districts according to the National Register criteria. There are many Federal, State and even some local grants available for the renovation and restoration of property if the owner chooses. If you haven’t seen the February and March 2019 blogs on tax credits, check those out for another huge advantage.


In summary, the Historic Register itself cannot save a property from demolition. It can identify a property as one of note and then grassroots campaigns may then save it. Most true preservation happens at the local level. The Historic Register can then be one of the reasons why this property should remain. It is tool in the toolbox. It is also a place where history nerds like myself can look for property to simply appreciate. These structures have a story to tell.

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