Using the National Register of Historic Places for Research
The National Register of Historic Places is a primary vehicle for identifying and protecting historic resources in the United States. Established by the Historic Sites Act of 1935 and expanded by the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, the National Register (NR) serves as the official list of historic resources at the national level. It includes districts, sites, buildings, structures and other objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering and culture. Properties listed on the NR may have national significance, however most properties listed on the register are of state or local significance.
The National Park Service maintains a database that is searchable. This database can be searched by name, architect, significant person, location and theme. There are more than 88,000 properties have been listed in the NR. Together these records hold information on more than 1.4 million individual resources. The documentation it consists of are the NR registration form which provides a physical description of the place, information about its history and significance, and a bibliography of sources.
The register database can be found at the following link: http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/natreghome.do?searchtype=natreghome.
Using the NR as a resource tool is a worthy starting point to research on historic places. However, with any research, you can encounter a few problems if you do not know what you are looking for. For example I am actively researching the Garret A. Hobart family. Mrs. Hobart purchased what is now Hobart Manor in 1902 and it went through renovations in the following years. However, unless you have prepared prior research, “Hobart Manor” will not appear in the National Register search engine. Hobart Manor was previously known as Ailsa Farms and in 1975 was placed on the NR. Researching Ailsa Farms in the database, I was able to retrieve some photographs and a scanned PDF of the National Register Form that was filed in 1975.
Similar forms have even been done t the State and Local levels of landmark designations. My first task in Paterson was to write a local landmark staff report on Memorial Day Nursery. Memorial Day Nursery was constructed through funds by Mrs. Jennie Tuttle Hobart. During my research this is how I discovered Hobart Manor’s previous name Ailsa Farms. Statements of significance and historical context justification are the most important elements of any landmarking register.
With edits by G. Archimede, we were able to create this document about Memorial Day Nursery and Jennie Tutle Hobart (see below). It summarizes a various range of resources, which is very helpful to anyone who is doing research. (This example also acts as a sample of what a NR form would contain about a property.)
Historic Social Context & Significance of Memorial Day Nursery (Paterson, New Jersey) by G. Archimede & K. Ruffel
The Children’s Day Nursery of Paterson was established in 1887, born of the compassion of Jennie Hobart Tuttle and twenty other women associated with the City Mission Auxiliary of the Society for Church Work of the Presbyterian Church of Redeemer (A3). By this time Paterson was approaching its industrial peak from which it became known as the Silk City. European immigration provided the workforce for such growth, and had steadily increased for over forty years leading up to the late 1880s, and traditionally, women and children averaged at just under half of the workforce in textile mills, while in some cases represented more than half of the laborers. Large, industrial cities such as Paterson were faced with the dilemma of providing day care and education for their children from the beginning of industrialization, while most mothers feared leaving their children home alone, locked in a room, or even leaving them with unfit neighbors or on the streets. The Children’s Day Nursery made this feat manageable and securing. At the first location of the nursery, 399 Straight Street, families paid a daily charge of about five-cents for each child, for which the nursery became locally known as “the Nickel House.” These proceeds assisted in the support of the institution. Forty-five families trusted the staff and operations of the facility to care for their children in its first year, providing a total earnings of about $900.00, some which came also from contributions of the city and other charities. By the second year the proceeds doubled, which indicated to many the importance of the nursery to the community and the success of the organization. Many contributors and organized societies donated time and money to promote positivism, education, and cheer to the attending children and to all who participated. After five years of providing child care, in 1892 the nursery was incorporated. This success enabled the nursery to become tax exempt, and for the first time the nursery was able to receive yearly dues in full from the working families. This timing aided the nursery’s ability to survive the recession of 1897, as many families were without work. While by the turn of the century the success of the Paterson Day Nursery allowed for the purchase of the property at 399 Straight Street, it had outgrown its capacities there for some time.
A Paterson native, Jennie Tuttle Hobart was a philanthropist, a leader, advocate, and profound supporter of children’s and women’s rights, and was especially connected to the early women’s suffrage movement of the 1910-20s. Born on April 30th, 1849 to Socrates and Jane (Winters) Tuttle, Mrs. Hobart’s life would be filled with grace, poise, and political sentiment. Her father was a successful, eminent lawyer, and misfortune took her mother just soon after Jennie Tuttle was born. Like her father, Mrs. Hobart grew to love politics and people, and as a girl was fascinated by discussions she heard in the home. When she married Garret Augustus Hobart in July of 1869, it was a political match made in heaven. They met as he was beginning his career as a lawyer and Republican politician working for her father’s law firm. Once married, Mrs. Hobart maintained the “ideal” notion of a woman for the nineteenth century. She was devoted to her home, and husband. Garret Augustus Hobart was a graduate of Rutgers University and a practicing attorney for the city of Paterson. He built a highly successful career for himself in Paterson which led to his involvement in Republican Party politics from 1871 to 1882. Unfortunately, only one of the Hobart’s four children survived past childhood. With such personal grief and a drive to help those of the under privileged, Mrs. Hobart began to support the Paterson Orphan Asylum and the Old Ladies Home in 1883. She served as the president of these organizations until 1922. Mrs. Hobart expanded her public involvement through the Presbyterian Church and the Church of Redeemer in 1886 with the establishment the Children’s Day Nursery.
Mrs. Hobart’s local efforts in Paterson were interrupted when her husband Garret Hobart was elected as William McKinley’s Vice President of the US. In 1896, Mrs. Hobart suspended her advocacy in Paterson for a brief time to move her family to Washington. Mrs. Hobart’s experience and gift for entertaining and being a solid public figure made her duties as Second Lady natural and graceful. Mrs. Hobart often served as hostess for President McKinley, as his wife was in poor health, and later Mrs. Hobart would recall that her life in the White house had “…no hardship to me but [it was] a pleasure…” Her life as a Washington hostess ended with her husband’s death in office in 1899.
Garret Hobart’s funeral was held in Paterson and a bronze statue was erected in his honor directly in front of City Hall. Upon her return to Paterson, Mrs. Hobart continued her legacy and long career of philanthropy. Jennie Tuttle Hobart’s first contribution to Paterson after her husband’s death was the establishment of a new building for the Children’s Day Nursery. As a founder and avid supporter of the Nursery, Mrs. Hobart wanted to not only assist the organization, which had outgrown its capacities on Straight Street some time before, but also to make a memorial to her daughter, Fanny B. Hobart, who with her mother also helped the Nursery on Straight Street. Fanny Hobart was part of the Junior Aid Society, a young women’s group who rendered themselves to charities; the Nursery being the most aided cause. She loved working with little children and the overall mission of the nursery. While on a family trip to Italy in 1895, just a few years before her father’s death, Miss Hobart died of diphtheria at the age of sixteen. Under the tragic circumstances of the loss of her only daughter and then of her husband shortly afterwards, Mrs. Hobart rose to the occasion to remember the life of her daughter, and in 1903, offered a new and larger home for the Children’s Day Nursery as a gift. Mrs. Hobart and the surviving Hobart family believed that Fanny would have followed in her mother’s footsteps of philanthropy and served the children of Paterson through this particular charity.
For this reason, the name of the Children’s Day Nursery was changed to the Memorial Day Nursery and the building was officially dedicated on October 14th, 1904. Mrs. Hobart’s role in public service expanded in the twentieth century for having so well served both Paterson and the nation. Probably the greatest of her contributions to helping those in need was her assistance in the recovery efforts given to France and Belgium after World War One. Mrs. Hobart used her residence, Carroll Hall, in Paterson as a textile factory; She had garments cut and sewn there for shipment overseas. Her actions to rehabilitate war-torn Europe earned her the highest decoration of the Belgians. She was given the “Chevalier de l’Ordre Leopold II” and a royal document sealed by His Majesty King of the Belgians in September of 1932. The last notable contribution from Mrs. Hobart at age 79 was the chartering of the Passaic County Historical Society in 1928. She and her son Garret Hobart Jr. advocated a home base for the Society at Lambert Castle following its turn over to Passaic County in 1928 from the City of Paterson.
For 125 years since its establishment, the Memorial Day Nursery continues to provide day care and educational services to Paterson working families. The structure of the Memorial Day Nursery remains intact and in excellent condition, not only as an architectural masterpiece designed by a nationally- prominent architect, Henry Bacon; it also is a reminder of a mother’s gift of her “continuing service of love” to her children and to Paterson’s children. The Memorial Day Nursery was founded in 1887 at a time when many women were in the workforce, and by the turn of the century, women’s roles continued to change rapidly and institutions were designed and organized to implement quality care for the children of working families. The first day nursery in the nation was founded in New York City in the late 1850s, but it was only by the end of the nineteenth century that a day nursery opened in Philadelphia. In comparison, when the Paterson Day Nursery was opened in December of 1887, only about eleven thousand children throughout the country were cared for daily in nurseries, supporting the position that the Nursery was one of a handful of pioneer day care institutions in the nation (A2). Furthermore, Paterson’s Memorial Day Nursery’s social and historical significance is greatly supported by its association with Jennie Tuttle Hobart, who is one of New Jersey and the nation’s preeminent historic women. Not only is the building eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is also noted as a stop along New Jersey’s Women’s Heritage Trail, along with Lambert Castle, both with regard to Mrs. Hobart’s establishment of the Passaic County Historical Society and the Memorial Day Nursery. These structures represent Mrs. Hobart’s story and her wealth of dedication. The Memorial Day Nursery stands today as a dedicated provider to the city’s children, a part of the community that Mrs. Hobart loved. The Memorial Day Nursery merits the status of a Municipal Landmark to ensure its preservation in memory of the legacy of the institution and its founders, and as an integral part of Paterson’s historic fabric for the enjoyment of future generations.
- “Day Nursery Dedication: Mrs. Garret A. Hobart’s Beautiful Memorial of Her Daughter Fanny”, Paterson Daily Press, October 15, 1904.
- Decker, George. “The Memorial Day Nursery ‘The Nickle House’.” The Passaic County Historical Society. http://www.lambertcastle.org/daynursery.html (accessed January 17, 2013).
- Dodyk, Delight Wing. “Jennie Tuttle Hobart,” Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women, Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1990, 151-53.
- “Henry Bacon.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Bacon (accessed January 17, 2013).
- City of Paterson Historic Preservation Commission. City of Paterson Historic Preservation Commission Criteria and Procedures for Designation of Historic Sites. Paterson: City of Paterson Historic Preservation Commission, 27 Jan. 1987, and amendments thereafter.
- City of Paterson. “Historic Preservation.” Excerpted from the City of Paterson Master Plan. Paterson: City of Paterson, 2003.
- Louis Berger & Associates. “Recommendations.” Excerpted from the Historic Resources Survey of the City of Paterson. Paterson: Louis Berger & Associates, 1996.
- National Park Service. National Register of Historic Places Bulletin Series. Washington GPO, US Dept. of the Interior.
- Nelson, William and Charles Shriner. History of Paterson and Its Environs. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1920.
- Roth, Leland M. A Concise History of American Architecture. Westview Press: Boulder, CO, 1980.
- State of New Jersey. New Jersey Land Use Law: NJ Annotated Historic Preservation Related Sections. Trenton: NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection and Energy, Historic Preservation Office.