Recognizing Local Historic Places (7/16)


The Gettysburg area has long been active in documenting and preserving its historic places. Since 1933 the National Park Service has been a major presence in the community, and now the agency owns, manages, and interprets hundreds of acres that encompass Gettysburg National Military Park and the Eisenhower National Historic Site. Then in 1975, much of the surrounding area was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This Gettysburg Battlefield Historic District goes beyond the Military Park borders to cover Gettysburg Borough and parts of five townships, including hundreds of private homes, businesses, and churches.

Gettysburg Borough enacted its local historic district ordinance in 1972. Authorized by the Pennsylvania Historic District Act of 1961, this “HARB” ordinance allows the borough to review exterior changes and demolition within a locally designated and delineated historic district. Then, in 1983 Cumberland Township established its own local preservation ordinance to protect those properties that stand in close proximity to the National Military Park.

In the late 1970s, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) awarded a federally funded grant to Historic Gettysburg Adams County to survey and document historic buildings and sites throughout the county. And that information is currently on file at the PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

All of these past efforts provided a broad overview of the community’s historic properties and districts, but it has been over 30 years since that work was done. So, now would be a good time to take a fresh look at the region’s historic sites and buildings and to update local historic resource inventories and the records in the SHPO files. This would also provide an opportunity to identify rural historic districts, where a concentration of historic farms and villages may reflect the township’s agricultural roots. Current and updated survey information not only helps us learn about the past, but it also brings awareness to properties, historical themes, and time periods that may have been overlooked. Local preservation ordinances and planning initiatives are among the most effective tools that community advocates have, and experience has shown that it is critical for those programs to be supported by accurate information about the area’s historic places.

These kinds of renewed survey efforts are going on in a number of places in central Pennsylvania. In Lycoming County, the county has hired a consultant to review existing files on historic resources and to gather information from the public on properties that may not have been identified in the past. While in Lancaster County, the Historic Preservation Trust seeks to train volunteers in several townships to visit all of the historic buildings that were documented over the years and to gather updated information on them.

Manchester Township in York County took a fun, creative approach, and they used some modern technology to make their local Register of Historic Sites available to the public on their website ( The Township Historical Society started with a historic map that showed where buildings were located in 1860 and then volunteers went out to locate, photograph, and research the ones that are still standing. Now users can simply click on a point on the map and get some information about the property and the people who lived there. Projects like this one can make residents a little more aware and proud of the historic properties in their community, and they provide the kind of useful information that can be used to encourage owners to preserve their homes and businesses.

Currently in Adams County, the Office of Planning and Development is conducting an online survey to collect information about historic sites in the region. This survey requires basic information about the resource being identified, then enters the site onto an interactive online map. The map and survey are both publicly available both to update and to explore what has already been entered at

For more information on how you can get involved in local efforts to identify historic places, contact the Cumberland Township Historical Society, the Adams County Planning Department, Historic Gettysburg-Adams County, or the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office in Harrisburg at Bryan Van Sweden and Dave Maher, Pennsylvania State Historical and Museum Commission, 400 North Street, 2nd floor Harrisburg PA 17120.

Cyril Ackerman is a member of the Cumberland Township Historical Society.