The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Thursday that it had designated 27 new sites as National Historic Landmarks, (including the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, above) bringing the total to about 2,500. The National Park Service, which administers the landmarks, defines them as “a historic building, site, structure, object or district that represents an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.”
I have to admit that I’m not clear on how significant it is to be granted landmark status. The vast majority of National Historic Landmarks are in private hands — less than 400 of the 2,500 are owned by the federal government. The main benefit is that it gives the owner access to grants, loans and tax incentives. The designation doesn't require that the landmark be open to the public, although some grants may.
The states with the most landmark sites are New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts — New York alone has 266, more than 10 percent of the total. Florida, by contrast, has 43. The “landmark” designation also includes ships, shipwrecks and shipyards — about 135 of them.
There are also national monuments, historic parks, historic landmark districts, memorials, and several categories of battlefields — and then, of course, the National Register of Historic Places, which has more than 85,000 sites. The landmarks are included on the National Register, but the key difference is that the landmarks are of national significance, while most sites on the register are of state or local significance.
Here’s a story on the newly designated sites. If you’re interested in visiting historic sites, check out the National Park Service’s “Discover Our Shared Heritage: Online Travel Itineraries,” which suggest self-guided tours of historic places.Photo credit: Deborah M. Baker/AP