Historic Preservation Month: Sheridan Main Street National Historic District

The National Register of Historic Places was formed as part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The National Park Service has run the National Register from its inception. Their website describes it as “the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture.” These sites are significant to the history of the country, the local community, or both. Today, there are over 90,000 places on the National Register.

Being on the National Register of Historic Places provides sites certain benefits. Historic buildings are given some consideration when they may be affected by federal projects such as highway construction. They aren’t always protected from destruction by federally funded projects, but the government considers the impact of losing the site before the project can move forward. The government usually orders archaeological reports before final decisions are made. Owners are eligible for tax credits on the money they invest in the site, and certain federal grants to aid in the historic preservation of the property.

Being on the National Register doesn’t prevent owners from altering or destroying their property. Many people incorrectly believe that places on the list are protected forever even from owners, but that isn’t the case. The worst that can happen is the building or site will no longer be on the National Register, removing any benefits the property enjoyed. The only exception is if owners are receiving federal funding for the preservation of the site through grants. You can’t take federal grant money to preserve your building and then tear it down with those funds. While there may be local or state laws that protect historic buildings, the National Park Service does not grant protection to these buildings, districts, or sites. Being on the list is an honorific. The commitment to the historic place must come from owners and members of the community.

Sheridan is a town full of historic buildings, particularly downtown. Main Street from Burkitt to Mandell has been a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places since the 1980s. At the time of the application, there were over 60 buildings listed as contributing to the historic nature of the district. Many of the buildings still have the original recessed entrances and facades from the early 1900s. Few of the original buildings have been torn down. The look of Main Street Sheridan has changed very little over the past 100 years. These buildings help give Sheridan’s downtown the historic and western feel treasured by locals and tourists alike. Many of Sheridan’s iconic buildings are part of this historic district including the Mint, Wyo Theater, King’s Saddlery, Healy Law Firm, and First Interstate Bank. Registering as a historic district shows the commitment of local business owners and organizations, such as the Downtown Sheridan Association, to maintaining the historic integrity of Main Street.

NW corner of Main and Smith Alley during the first part of the 20th Century.
2004.051.007 Memory Book Collection

There are tangible benefits Sheridan receives from having this section of Main Street on the National Register. The iconic western look drives tourism and therefore brings money to town. The preserved buildings keep businesses downtown and locals visiting those businesses. Events like Third Thursday wouldn’t be as successful if they were held in a place with less ambiance. Three, locals get to be proud of their historic and thriving Main Street, thus keeping history alive even if only a subconscious level.  

NW corner of Main and Smith Alley Spring 2020.
Cropped section of 2020.007.041

In Sheridan County there are twenty-six listings on the National Register including the Fairgrounds, Trail End State Historic Site, the Sheridan Inn National Landmark, Fort Mackenzie, and the County Courthouse. There are plenty more historic buildings in the area that aren’t on the register. This historic preservation month take a look at the National Register of Historic Places for where you live. You can learn more about these sites on the State Historic Preservation Office website. You can even read the original applications for most of these sites. Recognizing these historic places brings honor and attention to the communities they’re in. Recognizing the significance of these places is a step on the path to preserving local history.

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