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William J. Murtagh papers

 Collection 0271-MDHC

William J. Murtagh is one of the world's leading historic preservationists. As an administrator, educator, speaker, and writer he has helped shaped the historic preservation movement for more than fifty years. Murtagh was the first Keeper of the National Register and also worked at the National Trust in an executive capacity for a number of years. He is the author of Keeping Time, a basic text on the development of the historic preservation movement. Murtagh held several teaching positions throughout his career at such institutions as Columbia University, the University of Hawaii, the University of Florida, and the University of Maryland. William J. Murtagh's papers consist of materials documenting his career in both the public and private sector. These materials include correspondence, memos and minutes, research notes, writings, speeches, lectures, reports, photographs, memorabilia, and personal records.


  • 1850-2017
  • Majority of material found within 1942-2010

Use and Access to Collection

This collection contains restricted material; please check the series and folder listings for additional information.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


78.75 Linear Feet

1155 Items

1 Items (oversize file)

2 Linear Feet (One oversize box)

1 Items (1 suitcase )

2 Folders (2 map case folders )

1 electronic_discs (1 CD)

3 Videocassettes (3 VHS cassettes)

15 Sound Cassettes (15 audio cassettes)

9000 Photographic Slides (About 9000 Photographic slides in various containers )

5000 Photographs (About 5000 Photographs throughout collection)

Scope and Content of Collection

The Papers of William J. Murtagh consist of materials that document the career of Murtagh in both the public and private sector. The collection dates from 1850 to 2017, with the bulk of the material dating between 1942 and 2010. These materials include correspondence, memos and minutes, writings, research materials, publications, educational records, teaching and lecture notes, speeches, reports, conference programs, photographs, ephemera, audio recordings, blueprints, drawings, memorabilia, and personal records. Documenting the history and development of the historic preservation movement in the latter half of the 20th century, the collection offers a perspective on the evolution of the training and role of the historic preservation professional. Murtagh's papers also demonstrate the respective roles of government and the private sector in preservation activities and offer insight into preservation outside of the United States.


William J. Murtagh, one of the world's leading historic preservationists, played a pivotal role in the establishment and evolution of the field of historic preservation for more than fifty years. Considered one of the "founding fathers" of the preservation movement, Murtagh helped shape the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Later, as the first Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, he was responsible for the creation of that respected federal institution, establishing standards and practices that continue to safeguard the architectural heritage of the United States. A prolific lecturer, writer, and speaker, Murtagh inspired generations of preservationists and contributed to the professionalization of the field through his involvement with a number of university preservation programs. He is credited with laying the foundation of the preservation movement in the United States by giving it direction, establishing legal precedents, endorsing legislation on preservation, and, above all, raising the consciousness of the nation about the cultural and aesthetic benefits of preservation.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 2, 1923 Murtagh studied at the University of Pennsylvania where he earned a B.A. in architecture, a M.A. in art history, and a Ph.D. in architectural history (1963). In 1954-1955 he attended the University of Bonn and the University of Freiburg in Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship where he studied German influences on the architecture of the Pennsylvania Dutch. While completing his Ph.D., Murtagh served as a draftsman for several architectural firms. His interest in preservation led him to work as a supervising architect for the National Park Service at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia. In 1956, he assumed the position of Executive Director of the Annie S. Kemerer Museum in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. During this time he also served as Executive Secretary of Historic Bethlehem, Inc., an organization that guided historic preservation efforts in the city.

Murtagh worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation from 1958 to 1967, where he served first as assistant to the President and then as the Director of Education and Programs. At the National Trust, he was responsible for training programs, seminars, and conferences around the country and was instrumental in elevating the profile of the Trust during these years. In 1967, Murtagh became the first Keeper of the National Register. During his thirteen-year tenure he was responsible for establishing and developing standards and guidelines for historic structures, creating a national network for the identification and survey of state historic resources, and administering grant programs that assisted rehabilitation and restoration projects across the country.

In 1979, Murtagh became Director of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia University. Two years later, he returned to the National Trust as Vice President of Preservation Services. After officially retiring in 1985, Murtagh continued to pursue an active teaching and lecture schedule. He was the first occupant of the Beinecke-Reeves Chair in Architectural Preservation at the University of Florida in 1995 and was involved with the historic preservation program at the University of Maryland from 1984 to 1996. Murtagh also taught at the University of Hawaii as a visiting professor from 1986 to 1998, during which time he also served as the director of the Pacific Preservation Consortium. Through this organization, he provided assistance to other island cultures, such as Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia, with historic preservation needs, assessments, and training.

Over the course of his career, Murtagh was involved with a variety of historic preservation organizations and boards. He served as President of the Victorian Society of America from 1974 to 1980, revitalizing membership in that organization over the course of his term. He has been involved with the Preservation Institute: Nantucket since 1972 as a member of their Board of Directors. In the 1980s he served as member of the Governor's Consulting Committee on the National Register for the state of Maryland. Murtagh is also a member and former executive committee member of the U. S. Committee of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), representing the U. S. abroad at conferences and on study tours.

After Murtagh's retirement, he completed Keeping Time, a basic text in the field of historic preservation which provides a comprehensive examination of the preservation movement. The royalties from this book support a non-profit organization, the Keeper's Preservation Education Fund, which provides funding to historic preservation students to further their education. Another of Murtagh's publications is Moravian Architecture and Town Planning (1967, republished 1998). He was a contributor to Historic Preservation Today (1966) and Historic Preservation Tomorrow (1967). Murtagh also published a number of articles in journals including Historic Preservation, American Institute of Architects Journal,Society of Architectural Historians Journal, and Antiques Magazine. He has received the Meritorious Service Award from the Secretary of the Interior, the Distinguished Service Award from the Secretary of the Interior, and the Louise Dupont Crowninshield Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He is a Benjamin Franklin Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts in London, England, as well as a fellow to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

William J. Murtagh currently resides in Florida and Maine and continues to write and lecture on the subject of historic preservation.


The Papers of William J. Murtagh consist of seventeen series:

  1. Series 1: Personal
  2. Series 2: Correspondence
  3. Series 3: Academia
  4. Series 4: Writings
  5. Series 5: Organizations and Boards
  6. Series 6: Speeches and Lectures
  7. Series 7: Conferences and Workshops
  8. Series 8: Reports and Papers
  9. Series 9: Projects
  10. Series 10: Travel
  11. Series 11: Drawings and Blueprints
  12. Series 12: Photographs
  13. Series 13: Audiovisual Materials
  14. Series 14: Memorabilia
  15. Series 15: Appointment Books
  16. Series 16: Unprocessed accession, 2019-0052-MDHC, 1978-2016
  17. Series 17: Unprocessed accession, 2018-0051-MDHC, 1850-2017

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

William J. Murtagh donated his papers to the University of Maryland Libraries in 2004. In 2018, the University recieved additional Murtagh papers from Walter Smalling.

Related Material

The papers of Frederick L. Rath, the first director of the National Trust, and the papers of Charles Hosmer, author of Preservation Comes of Age, are both held by the Archives and Manuscripts Department, University of Maryland Libraries. The National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection has also recently acquired the collection of Charles E. Peterson, founder of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

Murtagh's book collection has been cataloged in the University Libraries' Catalog using the note "William J. Murtagh" and added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection, University of Maryland Libraries, includes over 100 linear feet of vertical files kept by staff at the National Trust and includes materials collected during Murtagh's time at the Trust.

The National Archives and Records Administration is the legal repository for the organizational records of the National Trust for Historic Preservation prior to 1992 and for the Department of the Interior.

Processing Information

There was no particular arrangement to the collection when it was received except that files were loosely grouped according to organization or project. Therefore, the final arrangement of the papers of William J. Murtagh was largely determined by the processing archivist. Series were created that reflect the subject matter and format of material. Of particular note is the existence of correspondence files throughout the collection. When possible, correspondence was kept with the originating organization or activity. However, in cases where the relationship between the writer and Murtagh's professional activities was unclear, the items were placed in a separate correspondence series.

Photographs have been removed to Series XII, audiovisual materials to Series XIII, and three-dimensional memorabilia to Series XIV. Oversize materials have been removed to a mapcase or oversize boxes. A separation sheet has been placed in the original location of each item removed. Newsprint clippings have been photocopied onto acid-free paper and the original newsprint discarded. Rubber bands and metal fasteners have been removed and replaced with plastic clips. Books donated with the collection have been cataloged and added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation Library book collection. The final two series of the collection are yet to be processed and have been reboxed and placed in acid free folders but have otherwise been kept in their orignal order and condition. Various financial and exranious materials that do not fit with the University's collection policy were removed. A preliminary inventory is available for both series and can be found under the Inventories/Additional Information section.

Guide to the William J. Murtagh papers
Processed by Joanne Archer and Meaghan McCarthy.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2007-04-15: EAD markup checked and verified using JEdit software by Jennie A. Levine.
  • 2017-08-23: EAD markup checked and verified following ArchivesSpace migration by Emily Flint.
  • 2018-11-13: Finding aid reviewed and some edits, including the addition of a Conditions Governing Access note at the series level (for the first series), made by Duncan Griffin.
  • 2021-08-30: Marcella Stranieri added series for two unprocessed accessions and updated relevant colleciton information.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742