The next time that you walk by a National Register plaque, remember that it’s there because a perfectly ordinary person did something extraordinary. At its very core, the National Register is a grassroots program. While the National Park Service (NPS) and History Nebraska’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) administer the program, ultimately it relies on everyday individuals who take an interest in places special to their communities.
The National Register program might seem intimidating—it involves a lot of research and writing! But the reward of getting a special place listed is worth the effort. The NPS and SHPO recognize that the process is not easy, and have created numerous resources to help you prepare a nomination.
One of these resources is called the Multiple Property Document (MPD). It’s a boring name but is one of the most innovative and democratic resources available to people interested in the National Register.
An MPD tells the story of how a particular type of place played an essential role in local history. This document groups places around a unifying theme and describes their historical context (for example, “Nebraska’s Carnegie Libraries” or “County Courthouses of Nebraska”).
If you are looking to nominate an individual property, reading an MPD can be a good starting point for your research. The MPD helps you know what to look for and how to identify important characteristics. It also cuts down on the amount of work needed in an application. If there’s a relevant MPD, the nominator only has to describe the property they are nominating; no need to worry about broader context because that is already addressed by the MPD.
The Warren Opera House in Friend, NE, was listed on the National Register using an MPD in 1988 and was rehabilitated using historic tax credits in 2017.
Here at History Nebraska’s SHPO, we’re developing a Multiple Property Document that tells the story of movie theaters in the state. Telling this story is important because these old theaters served as public gathering places in communities statewide. Think of all the Nebraskans who took their first date to the town theater, or of all the kids who would save their allowance money to be terrified by the latest horror film.
Memory is an important part of identity, and historic places play an important role in retaining memories. Recognizing these places helps a community reconnect with its identity. Furthermore, many of these theaters have the potential for rehabilitation projects and could greatly benefit from the tax credits that become available with a National Register designation.
The Bonham Theater in Fairbury was listed to the National Register in 1997 as part of a historic district and rehabilitated as a historic tax credit project in 2017. The upcoming Movie Theater MPD will hopefully inspire similar success stories. Photo credit: Tim Vrtiska
Beyond helping people prepare individual nominations, MPDs have a wide range of potential uses:
Lifelong Learning: The National Park Service describes the document as “worthy of publication.” MPDs are approximately the same length as a small book—any history buff will enjoy the hour or so that it takes to read one of these documents.
Homeschooling: Because MPDs are so well-researched on a single topic, they are also a valuable tool for students. For homeschool parents looking for inspiration, MPDs can easily be used as the foundation for hands-on projects. Your student can use the document as a jumping-off-point to discover and then research a building in your community.
Heritage Tourism: Google Maps makes it easy to create a “tour” inspired by an MPD (see the tutorial.) For a more elaborate example of heritage tourism inspired by the National Register, check out this resource created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Here is a list of some of the more recent MPDs created by our office:
- Rural Church Architecture in Nebraska
- New Deal Era Resources in Nebraska
- Nebraska Carnegie Libraries, 1902-1922
- Historic & Architectural Resources of the Detroit-Lincoln-Denver Highway in Nebraska
- African American Historic and Architectural Resources in Lincoln, Nebraska
- County Courthouses of Nebraska
- Opera House Buildings in Nebraska 1867-1917
The Albion Carnegie Library was listed to the National Register in 2019 with assistance from an MPD. The library is still serving the community after 112 years of use.
If you have any ideas for future MPD topics or are interested in learning more about the National Register, please contact [email protected].