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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

National Register Nominations--Valuable Sources of Information

I started the Montana History and Heritage Listserv long before this blog, whose purpose is to save the information disseminated through the listserv for posterity.

The listserv is on hiatus for the summer, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to take some of the most informative of earlier listserv postings and repost them here. Below is one from November 2011.

Do you have your students engage in local history research? If so, you might want to look at one of the newest digital collections added to the Montana Memory Project,  Montana on the National Register of Historic Places. The collection can be found at http://mtmemory.org/cdm4/browse.php?CISOROOT=%2Fp103401coll12. (Or go to the Montana Memory home page, http://www.mtmemory.org/, choose “browse,” select “Montana on the National Register of Historic Places” from the drop down box on the upper left, then press “go.”)

Some background is probably in order. The National Register of Historic Places is the nation's official list of those cultural resources deemed worthy of preservation. To become listed in the National Register, properties or historic districts, which contain many properties (for example, the Deer Lodge Central Business Historic District) go through a very thorough review process. That means that to nominate a property, the person preparing the nomination has to gather a ton of historical, biographical, and architectural research.

That research is compiled in the nomination. Since the research is actually useful for lots of different purposes (not just for the purpose for which it was gathered) these nominations are incredibly valuable (and generally overlooked) sources of information about Montana’s communities and their development.

There are over 1,000 Montana properties/districts listed in the National Register—each one of which has a nomination (You can find a list of NR properties here: http://mhs.mt.gov/Shpo/NationalReg/NRMap.aspx.) Hard copies of the nominations reside at the State Historic Preservation Office and (often) in local community libraries, historical societies, or preservation offices. Now, for 89 National Register-listed properties or historic districts (including most of those that were nominated between 2006 and 2010), the NR nominations are also available online through the Montana Memory Project in the Montana on the National Register of Historic Places collection.

The nominations in Montana Memory are full text searchable—so, you can search the collection using people’s names, business names, or key words (e.g., Finnish).  The collection is organized alphabetically by property name (“Alice Creek Trail Historic District” through “Wold-Cue Barn”) but you can sort the nominations by county and town as well.

Mining NR nominations for historical information takes a little practice. The first couple of pages are specific to their purpose as National Register nominations. The good stuff is further down. Interested in architecture? Then you will want to read Section 7—but for most of you, the most useful section will likely be Section 8 (which is where the history is). (Note that the forms have a small space for these sections—you will need to dig further in for the continuation sheets, which is where the meat is.)

Take for example the Kero Farmstead in Carbon County. Section 8 of this nomination includes background on Crow occupation of this territory, Jacob Kero, who homesteaded the farm, the history of homesteading in the area, the history of the Finnish settlement in the area, and information about Finnish architecture. Section 9 includes an extensive bibliography.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations on making it through an extraordinarily long post. I hope it peaked your curiosity and you will spend some time browsing this important digital collection. If you like local history, you’ll be glad  you did.

Happy browsing.