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Local Historic Preservation Programs

Local historic preservation programs deal with the built environment and encourage preservation of historic properties. Historic properties include buildings from homes to factories, structures from bridges to transmission towers, objects from gardens to statutes, archaeological sites from prehistoric to historic or districts (a concentration of buildings, structures, objects and/or archaeological sites). Historic properties have documented significance and a high degree of integrity.

Ideally, a local historic preservation program has a dual focus. First, it has an on-going process for identifying, evaluating, and recognizing historic properties within city/county limits. This is essential for determining what properties should be preserved and providing evidence of their significance. Second, the program has an on-going process for managing and protecting historic properties. This means planning, considering historic preservation in land use, public improvement, and development decisions. It also involves reviewing and commenting on plans for projects that will affect historic properties, such as widening a road through a historic district, making a historic property accessible, rehabilitating a historic property, or placing a development on land containing significant archaeological sites. Finally, there should be an educational component in the program so that local officials, city/county staff as well as residents are informed about the program, obtain technical assistance, and have an opportunity participate in activities which increase awareness of local historic properties.

In Iowa, cities and counties have used their local historic preservation programs as a tool to help promote downtown revitalization or to protect or stabilize and revive nineteen and early twentieth century neighborhoods. Good examples are Albia, Ames, Bloomfield, Bonaparte, Burlington, Clinton, Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque, Hampton, Iowa City, Iowa Falls, Mount Vernon, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Sigourney, Sioux City and Waterloo.

A strong local historic preservation program provides an authentic foundation for heritage tourism. Visit Adams, Clinton, Crawford, Harrison, Henry, Jackson, Madison, Linn and Shelby Counties as well as the Amana Colonies, Keokuk, Kimballton, Lake City, Fort Madison, Perry to sample Iowa history in three dimensions. Often the local historic preservation program is used to leverage preservation of an outstanding community landmark such as the depots in Atlantic, Carroll, Cherokee, Creston, Council Bluffs or the Courthouses in Davis and Woodbury Counties. Preservation of natural and historic resources is a natural partnership as exemplified by the local historic preservation program focus in Allamakee, Dallas, Clayton, and Lyon Counties where archaeological site preservation has been a primary concern.

Local Government Connection

What is the connection between the historic preservation program, the historic preservation commission, and city/county government? Your local historic preservation program is established by official action on the part of your local government. Through passage of local legislation, a historic preservation ordinance, mayors and city councils or county boards of supervisors commit to a policy of supporting historic preservation and establish a local historic preservation program.

The commission is part of local government; commissioners are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the mayor and city council or county board of supervisors. The commission is responsible for reporting regularly on their activities and projects to the mayor and city council or county board of supervisors. Any grants for which the commission applies must be approved by the mayor and city council or county board of supervisors. If the grant is awarded, the award is to the city/county and is administered by the city/county's financial officer, for example the city clerk or county auditor.

Ideally, the mayor and city council or county board of supervisors should assist the historic preservation commission by providing an annual appropriation, by appointing a council member to serve as liaison between the commission and city council or county board of supervisors and by assigning a staff member to help implement commission directives and take care of commission correspondence and files. In addition, the city should provide a meeting space, filing space and technical support in terms of office supplies, copying services, postage, phone privileges.

How to Establish a Local Historic Preservation Program

In Iowa, there are two steps to establishing a local historic preservation program. First, the local government must pass a historic preservation ordinance (if a city) or a local historic preservation resolution (if a county). Second, the Mayor or Chairman of the Board of Supervisors appoints a historic preservation commission to develop and administer the program. If the local historic preservation program would like to be part of the “Certified Local Government” program, offered through the State Historical Society of Iowa, additional requirements must be met. You can learn more about CLGs here.

For more information on local preservation programs in Iowa, contact:

Paula Mohr
CLG Program Coordinator
State Historical Society of Iowa
600 East Locust Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0290
Telephone: 515.281.6826
Email: paula.mohr@iowa.gov

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