by Amy Curry, Executive Director
May 17, 2022
The passage of the National Historic Preservation Act on October 15, 1966 brought unprecedented public awareness and recognition to the urgency of safeguarding our country’s historic legacy. To this day, it and its later amendments serve as core motivators for historic preservation professionals. It also authorized the creation of the National Register of Historic Places, which lists 96,000 properties – and counting – across the US with almost every county in every state represented. While this recognition does not always protect a resource from demolition, register listings or even recognition of historic significance often foster increased discussion and creative thinking as to the potential use for the historic structures it enumerates.
Here in Morris County, several municipalities have incorporated adaptive reuse of locally significant historic buildings for their town halls and municipal departments, bolstering civic pride while also allowing for some public access to and enjoyment of the building. Many communities also lease significant historic landmarks to their local historical societies so they can serve as a town museum. Additionally, large brick factory buildings, like the Guenther Silk Mill in Dover and the Pelgram and Meyer Silk Mill in Boonton, now serve as highly-sought loft apartments. By reusing these structures rather than replacing them, the local history they hold is maintained weaves the historic character of these communities.
The issue of ongoing development and urbanization that brought about the passing of the NHPA 56 years ago continue to this day. While those who championed the cause and pushed for the passage of the act would likely be awed by how many of our country’s historic treasures have been documented through the National Register process, they’d likely be even more pleased to see the creative ways architects, planners, and industry leaders have saved and repurposed and revitalized so many of our historic structures. Next time you drive through your hometown, take note of how many repurposed – rather than demolished – historic buildings still stand as a part of your community.