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Heritage Landmarks

See The Book of Discipline,1712.1b-d.

A Heritage Landmark is a structure or location specifically related to significant events, developments, or personalities in the overall history of The United Methodist Church or its antecedents.

Heritage Landmarks must have distinctive historic interest and value for the denomination as a whole, as contrasted with local or regional historic significance. Only those buildings, locations, or structures previously registered as United Methodist Historic Sites are eligible for consideration as Heritage Landmarks.

To aid in the understanding of the requirements for Heritage Landmark status, you may see a complete listing of current Heritage Landmarks in Par. 1712.2.

The Process

1. When the decision is made to nominate an Historic Site for status as a Heritage Landmark, the Annual, Central, or Jurisdictional Commission on Archives and History (or equivalent) should request an "Application for Heritage Landmark Status" from the General Commission on Archives and History, P.O. Box 127, Madison, NJ 07940 or download an application and the guidelines in PDF from this website.

2. The completed application should be sent to the General Commission. Each application will be carefully reviewed by the General Commission's Committee on Heritage Landmarks. Applications are to be received by GCAH by June 30th, two years preceding the year of General Conference.  For 2020, applications are to be received by June 30, 2018.  

3. If approved, the General Commission will recommend that the Historic Site be named a Heritage Landmark by the ensuing General Conference. General Conference approval is required for all Heritage Landmarks.

4. Upon General Conference approval, the General Commission on Archives and History will contribute, if needed and requested, a one-time gift of $500 for publicity and promotion of the Heritage Landmark within the first year of designation (including a proper marker or plaque).

5. All Heritage Landmarks which receive official designation should be accessible to research and visitation, adequately maintained, and responsibly interpreted by an appropriate group in the local area in cooperation with the Annual, Central, or Jurisdictional Commission (or equivalent).

6. Each Heritage Landmark is expected to seek funding for maintenance, interpretation, and promotion from its Annual, Central, or Jurisdictional Conference as well as from appropriate constituencies in and out of the church. Each year, the General Commission on Archives and History provides very limited financial support for specific projects, solely on the basis of demonstrated need. Applications for funding are provided by the General Commission to all Heritage Landmarks. Applications must be completed and returned before the announced deadline; they are reviewed by the Committee on Heritage Landmarks of the General Commission on Archives and History.

When should a Historic Site be considered for status as a Heritage Landmark?

It is better to have a few Heritage Landmarks well qualified, maintained, and interpreted rather than a large number which include some of doubtful validity, poor maintenance, and inadequate interpretation. Therefore, every Heritage Landmark must have historical integrity, including authenticity, conscientious validation, sound maintenance, and responsible interpretation.

Specific Considerations

A place's significance to the history of The United Methodist Church or its antecedents is of utmost importance. This may be augmented by other factors of interest and value to cultural, military, architectural, archaeological, and other fields of history.

A fleeting association with historical figures or important events does not qualify a site for major recognition. For example, the fact that Francis Asbury preached at the Lovely Lane Meetinghouse in Baltimore is not of overwhelming significance, but the fact that the Methodist Episcopal Church was founded there is one major reason for its status as an Heritage Landmark of The United Methodist Church.

Likewise, a series of related events occurring within an approximate vicinity may qualify for recognition as a cluster Heritage Landmark. Examples of a cluster Heritage Landmark are John Wesley's American Parish in Savannah which includes several locations connected to Wesley's stay in the Georgia colony; and the United Brethren Founding Sites cluster in Washington and Fredericks counties in Maryland.

Heritage Landmarks are often associated with specific persons important to the history of The United Methodist Church and its predecessors. Old Otterbein Church in Baltimore is associated with Philip William Otterbein, a founder of the United Brethren in Christ.

While certain individuals merit special consideration, not every prominent person can be recognized by designation of an associated Heritage Landmark. Nevertheless, an occasional representative person may be selected to epitomize a whole category of contributors to the life of The United Methodist Church. The Deadwood Cluster in Deadwood, South Dakota commemorates the life of Henry Weston Smith, murdered on his way to preach on August 20, 1876. Smith exemplifies hundreds of frontier preachers who risked their lives to spread the Gospel.

Many Heritage Landmarks note a "first." The Green Hill House in Louisburg, North Carolina, was the site of the first Annual Conference session held after the Christmas Conference establishing the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, New York was the first hospital built by American Methodists. Yet the meaning of a place's priority must be broadened by its relation to subsequent events, persons, organizations, and ideas. Being first is not enough to merit designation as a Heritage Landmark.

The historical value of past events may be reinterpreted with further passage of time. An event once deemed of the highest importance may deservedly fade in significance as years go by. In order to avoid the dangers of premature designation of Heritage Landmarks the accepted policy of the General Commission on Archives and History is that an Heritage Landmark must be associated with an event or person whose major contributions were made prior to the most recent half-century.

Heritage Landmarks and the General Commission on Archives and History

As noted above, applications for Heritage Landmark status are reviewed by the Commission's Heritage Landmarks Committee, which then makes recommendations to the General Conference. Heritage Landmarks are then eligible to apply for limited funds from the Commission each year for special projects. The General Commission also supports the work of Heritage Landmarks through its publications and programs, and occasionally offers workshops and other training opportunities.

While the General Commission has no direct control over the administration, interpretation, and preservation of Heritage Landmarks, it is most concerned that each place be properly maintained. The Commission is ready to answer questions, offer advice, and serve as an information clearinghouse.

There is a provision in The Book of Discipline for reclassification of a Heritage Landmark. There are at least three circumstances which could lead the General Commission to recommend such a step to the General Conference:

1. A Heritage Landmark's physical structure is changed in a way that irrevocably damages its historical authenticity.2. The owners deliberately and permanently deny public access to the Heritage Landmark.3. It is discovered that the Heritage Landmark does not have the historical significance originally claimed for it.

The General Commission offers the following guidelines regarding changes to the physical structure of a Heritage Landmark:

1. The change should not significantly alter the appearance (and thus the authenticity) of the Heritage Landmark.2. Any restoration or repair work should be historical sensitive (for example, in the choice of paint colors). The General Commission objects to using unauthentic materials in restoration and repair work.3. No ancillary buildings (restrooms, visitor's center, etc.) should be built so as to affect the Heritage Landmark's appearance on its site. Sensitivity should also be used regarding plantings; for example, trees should not be planted so that they will eventually obscure the structure.

Note: The General Commission publishes A Traveler's Guide to the Heritage Landmarks of The United Methodist Church, which also includes a list of registered Historic Sites. Contact the General Commission for further information.