Assessing the newly historic: Significant trends or just nostalgia?

Posted in: Cultural Resources

As the 50-year guideline of being eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places ever advances, cultural resource specialists continually assess properties that are newly historic. Some properties challenge assumptions on what has traditionally been considered important.

The framework of the National Register Criteria for Evaluation is meant to answer the questions “What do properties tell us of our history?” and “Why does this matter?” Telephone booths are a good example of how the criteria for evaluation may be applied to unconventional property types.

What do phone booths tell us?

Once ubiquitous, these structures are now a vanishing resource due to rapid advances and obsolescence in communication technologies. Today, these structures speak to a way of life that is now largely gone. But should phone booths be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places?

That leads us to the second question: Why do phone booths matter?

Early examples of phone booths can represent the advancements in communication as an important trend that shaped the manner in which we communicate. Phone booths can also represent advances in construction methods, materials, and design. This is true for a 1960 phone booth in Prairie Grove, Arkansas – the first phone booth to be individually listed in the National Register.

Not all phone booths may meet the National Register criteria, but this item from the recent past elicits nostalgia resulting in creative repurposing of booths.

What do you think? What represents significant trends in history and what is just nostalgia?

Liz Boyer

About the Author

Liz Boyer specializes in historic and archival research, reconnaissance-level surveys and evaluation of National Register eligibility. Her experience includes Section 106, Section 4(f), HAER documentation, and NEPA compliance. She lives one block off Route 66 and states that she loves “hands-on history and finding new ways to experience a historic place.”

Read more posts by Liz Boyer

One response on “Assessing the newly historic: Significant trends or just nostalgia?

  1. You miss an important historical fact about public phones. They were part of disaster response planning. Public phones were given priority when restoring communications services after natural disasters. Why? Because they were shared, they benefited the most people. Today, after a big storm, there is no backup when your mobile phone battery runs out and there is no pay phone available.

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