Historic Preservation in Maryland

The Powell Building, Salisbury, Wicomico CountyPreserving historic places and harnessing their power for economic development and environmental sustainability requires numerous public and private partners including government agencies, nonprofit organizations, real estate developers, the business community, and private citizens.  Each of these partners plays a distinct role with unique responsibilities.  This page describes the role that each partner plays.

The Role of Property Owners and Maryland’s Citizens

Duffy's on Potomac in Hagerstown, Washington CountyFar and away, individual property owners are the most important players in historic preservation in Maryland.  Historic Preservation isn’t about turning all properties into museums or “freezing” communities in time, but rather managing change so that the stories of important places, individuals, and buildings can be enjoyed in the present and preserved for the future. 

Owners of historic properties also contribute to environmental sustainability and smart growth by reusing and extending the life of existing resources.  Building waste and construction debris is the second largest category of solid waste in Maryland, so every time a property owner repairs their historic windows rather than replacing them, or rehabs an existing building rather than demolishing it and building new, they are reduce the amount of waste going into the State’s landfills AND the amount of energy used in producing and transporting new materials.

Citizens also contribute to historic preservation by supporting non-profit and community organizations, supporting legislative and funding proposals, and being good stewards of our State’s historic places.

The Role of the Federal Government

Chestertown National Historic Landmark DistrictThe National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) provides the legal framework for a wide variety of historic preservation programs at all levels.  The NHPA was passed by Congress in 1966 and created the National Register of Historic Places, State Historic Preservation Offices, and Certified Local Governments.  The NHPA also calls for all Federal agencies to consider the effects of their projects (including funding, permitting, and licensing programs) on historic properties. 

In addition to regulatory programs for Federal undertakings, there is also a Federal Income Tax Credit for the rehabilitation of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program provides project sponsors with a credit equal to 20% of qualified expenses for rehabilitation projects on income-producing historic properties.  This program has helped to preserve and return hundreds of buildings in Maryland to productive use.  Click here to learn more about the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program.

While all Federal agencies have a responsibility to consider historic properties in their projects, there are two Federal agencies charged with specific preservation responsibilities: The National Park Service and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The National Park Service (NPS) administers the National Register of Historic Places, the National Historic Landmarks Program, Save America’s Treasures, the Certified Local Government Program, Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program, and numerous technical assistance programs.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is the agency charged with ensuring that other Federal agencies meet their obligations under the NHPA and consider historic properties in their project planning and execution.  The ACHP also administers the Preserve America program.

There are no Federal laws or regulations that limit what private property owners can do to their properties, including properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The only situations in which private property owners may be impacted by Federal laws and regulations are when the owners have applied for or received a Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit (within the last five years) OR require a permit, license, or funding from a Federal agency. 

Click here to learn about the Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program

Click here to learn about the review and compliance process for Federally-assisted projects.

The Role of the State Government

Archeological Excavations at the Lost Towns Project in Anne Arundel CountyEvery state has a State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), a government agency that administers a variety of programs designed to help citizens preserve and revitalize historic places in their state.  The Maryland Historical Trust is the SHPO for Maryland and was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1961.  The Trust is governed by a 15-member Board of Trustees appointed by the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Delegates, and is administered by the Maryland Department of Planning.

The Maryland Historical Trust administers a variety of programs, including:

  • The Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP)– a list of all properties in the State that have been surveyed and recorded. However, just because a property has been surveyed and included in the MIHP, it does not mean that it is historically significant or is subject to any restrictions or regulations.
  • The Maryland and National Registers of Historic Places – The Maryland and National Registers are lists of properties that have been surveyed AND evaluated AND found to be historically significant the local, State, or national level.
  • Financial Incentives – MHT administers grants, loans, and tax credits for historic properties, including planning and documentation, “bricks and mortar”, museum, and heritage tourism projects.
  • Review and Compliance – All State and Federal agencies are required to consider the impact of their projects on historic properties.  MHT reviews all projects receiving government assistance and helps agencies avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects on historic properties.
    Archeology – MHT undertakes archeological research, coordinates public archeology programs, and monitors archeological activities on State-owned property.
  • Local Government and Community Assistance – MHT provides technical and limited financial assistance to municipal and county governments, community organizations, and citizens on a variety of historic preservation policies and projects.
  • Easements – MHT holds easements on more than 600 historic properties across the State, including some of the most historically, architecturally, and archeologically significant properties in Maryland.

Many of these programs are administered in partnership with National Park Service and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.  Congress provides SHPO’s with a limited amount of funding each year through the Historic Preservation Fund to assist with these programs. The balance of MHT's operating budget is provided by the State of Maryland.

There are no State laws or regulations that limit what private property owners can do to their properties, including properties listed in the Maryland Inventory, and Maryland and National Registers of Historic Places.  The only situations in which private property owners may be impacted by State laws and regulations are when the owners have applied for or received a State Rehabilitation Tax Credit (within the last five years) OR require a permit, license, or funding from a State agency.

 Other State Agencies

In addition to the Maryland Historical Trust and the Maryland Department of Planning there are numerous other State agencies that help to protect and revitalize historic properties.

The Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development offers several funding and technical assistance programs that support historic preservation projects.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources administers several programs that support historic preservation.

  • The Maryland Environmental Trust - The Maryland Environmental Trust (MET) is a statewide land trust created by the General Assembly in 1967 and is governed by a citizen Board of Trustees.MET preserves open land, such as farmland, forest land, and significant natural resourcesthrough conservation easement, a voluntary agreement between a landowner and MET. MET also endeavors to promote the protection of open land through the Local Land Trust Assistance Program. In addition, MET gives grants to environmental education projects through the Keep Maryland Beautiful Program.
  • Resident Curatorship Program - The Maryland Resident Curatorship Program secures private funding and labor for the restoration and maintenance of historic properties owned by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Curators pledge to restore the historic property and maintain it in good condition in exchange for a lifetime lease.

The Maryland Office of Tourism Development helps to promote historic communities and heritage areas

The State Highway Administration helps to protect and preserve historic places through project planning, funding, and educational programs

The Role of Local Governments

16-22 W. Market St., Frederick, Frederick COuntyLocal governments support historic preservation in a variety of ways, including being the owners and stewards of historic properties, offering tax incentives and grants, and creating Historic Area Overlay Zones that are administered by appointed Historic Preservation/District Commissions.

In Maryland only local governments have the authority to review and approve changes to historic properties owned by individuals. State law allows counties and municipalities to designate historic districts and individual landmarks and review changes to those properties as a way of preserving the historic fabric that makes those properties significant and ensure that new construction is compatible with the historic nature of those properties.  Changes to these locally designated historic districts and properties are reviewed by Historic Preservation/District Commissions that are appointed by the governing body (Mayor & Council, County Commissioners, etc.). 

Local preservation ordinances are the most effective tools for protecting historic places and are enacted as part of the jurisdiction’s zoning powers.  Click here to learn more about local historic districts and commissions.

The Role of Non-Profit and Community Organizations

Non-Profit organizations, including advocacy organizations, land conservancies, museums, Main Streets, business associations, and educational organizations help protect, revitalize, and interpret historic places in virtually every community in Maryland.  These organizations may own historic properties, help to raise awareness of a community’s heritage, advocate for funding or government policies, or provide technical and financial assistance to property owners.

Click here to find other organizations in your community


This page updated: July 17, 2014