Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Historic Landscapes


The shape of the land - its slope, form, aspect - is important in defining the character of an historic landscape. Topography creates space in the landscape, supports specific uses and other landscape features, and often directs or creates views. Emphasis should always be on proper maintenance practices which protect topographic features and attributes. Care should be taken in project work to protect fragile soils, slopes and landforms. Protective measures, such as erosion controls and limits on construction vehicles and equipment, should be incorporated into projects.


Individual plants, such as a specimen tree, or groups of plants, such as a hedge row, alee, agricultural field or woodlot, can contribute to an historic landscape's significance. Vegetation may be important for its historical association, horticultural or genetic value, or aesthetic or functional qualities.

As with any historic feature, maintenance is of the utmost importance, with an emphasis on retention and repair. Unlike more static features such as buildings and structures, vegetation is very dynamic; therefore, treatment must acknowledge the full range of vegetation processes, including germination, growth, seasonal change, maturity, decay and death.

Daily, seasonal and cyclical practices, such as corrective pruning, cabling, deep root fertilization and propagation, can prevent more extreme repair measures at a latter date. If and when replacement of an individual plant or group of plants is unavoidable, care should be taken to insure the replacement vegetation matches the historic in habitat, form, color, texture, fruit/flower and scale.


Within the historic landscape, historic circulation features can occur as individual elements or as systems or networks. Examples such as roads, parkways, trails, paths and canals illustrate the wide range of circulation features which may occur within a historic landscape. Routine maintenance of these features helps to ensure that individual elements, as well as entire networks can be retained. When a specific feature or portion of a system no longer actively supports circulation, such as an abandoned rail corridor or canal lock, the feature should be retained and protected.

Special attention must be given to considering repairs and/or modifications which address contemporary circulation issues, such as vehicular speed limits, sight-lines, and maintenance procedures (e.g. snowplowing). While such issues are valid, care must be taken to retain the historic character of circulation features important to the property's significance. Alignment, surface treatment, width, edge, grade, materials and infrastructure are those attributes which define the character of a circulation feature. Repairs and limited replacement should respect their attributes.

Buildings and Structures

Historic buildings and structures are important components within historic landscapes. Their relationship to one another and to the other landscape features discussed, is a key concern when considering both routine maintenance or special projects within the landscape. Specific concerns regarding buildings and structures are provided in the other sections of this document.

Site Furnishings and Objects

Site furnishings and objects are small scale elements that may be movable or permanently installed, used seasonally or continuously, and be independent of other elements or part of a system. In addition, these elements may be functional, decorative or both. While furnishings and objects may appear to be small components in the historic landscape, the cumulative effect of these elements is an important facet of a property's historic significance.

The location, aesthetic and construction details, and materials of benches, lights, signs, fences, flagpoles, monuments or urns should be carefully considered in both routine maintenance and more involved undertakings. Of particular concern is the relocation of some furnishings and objects to accommodate new uses. Elements, such as historic streetlights, entry signs or memorials, have direct functional or associative relationships with other features in the landscape. Moving these elements not only diminishes their importance, but establishes a false historic image.Routine maintenance of site furnishings and objects will increase the life of these elements. When portions of these elements are too deteriorated to repair, replacement - of all or a portion of the element - should match the original in location, design, materials and finish.

Spatial Organization and Land Patterns

Much like the floorplan and ceiling heights of an interior contribute to the character and significance of a building or structure, the spatial organization and land patterns within the landscape affect its character and significance. The organization or patterns of the landscape are defined by topography, vegetation, circulation, buildings and structures, and furnishings and objects. Some of these features form the "walls" of a space, such as a hedge, fence or wall; others act as "corridors", channeling movement or directing views, like walks, bridges or creeks. Together, some or all of these features create spaces - many related to specific functions or uses.

The evaluation of proposed changes to spatial organization and land patterns considers the relative significance of a specific space or pattern to the overall landscape. In historic designed landscapes, spaces may be "ranked" in terms of importance. For example, the front lawn of an estate grounds may be considered more significant than a storage yard associated with a secondary support building. Similarly, land patterns can be organized in a hierarchical fashion: the overall arrangement of fields to orchards to woodlot may be considered more important than the specific patterns of crops within the fields or trees within the orchard.