One lesser-known duty of the PA SHPO office is the management of protective preservation covenants on historic properties throughout the commonwealth. 

What is a Preservation Covenant or Easement?

A preservation covenant, sometimes called an easement, is a legal document that is executed between two parties to ensure that a property will remain in a good condition and that all physical changes will be done in such a way to ensure that the building remains listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  These are agreements are voluntary assignment by the grantee, or property owner, to another party who upholds the responsibility of oversight of the stipulations set forth in the agreement.

Two-story white house surrounded by grass.
French Azilum, Bradford County, (PA-SHARE Resource # 1985RE00853). PHMC Photo, Covenant Monitoring Site Visit.

PHMC holds over 365 active covenants on historic properties.  Most of the current agreements are associated with construction projects funded through the Keystone Historic Preservation Grant Program.  Some within the catalogue were assigned as part of National Park Service grant programs such as National Maritime Heritage Grant or Save America’s Treasures Grant Programs.  The remainder were assumed through Environmental Review consultation as federal or state property disposition or other actions. 

Unfortunately, the PHMC is unable to accept preservation easement donations from property owners for tax donation purposes.  Those property owners should contact a qualified preservation nonprofit organization who has a dedicated easement program if interested in perpetual preservation of their historic property.

PHMC’s covenant agreement require property owners to notify and consult with the PA SHPO staff about any proposed work on their historic buildings.  The staff then evaluates the project to ensure that the character-defining features are retained during any project and that the proposed project is compliant with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

Tall stone wall around concrete surface.
Completed Masonry Repointing at Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia (PA-SHARE Resource #1965RE00002.) PHMC Photo from October 1, 2021 Site Visit.

PA-SHARE Covenant Program Improvements

PA-SHARE dramatically improved how the PA SHPO manages our current covenant agreements.  In anticipation of its launch, all covenant documents, both active and expired, were scanned and integrated into the system.  An agreement project was created for each one and associated with its respective historic property.  Now all PA SHPO staff can easily identify a property that requires consultation and see the agreement document, rather than inquiring with the covenant manager or searching the file shelves if such an agreement exists or is active. 

PA-SHARE also improves the project consultation process for these property owners. Property owners can now submit details, plans and photographs of their project through a Supplemental Submission on their agreement record.  If they don’t know their agreement record number, PASHPO staff can send an email link for access.  Like we did for many of PA-SHARE’s specialized features, PA SHPO prepared a tutorial to assist property owners with the project supplement process.  Current project contacts can access any past PA SHPO reviews that occurred during the life of the agreement.

Historic Property Inspection Program Unveiled

Because of the improved identification and consultation process afforded by PA-SHARE, PA SHPO will launch the Historic Property Inspection Program (HPIP) as another improvement to the management of PHMC’s covenant program. This initiative will provide a more consistent proactive technical assistance program to connect resources to properties that PHMC has already invested in or meet other commission priorities.

Large stone building with green copper dome on roof.
Albright Center (former First Evangelical Church), Sunbury, Northumberland County (PA-SHARE Resource # 1983RE03041). PHMC Photo from Site Visit.

The intent of the Historic Property Inspection Program is to

  • Increase monitoring to build better relationships with property owners
  • Consistently record site visits at covenant properties reviewed under other PASHPO program areas
  • Proactively and systematically monitor covenants during the life of the agreement term
  • Provide architectural inspection assessment to record condition
  • Improve baseline National Register documentation
  • Increase access to PHMC staff and other resources that might address the long-term stewardship of significant properties
  • Encourage past Keystone recipients to continue relationship with the PHMC’s grant program

The Historic Property Inspection Program is well underway.  Staff has identified significant resources within the covenant portfolio that that might benefit from a proactive site visit.

A special focus will be property site visits for those that lack adequate property documentation, especially higher-level significant properties: Pennsylvania’s 169 National Historic Landmarks.  In keeping with the office mission to strengthen relationships with our Certified Local Government partners, properties within those municipalities will be a priority as well. 

Roofs of city buildings.
Completed Roof Lancaster Central Market, Lancaster County, (PA-SHARE Resource #1972RE00010). PHMC Photo.

Many of these agreements stem from past successful Keystone Grant projects so it will be rewarding to see how our past grantees are managing their properties and reintroduce current staff to PHMC grant opportunities.  While our ongoing covenant monitoring program and consultation of proposed projects continue, the Historic Property Inspection Program will encourage ongoing sound preservation of Pennsylvania’s significant historic properties. 

More information about the PHMC’s covenant program may be found on our website.