Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Preserving the Past: Massachusetts Historical Commission

For many citizens, a major part of living in Massachusetts is the historic properties that make up our cities, towns and neighborhoods. Massachusetts is rich with Native American archeological areas, homes still standing from 17th and the 18th century, as well as early infrastructure associated with our landscape and coastline. These historical sites are what make Massachusetts the state it is today, with an established sense of the past in all of our daily lives. But with our ever changing lifestyles and the power of time, these areas and objects are often in need of protection, preservation or even just recognition within the community. When looking to preserve and restore our historic places, citizens can turn to their local historical groups as
well as the statewide Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC).

The MHC was established in 1963 under M.G.L. Ch. 9 ss. 26-27D and is chaired by the Secretary of State. In total, the commission is made up of 17 members, from various agencies and private institutions, who work as a State Review Board for both state and federal preservation projects. The members are responsible for identifying, evaluating and protecting the many historical assets of Massachusetts. To meet this challenge, the MHC work with a number of local and federal preservation programs, grants, projects and awards. They also have a number of user-friendly resources including the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System or MACRIS, a database that allows anyone to search for information on historic properties, archeological publications and online exhibits, as well as a detailed explanation of their Review and Compliance policies.

The MHC has a wide range of responsibilities and programs to oversee. As a commission, they are authorized to determine whether a proposed state or federally funded project will negatively impact any Massachusetts historical properties, oversee Historical Rehabilitation Tax Credits, provide assistance and aid to local commissions, as well as administer the National Register of Historic Places in Massachusetts.

The MHC’s connection to the National Register comes from the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Under the act, every state has to establish a State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the MHC was established as Massachusetts’ SHPO in 1971. As the SHPO, the MHC has certain responsibilities, including reviewing nominations for the National Register. Other responsibilities include conducting a survey of historical properties and putting forth a statewide preservation plan to meet with the National Park Service’s requirements.

The MHC’s Preservation Plan for 2011-2015, as well as many other resources, is available on the MHC website. If you wish to research certain properties further, the State Library of Massachusetts has many resources for state and local history as well as many of the MHC’s publications.

The State House Library is located in room 341 and is open between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm Monday through Friday.

Stephanie Turnbull
Reference Department