The Historic Marker Program

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The Historic Marker Program
Through its Historic Marker Program, the Jefferson County Historical Commission works to identify and recognize houses, commercial or public buildings, churches, and sites of historic interest and integrity throughout Jefferson County. The Commission also works to encourage the preservation of these historically important places.JCHC Marker Octavus Roy Cohen Home 1927

What is the Jefferson County Historical Commission?
The Commission was established in 1971 by an Act of the Alabama Legislature. It is made up of twelve appointed members who serve without compensation. In addition to administering the Historic Marker Program, the Commission sponsors publications on Jefferson County history, presents an annual award to individuals or groups who have contributed to the understanding of local history or historic preservation, and works with other organizations and agencies to further the cause of historic preservation.

What types of buildings qualify for the historic marker?
Any building or site in Jefferson County that retains most of its historic appearance and integrity may qualify. A building does not have to be elaborate or famous or associated with historically significant people or events. Sites such as cemeteries, or locations of now-vanished buildings or events, may also qualify.

How old does a building have to be, and what makes a building architecturally or historically significant?
The Historical Commission follows the National Register criterion, i.e., a building or structure must be at least 50 years old to be eligible for a marker. As buildings from the post-World War II period attain this age, reflecting modern construction techniques and development patterns, the Commission has developed a new marker design for these properties. A building or site may be eligible for marking, regardless of age, if it is associated with major historical figures or events.

As noted above, a marked property does not have to be “significant” either architecturally or historically. We are interested in marking significant properties, of course, but the markers are intended to indicate integrity of historic appearance and to recognize the people or organizations historically associated with all Jefferson County buildings and sites.

Does a building have to be in its original condition to qualify?
Any old building will show some change over time, so we do not expect any marked property to be completely in its original condition. It should, however, retain its original shape and roofline, and enough of its original exterior materials to reflect its historic character and appearance. Critical features
in this regard are masonry or frame wall material, windows, porches, and decorative details such as millwork and bracketing.

Interior changes or additions to the rear are not considered in the marker evaluation, unless they have an effect on the general view of the building that detracts from its historic character and appearance.

What information is included on the historic marker? How is that determined?
The marker includes the historic name of the building and the date of its construction, or as close thereto as can be determined. For a site, the date will be that of the historically significant event that occurred there, or, in the case of a cemetery, the date of the earliest marked grave.

The historic name is that of the first occupant or first long-term occupant of the building, whether a domestic house or a commercial or public building. If the original occupant was there only a short time, then the name is that of the longest-term occupant, or the name with which a building is most associated historically. If there are two historic occupancies, both names are used.

The name of the current owner of a building does not appear on the marker except in the case where the current owner is a long-term occupant and would thereby qualify under the above criterion. Under no circumstances are markers altered to reflect later owners.

It is important to remember that the historic marker is assigned to a structure, not awarded to a person or family, and the marker stays with the structure even if the occupants change.

Where can I find information to file an application?
You can call the offices of the Jefferson County Historical Commission and request that an application package be mailed to you, or you can pick one up from the office during the Commission’s regular office hours, Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:00-4:30 (better call first). We can also e-mail you one if you’ll provide us your e-address (ours is [email protected]). If you are reading this on line, you can download an application package here.

In most cases, you will be able to do all or almost all of your research at the main branch of the Birmingham Public Library. When you request a marker application you will be sent an information sheet entitled “Where to Begin Your Research.”

Who can I contact if I have questions about the application or my research?
You can send your questions or concerns to the Commission office by postal mail, email, or you can phone the Historical Commission offices at (205) 592-6610. You may also direct questions regarding research to the staff in the Archives Department of the Library; they won’t be able to do your research for you, but they are happy to guide you through the process.