The Importance of Historic Contexts

The National Park Service, as it evaluates potential National Register properties, is very specific as to the importance of historic contexts. These standards are primarily defined in the publications How to Complete the National Register Registration Form (Bulletin 16A), How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation (Bulletin 15), and Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Basis for Preservation Planning (Bulletin 24). Bulletin 24 defines historic contexts as “broad patterns of historical development in a community or its region, that may be represented by historic resources.” Bulletin 15 expands on the importance of historic context by remarking that “its core premise is that resources, properties or happenings in history do not occur in a vacuum but rather are parts of larger trends or patterns.” Bulletin 16A organizes historic context by “theme, place and time” that “allows applicants to understand a historic property as a product of its time and as an illustration of aspects of heritage.”

In general, historic contexts are considered most valuable as a “framework” for evaluating the relative significance of cultural resources such as varied sites, structures, districts, and other elements. They serve as an organization tool for defining a community’s history, a past which is often otherwise extremely lengthy, complex, and unwieldy.

Rather than concentrating on each individual property, historic contexts focus on broad, overarching themes that would provide the city with the means to organize and evaluate its resources and lend perspective on the past. By developing these preservation themes, the city can most effectively evaluate current resources, designate new ones, and plan for preservation in future generations. The contexts will allow for a more fair designation of properties, as each site can then be viewed in terms of what is best for the city as a whole, rather than as a single instance in isolation. These contexts also assist commissioners in making difficult decisions about the preservation of buildings, sites, and structures that best represent Mankato’s history, and to target future preservation efforts in the areas where they are most effective.

The contexts identified herein can also be used as a rallying point for educational and community participation initiatives and are integral to future planning for land use, economic development, parks and recreation, transportation, public infrastructure and housing. As more data is organized, the contexts will evolve and change, recommendations will be updated, and the study will become more useful as a long-range planning tool. The expanded contexts, in addition to being a framework for evaluation resources, will be useful in public education programs for neighborhood organizations, government bodies, and local schools. Rather than serving as a static end point that mothballs historic resources, this study is designed to be an exciting jumping-off point for the future of preservation in Mankato.