by Anne Brockett, February 2021
As discussed in the last Courier, local designation as a historic site is a powerful means of protecting cemeteries in Maryland. Historic designation by a city or county government provides protection from inappropriate changes to keep the historic character of cemeteries intact.
While local designation often affords the strongest level of physical protection, cemeteries can also receive protection and recognition by inclusion in the one or more of the following:
• Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties
• National Register of Historic Places
• National Historic Landmark listing
Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties
Many states have their own designation programs for historic properties, including cemeteries. These listings are handled by the State Historic Preservation Office, which is called the Maryland Historical Trust here. Maryland, however, does not have a state level of designation. Instead, the Maryland Historical Trust maintains the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) which, according to its website, is a “repository of information on districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects of known or potential value to the prehistory and history of the State of Maryland.” The MIHP contains information on nearly 60,000 historic, architectural, archaeological, and cultural sites across the state, including at least 500 cemeteries.
The MIHP is used primarily for research and identification purposes. It does not mean formal designation as a historic site and carries no protections or regulatory oversight. However, if a cemetery is considered for local or National Register listing, the MIHP form provides basic historical information. Inclusion in the MIHP means that the state has already recognized a burial ground for its historic, architectural, or cultural significance. In addition, anyone can request that a property be included in the MIHP, which is especially helpful for documenting the existence of small, hard-to-find, or threatened cemeteries. Inclusion in the MIHP “is a crucial step in their protection and management.”
The MIHP currently contains over 500 burial places including churchyards, military, family, pet, institutional, and commercial cemeteries and is searchable online at https://
mht.maryland.gov/research_mihp.shtml. More information is available at https://mht.maryland.gov/research_cemeteries.shtml.
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register is our country’s list of properties considered worthy of preservation. The National Park Service maintains the National Register and defines its purpose as providing “formal recognition of a property’s historical, architectural, or archeological significance based on national standards used by every state.” Properties listed in the National Register can be of national, state, or local significance. For cemeteries, listing provides a number of benefits, including:
• Recognition of significance to a community
• Encourages preservation and investment
• Eligibility for financial assistance from a variety of federal, state, and local sources, including Maryland Historical Trust Capital Grants
• Places no restrictions or design review requirements
• Does not necessitate public access
• Adds protections in federal and state-funded projects that impact the cemetery (i.e. road widening, stormwater projects, or work involving a federal license or permit.
Individually listed cemeteries in Maryland include Greenmount, Mount Auburn, and St. Paul’s Cemeteries in Baltimore; Christ Episcopal Church and Cemetery in Dorchester County; and several National (Veterans) Cemeteries. Emmitsburg and West Montgomery Avenue (Rockville) Historic Districts are examples of National Register-listed historic districts that contain burial grounds.
National Register listings are searchable online at www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/database-research.htm. More information is available at www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/index.htm and www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/upload/NRB41-Complete.pdf
National Historic Landmarks
Designation as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) is recognition of historic significance at the highest level possible and is largely honorific. To achieve NHL status, a cemetery must already be listed in the National Register and must be of national, not just state or local, significance. Only a handful of cemeteries or gravesites have been designated as NHLs. In Maryland, there are no individually designated NHL burial places, but several are within NHL historic districts (i.e. Annapolis) or associated with an NHL property (i.e. Darnall’s Chance). For more information, see www.nps.gov/orgs/1582/index.htm.
The three levels of historic recognition and designation– local, state and national – each carry specific rights and protections and each may have benefits for preserving a cemetery in your community. If you know of a burial site that would benefit from historic designation, please contact your local historic preservation office, the Maryland Historical Trust, or the Coalition for more information.