National Register of Historic Properties: The National Park Service's National Register is the official list of historic places worthy of preservation. There are more than 1,000,000 properties listed, about 80,000 of which are individually listed through a nomination process. Contributing properties in designated National Historic Landmark Districts are automatically placed on the National Register. Butte-Anaconda has approximately 6,000 National Register listed properties, comprising most of the historic buildings and structures in the two towns.
Being listed on the National Register does nothing in terms of requirements for the owner, unless federal money is involved in a project. It also does nothing to benefit the owner, beyond bragging rights.
The four National Register of Historic Places criteria are:
- Criterion A, "Event," the property must make a contribution to the major pattern of American history.
- Criterion B, "Person," is associated with significant people of the American past.
- Criterion C, "Design/Construction," concerns the distinctive characteristics of the building by its architecture and construction, including having great artistic value or being the work of a master.
- Criterion D, "Information potential," is satisfied if the property has yielded or may be likely to yield information important to prehistory or history.
National Historic Landmark: There are fewer than 2,600 National Historic Landmarks in the United States. They are nationally significant places of exceptional historic value. In terms of contributing historic resource count (6,000), the Butte-Anaconda NHL District is the largest designated district in the U.S. In Montana there are 26 National Historic Landmarks, including three Districts (Bannack, Butte-Anaconda, and Virginia City). Within Butte, the Burton K. Wheeler House is an independently listed National Historic Landmark.
Properties within a historic district fall into one of two types of property: contributing and non-contributing. A contributing property, such as a 19th Century mansion, helps make a historic district historic, while a non-contributing property, such as a modern medical clinic, does not. The contributing properties are key to a historic district's historic associations, historic architectural qualities, or archaeological qualities. A property can change from contributing to non-contributing and vice versa if significant alterations take place.
Local Register: The Butte-Silver Bow Historic Preservation Ordinance allows for a Local Register of Historic Properties. This is a voluntary listing by the owner, often reflecting the work of historically appropriate restoration an owner has done. It is also an agreement to maintain the property in historically appropriate ways; as such, a local register is the strongest protection afforded to historic properties—far stronger than listing on the National Register, which entails no obligations at all (unless federal money is involved).
Six years after the Ordinance went into effect in 2007, there are no Local Register properties in Butte, largely because the guidelines defining such properties and their design have not been promulgated by the Historic Preservation Commission.
Historic Plaque: The presence of a plaque on a property indicates that it is a contributing property in the National Landmark District, and is listed on the National Register. The absence of a plaque does not signify anything about a building's role in the Historic Landmark District, nor its listing (or not) on the National Register. Most historic properties in the District are contributing elements of it, and as such are listed on the National Register, irrespective of whether they have a sign or not. A sign means that an owner is proud of his or her property's story, and has paid about $35 (of actual cost of about $475) to have the sign text researched and the sign made by the Montana Historical Society's State Historic Preservation Office.
Click here for information about the sign program. Having a sign does nothing to obligate the owner to anything; as indicated above, most historic properties in Butte are already on the National Register automatically.
Integrity: The essay below, by Richard Gibson, was originally published in the Montana Standard November 8, 2008.
When most of us look at a building in Butte and consider its integrity, we think of whether it is falling apart — are there holes in the roof? Are the eaves collapsing?
But when a historic preservationist looks at buildings, he or she looks beyond physical condition to such hard-to-quantify things as location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.
The National Register defines integrity as "the ability of a property to convey its significance." Sometimes that comes largely through association, as with author Mary MacLane's connection to the home at 417 N. Excelsior. Setting and location are reflections of the neighborhood, how much it has changed, whether the building has been moved and other straightforward observations.
Workmanship, design and materials are also relatively easy to quantify, even to photograph. Who hasn't said, "They don't build 'em like they used to"? The art and craft of 1890s tinsmiths, carpenters and brick masons are obvious all over Uptown Butte, even in decrepit and damaged buildings. New vinyl windows subtract a lot from historic integrity, while an original open porch with turned Victorian columns will likely be a significant plus in terms of a place's significance. From roof lines to siding style, all elements of design and materials are critical to an evaluation of integrity.
What could be more subjective than feeling? Different strokes for different folks — one person sees the last surviving Queen Anne miner's cottage on a streetscape, another sees urban blight. Feeling is the sense of aesthetics, beauty and historic connection to a particular place and time — and often enough it can be really hard to look past a weedy yard and broken windows to see a place as it once was. We all know the clash of sensibilities when we see a sleek, modernistic steel and glass tower in the midst of Victorian gingerbread — even if objectively we appreciate that modern office, we feel that it is out of place.
That's what integrity means in a place like Butte, where all the elements come together in widely varying degrees. What is more important — maintaining the neighborhood's character or making room for something new? Sometimes the choice is not easy to make. Fortunately, professional guidelines are available to help us quantify such things, so that at a minimum, we know what we are keeping or losing.
Photos on this page by Richard Gibson.