By Megan Borthwick, Preservation Program Manager
This year’s Experts Lecture Series focused on preserving historic cemeteries. Staff from the State Historic Preservation Division shared information about the National Register of Historic Places and burial sites in Hawai‘i. This lecture brought up the topic of criteria considerations and what types of properties need additional justification for listing on the Hawai‘i and National Registers.
The Hawai‘i and National Registers of Historic Places are the official lists of the districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects worthy of preservation on the State and National level. For a property to be eligible for listing on either of these registers, it must meet the criteria for significance in prehistory or history and retain sufficient historic integrity. The significance criteria are:
(A) association with historic patterns or events,
(B) association with important persons to history,
(C) distinctive design or physical characteristics, or
(D) potential to yield important information about history or prehistory.
In addition to meeting on or more of the significance criteria, the historic property must also retain integrity of materials, design, feelings, location, association, workmanship, and setting to sufficiently demonstrate their significance.
Certain types of properties are generally not considered eligible for inclusion on the historic register, but could be eligible if they meet additional criteria. These include (A) religious properties, (B) moved properties, (C) birthplaces or graves, (D) cemeteries, (E) reconstructed properties, (F) commemorative properties, or (G) properties that have achieved significance within less than 50 years.
A cemetery would not normally be considered eligible for historic designation, unless it shows additional merit. In addition to meeting the basic criteria of significance and historic integrity, it must also demonstrate that the cemetery derives its primary significance from graves of persons of transcendent important, from age, from distinctive design features, or from association with historic events.
The nomination must clearly state and prove, with sufficient evidence, how the cemetery is meets both the basic and expanded criteria for designation.
For example, the Roman Catholic Cemetery on King Street is potentially eligible under significance criteria A for its association with the Roman Catholic community of Honolulu. It would meet criterion consideration D, because its primary significance arises from its association with development of the Roman Catholic community in Honolulu.
As described in the National Park Service Bulletin Number 41, evaluation of historic cemeteries is similar to the evaluation of historic landscapes. Cemeteries can be considered a site or a district depending on their significance. All components of a cemetery must be considered in the assessment of the site, such as the overall layout and design, plots, grave markers, plantings, boundary fences, road systems, paths and circulation patterns, gateways, curbs, signage, and architectural features such as mausoleums or chapels. Some historic cemeteries are still in use, such as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, which has a continuing period of significance.
Source: National Park Service, “National Register Bulletin 41: Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places” US Department of the Interior, Washington DC: 1992.