Your Older and Historic Homes Resource



A passion for history motivates many preservation efforts.
People who buy and restore historic structures tend to be personally motivated to do so. Individuals and families often maintain and restore old and historic houses because of their interest in history and a belief in honoring, commemorating, and maintaining personal links to past people and places. Old and historic houses serve as particularly potent reminders of the people who have lived before us.


Historic designation helps protect buildings and neighborhoods.
Owning property in a historic district ensures that the neighborhood will be protected from unmanaged change. Since changes to properties within locally zoned historic districts are subject to a review process based on established guidelines, property owners have greater security in the evolution of their neighborhood than they would if historic overlay zoning were not in place.


Economic incentives for preservation are increasingly popular. Public interest in restoring historic houses and buildings probably peaked in the late 1960's and 1970's, during the United States Bicentennial. During that time, a federal grant and loan program for the rehabilitation of historic

properties was established. Unfortunately, funding for these programs has been drastically reduced since the 1980's, and there is little federal funding available for relatively small, residential restoration and renovation projects. In the past few years, there has been a trend towards the local funding of historic rehabilitation and restoration efforts. There are also federal tax advantages in the form of charitable contribution deductions for owners who donate a historic preservation easement to a charitable organization.


Houses are often referred to as "old" or "historic." Although these terms are used interchangeably in everyday conversation, there are important differences in their meaning in reference to historic designation. Every historic house is old, but not every old house is historic.

For purposes of definition in relation to regulatory issues, one might say that a house built 50 or more years ago is "old." A house that is recognized by local, state, or federal government to be a significant example of the cultural or physical development of a community, state, or the nation due to its architecture or association with an important historical figure or event is "historic."
Local, state and/or national governments confer historic designation when a property is recognized for embodying historical, architectural, or cultural significance.

Regulatory issues that surround historic designation vary according to the type of designation and level of government that conferred the designation. Types of historic designation include:
National Historic Landmark
National Register of Historic Places
Local Historic Designation (Historic Zoning)

"The advantages to owning a historic house often outweigh the work that goes into finding and securing the property. There is a rewarding sense of history in the unique detailing and meticulous craftsmanship found in historic homes as well as the satisfaction of restoration."

--From "Buying an Historic House Requires Special Considerations, by Blanche Evans, Real Times, August 14, 1998.










The National Register is primarily an honorific device.  People who own houses listed in the National Register are often very proud of the historic and architectural heritage embodied by their home. Many owners choose to commemorate the heritage of their home by displaying a certificate or plaque stating its National Register status, although it is not required that they do so. They also may participate in local historic home tours, and restore or decorate to enhance the historic appearance of the house.Owners of homes listed in the National Register are under no obligation to commemorate or make the historic status of their home public knowledge. The National Register has no "police" powers to regulate or even monitor what a homeowner does or does not do to a privately owned building. The owner of a property listed in the National Register is not required to restore or maintain the historic appearance of the building, although it is hoped that the honorary status would inspire the owner to do so.
The only time that the National Register will question how private homeowner has altered his or her home is when the owner applies for tax credits for historic preservation.

Consideration and protection in public planning. If a federal undertaking such as road construction or Community Development Block Grant project potentially affects a property listed in the National Register, the State Historic Preservation Office is required to negotiate with the responsible federal agency in an effort to eliminate or minimize the effect on the historic property.

Tax benefits. Under the Tax Reform Act of 1986, a privately owned building that is listed in the National Register or is a contributing building in a National Register historic district may be eligible for a 20% federal income investment tax credit claimed against the costs of a certified rehabilitation for the building. These credits apply only to income-producing, depreciable properties, including residential rental properties. The credits do not apply to owner-occupied residential properties.


Criteria for obtaining Historic Zoning in
New Castle County Delaware

Many potential historic home buyers are unaware that their localities may offer tax credits or exemptions for the cost of home restoration of a property either on the National Register of Historic Places, in a local or national historic district, or local historic overlay district. New Castle County, Delaware has such a program with up to $50,000 per year possible exemption on property tax on the first $150,000 of assessed value for 5 years where a minimum of $5000 is spent on qualified expenses. For details about County historic districts, see the County web site at This site also has a link to a guide to researching your home's history.

According to Christine Quinn, Historic Planner for the County, the easiest way to qualify for State programs is to seek Historic Zoning for the property.
For this, you would get a Historic Zoning Report done (including deed research, verifying notable persons who lived there, establishing architectural importance). Copies of these reports are available for review in the Planning Office?you can call Christine (302) 395-5521 or This will give you an idea of the way other properties met the criteria. Or, you can hire one of the U of D students in the Center for Historic Architecture and Design (CHAD) to do the report for you. Their coordinator is Rebecca Sheppard, (302) 831-8097, or

You would also need a sponsor from County Council or the Council President to sponsor this, and then take it through the Planning Department and County Council.

Who maintains the National Register? The National Register of Historic Places is a federal program administered by the National Park Service (Department of the Interior) in partnership with state governments. Properties are listed in the National Register following a nomination and approval process administered by the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service. Federal standards governing restorations (which are used by programs giving grants and tax credits) are outlined on


The Delaware State Historic Preservation Office is located in Dover, and can provide you with more information about the National Register nomination process and regulations. Terence Burns ( of the State Division of Historic and Cultural Affairs in Dover welcomes homeowners to come to the office on The Green and consult their records on historic properties. Historic Preservation Planners at the New Castle County Department of Planning are also involved in the nomination and regulation of National Register sites in this area.


What is design review? Local preservation ordinances, laws that establish historic designation in cities, town, and counties, often include provisions for the review of proposed changes to designated historic properties. Owners of locally designated historic properties or properties within locally designated historic districts are required to obtain approval before making significant changes or additions to a property, beginning new construction, or demolishing or relocating a property.


The process by which the proposed changes are considered is called design review or architectural review.
The purpose of design review is to help preserve and enhance the historic character of buildings and districts. Historic character is the combination of architectural and decorative details that contribute to the "sense of time and place" expressed by old and historic buildings.

Characteristics that contribute to the historic character of the exterior of a house and are usually subject to design review include paint color, type and texture of siding or masonry, and architectural features such as windows, trim, and doors.
Interior features also contribute to the historic character of a house, although they are not usually subject to design review for locally designated properties. These features include built-in furniture or cabinetry, fireplaces and mantels, stairways, and trim.

The review process usually includes the following steps:
  • Submission of plans, elevations, and materials list
  • Review of the information by local commission and staff at a public meeting.
  • Approval of the proposed work, or specific comments about how to change the plans to conform to established criteria.



Replacement of roofing material
Construction of porches and decks
Installation of siding and cladding
Installation of new window sash or frames
Installation of new exterior storm windows or window awnings
Alteration of window or door openings
Installation of new doors, storm doors, or door frames
Installation of new gates or fences

Design review requirements may vary among commissions. Contact local commissions to learn
about specific requirements.

Who administers design review in New Castle County? Local governments in Delaware - counties and municipalities -- may designate local historic districts and landmarks. County and municipal governments may also create commissions to exercise design review of designated historic structures.

Commission members are selected from the general public by the local governing body. A majority of the members must demonstrate a special interest in history, architecture, archaeology, or related fields. Commissions hold regularly scheduled public meetings in which members deliberate over proposed alterations to historic buildings.

"Don't be intimidated by design guidelines. You are still permitted to make changes to your house as long as they are in keeping with the architectural character of the district. Design guidelines, like zoning laws, serve to protect your investment by preserving the historic nature of the community."

-- From "A Buyer's Guide to Older and Historic Houses" by Richard Wagner, National Trust for Historic Preservation Information Series, No. 74, 1994.



Historic designation (local and national register) and design review

State of Delaware,
Delaware's Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program assists in preserving and rehabilitating historic buildings throughout Delaware Enacted in 2001, $30 million in tax credits are available for ten years, with $3 million allocated each year. Since its inception, the program has proven highly successful, generating over $79 million in private investment to rehabilitate twenty-five historic buildings.
Joan Larrivee, Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs
21 The Green Suite A
Dover, DE 19901 1-302-736-7406

New Castle County Department of Planning, Historic Preservation Section
87 Reads Way, New Castle DE 19720
Preservation Planners: Stephanie Bruning
302- 395-5458
Christine Quinn 302-395-5521

City of Wilmington, Department of Planning
800 French St., Wilmington DE 19801
City Historic Districts: Pat Maley
Preservation Planner: Debra Martin

To see a map of Wilmington historic districts and a link to the
Secretary of Interior Standards see:

City of New Castle Historic Area Commission
220 Delaware St., New Castle DE 19720

City of Dover Historic District Commission
P.O. Box 475, Dover DE 19903 District Commission (Committee)

At the current time, Kent County does not have an Historic Preservation Planner.
Preservation issues are being address by the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).
21 The Green, Dover, DE 19901

Sussex County Preservation Planner
P.O. Box 589, Georgetown DE 19947
Dan Parsons




Pennsylvania Historic & Museum Commission
300 North St., Harrisburg PA 17120
"The Commonwealth?s Official History Agency" loaded with information; also see The Bureau for Historic Properties
For Pennsylvania localities having Certified Local Government preservation plans, see

Chester County Government
County Data and online archives of public records

Chester County Heritage Preservation Coordinator
Department of Parks & Recreation
601 Westtown Rd. Suite 160
P.O. Box 2747
West Chester, PA 19380-0990
Karen Marshall  1-610-344-6923

Delaware County Planning Department
201 W. Front St., Media, PA 19063-2708
Beverlee S. Barnes
Manager Preservation Planning: 610-891-5209




Maryland Historical Trust, 100 Community Place
Crownsville, Maryland 21032-2023
410-514-7600 1-800-756-0119
Income tax credits for preservation, see




Cecil County Planning Department

Handles County only, no incorporated towns
Some tax credits available for County (10% of the cost of exterior work can be counted against property tax up to amount of taxes if approved by the Historic District Commission)
Contact: Eric Sennstrom, Cecil County Department of Planning & Zoning
129 Main Street, Room 300, Elkton, MD 21921, 410-996-5220

Elkton Town Planner, Jeanne Minner 410-398-4999
Town has Historic District, but has been unable to find enthusiasm for organizing a review panel to enforce regulations.





Preservation Delaware
1405 Greenhill Ave., Wilmington DE 19806

Delaware Preservation Fund
The mission of the Delaware Preservation Fund is to preserve Delaware's architectural heritage through the use of low interest loans, small grants, easements and covenants, and the donation/purchase/resale of historic properties

The National Trust for Historic Preservation
1785 Massachusetts Ave., Washington DC 20036-2117
800-944-6847 or 800-944-NTHP
Information on renovations and easements for historic home owners


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This information has been compiled by Carolyn Roland of Patterson-Schwartz.
Carolyn may be reached at (302) 234-6063 or