Cape towns utilize a wide variety of tools to protect their historic resources. The most commonly used are local historic districts and demolition delay bylaws, though many towns have also adopted more specialized regulations. Some historic resource protections are initiated by town historical commissions, while others are spurred by planning boards, nonprofit historic societies, and neighborhood groups. Key information about tools such as historic inventories and districts is available at the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties also offer valuable guidance for work on historic buildings.
| INVENTORIES: |
Inventory is an important first step toward protecting a community's historic resources. Historic inventories can be used to teach people about their community's history and to guide town boards in future land use decisions. The Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) provides standardized inventory forms for different types of historic resources. The forms are typically filled out by local historical commission members, volunteers, or private consultants, and many Cape towns have sought grants to support this work. Completed forms are kept both in the town and at MHC, which provides online access through its MACRIS database.
Some Cape towns have an inventory of heritage landscapes, completed in conjunction with students from Boston University's Preservation Studies Graduate Program and following Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation guidelines. These reports can be viewed from our Projects and Publications page. If your town would like to be considered for a future heritage landscape inventory, contact the Commission's Historic Preservation Specialist.
| LOCAL HISTORIC DISTRICTS: |
Local Historic Districts require review by a historic district commission for any exterior alteration to buildings and structures visible from a public way.
On Cape Cod, local historic districts in the towns of Barnstable, Dennis, Eastham, Harwich, and Provincetown were created under Chapter 40C (the Historic Districts Act) of Massachusetts General Law. The towns of Chatham and Falmouth have established local historic districts under special legislation. The Old Kings Highway Regional Historic District, covering portions of Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans, was also created by a special act of legislation.
| NATIONAL REGISTER BUILDINGS & DISTRICTS: |
National Register of Historic Places offers special protection for individual historic buildings and properties in historic districts on Cape Cod. Under the Cape Cod Commission Act, demolition or substantial alteration of National Register properties, whether individually listed or part of a National Register Historic District, are subject to review by the Cape Cod Commission if there is no other historic district protection in place. (See the document: Cape Cod Commission Act and National Register Properties.)
Thousands of historic properties on Cape Cod are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The towns of Barnstable, Brewster, Chatham, Eastham, Falmouth, Harwich, Provincetown, Sandwich, Wellfleet, and Yarmouth have National Register Historic Districts.
| PRESERVATION BYLAWS: |
| PRESERVATION RESTRICTIONS: |
Preservation Restrictions and Conservation Restrictions are legal agreements used to protect historic buildings and lands from change. The restrictions are drawn up by the property owner and a nonprofit preservation group or a government entity who is in charge of their enforcement. Restrictions can be placed on buildings or on land, and may also be used to protect archaeological resources hidden beneath the surface of the land.
The Massachusetts Historical Commission holds Preservation Restrictions on numerous Cape properties that have received preservation grant monies. Preservation Restrictions are required for some projects that use Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, and many of these restrictions are held by conservation trusts and local historical commissions.
See also the Placing Preservation Restrictions on Historic Resources fact sheet.