Dr. Murtagh was the first “Keeper” of the National Register of Historic Places, the Nation’s register of national, state and local properties nominated by the states and federal agencies and recognized by the National Park Service as significant historic properties.

William J. Murtagh
William J. Murtagh

Born and educated in Pennsylvania, Dr. Murtagh received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. Fascinated by the architecture of Pennsylvania, he became a Fulbright scholar and studied the origins of the Pennsylvania Dutch barns. This led him to become the Director of the Kemmerer Museum and Historic Bethlehem, PA. From there, he was hired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation where he took part in a committee that produced “A report on Principles and Guideines for Historic Preservation in the United States” in 1964. This report laid out the underlying principles that became the basis of the National Register after the passage of the Historic Preservation Act in 1966.

George B. Hartzog, then Director of the NPS met Murtagh in St. Louis and hired him as the first Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. Murtagh worked closely with the Governor-appointed State Historic Preservation Officers to organize the program and to get the first nominations from the States. Under his leadership the program thrived. Murtagh left the NPS in 1979. He led the Columbia University Historic Preservation Program, then launched a Preservation Program at the University of Maryland. He went back to the National Trust as a Vice-President before heading to the University of Hawaii. In the 1980’s Murtagh wrote “Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in the United States.”

Dr. Murtagh is a singular figure in US historic preservation due to his immense influence on how we recognize, evaluate and preserve historic properties. He is charming, inclusive and visionary.

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