Remembering Nellie Longsworth

03/31/2021 2:34 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

Editor’s note: All of us at ACRA were sad to learn that Nellie Longsworth passed away recently. Nellie was a champion in the historic preservation field, and was an integral part of growing ACRA’s presence in Washington, D.C. Below is a message remembering Nellie written by some of ACRA’s co-founders: Chuck Niquette, Loretta Neumann, and Tom Wheaton. It is followed by an afterword from current ACRA President Nathan Boyless.

Remembering Nellie Longsworth
March 29, 1933 – March 1, 2021

ACRA co-founder Loretta Neumann introduced Nellie Longsworth to ACRA at the first national conference in the Fall of 1995 in Washington, D.C. Nellie was the founder and executive director of Preservation Action (PA), a preservation advocacy group that worked with all branches of the federal government to promote historic preservation. Under Nellie’s leadership, PA’s support and efforts were critical to the passage of Rep. John Seiberling’s 1980 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), which included so many important additions to the law. The Amendments, among other things, codified the federal historic preservation program, included the first specific programs addressing archaeology in the Act, included new authorizations to bolster state historic preservation programs and, again for the first time, include local communities through the certified local government programs.

Congress enacted the first historic preservation tax credits in 1976, the first federal tax incentives for the rehabilitation of historic buildings. Nellie traveled to 20 cities in a two-month period, mobilizing grassroots support and securing revisions to make the tax-credit program even more effective. The bill would not have gotten out of the Conference Committee had Nellie not made a critical phone call to Rep. Seiberling. Nellie knew that Seiberling was close friends with Rep. Charles Vanik, the key subcommittee chairman on the House Ways & Means Committee who had jurisdiction over the bill in the House. As Nellie requested of him, Rep. Seiberling called “Charlie,” who didn’t know anything about historic preservation. In response, Rep. Vanik told Rep. Seiberling that if he (John) thought it was important to keep the tax act provision in the bill, they would—and they did. The House accepted the Senate-approved provisions. This is Nellie Longsworth at her best – Wonder Woman for the national historic preservation program!

In 1992 she again coordinated efforts to enact the Amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act. In addition, she successfully lobbied for provisions to benefit archaeology and historic preservation in the transportation enhancements programs. Nellie and PA were also integral in the efforts to save the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) in 1995 – that effort led, of course, by ACRA with Loretta’s staff at CEHP Incorporated working on our behalf.

A few years later, when Loretta sold her firm to work for President Clinton, Loretta recommended that ACRA engage Nellie as her replacement for our government relations specialist. Nellie proceeded to inaugurate a yearly meet-your-Washington-representative day (now CRM Day on the Hill), including helping members learn how to find offices in the Capitol – no small task!

Nellie guided many members through the intricacies of how the federal government really works, and also provided members with a Washington update on preservation issues for our newsletter that was better than we had seen from other sources. She successfully fought off proposed changes that would have hobbled Section 106 in 2007 and led the efforts to add archaeology and historic preservation in the Conservation Reserve program of the USDA Farm Bill.

The Society of Professional Archaeologists (SOPA) established the John F. Seiberling Award in 1986 in the name of Rep. Seiberling for his many legislative efforts in support of historic preservation. For SOPA, and now the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA), the award is intended to recognize significant and sustained efforts in the conservation of archeological resources by an individual or group. Seiberling himself received the first award, and Nellie was bestowed with the Seiberling Award in 2010.

Loretta Neumann, John Seiberling and Nellie at a
Preservation Action party at Loretta’s house around 1980

Nellie also became a friend to many ACRA members, touching many lives within the historic preservation community and beyond. Many reported often running into people unrelated to ACRA who knew and had worked with her. She had contacts and life-long friends on both sides of the aisle, and by some unwritten rule we never really talked partisan politics. She was an indispensable addition to ACRA, and gave us a legitimacy at the national level that we might otherwise have lacked. ACRA would not be what it is today without Nellie’s guidance, and we are forever thankful for her efforts on behalf of the organization and the larger CRM community.

Afterword by ACRA President Nathan Boyless

While I never had the opportunity to meet Nellie Longsworth, her name and presence are felt every time we gather for the annual ACRA conference or for Board of Directors and Committee business. Her loss strikes at the heart of ACRA and will be felt for many years to come. Join us in celebrating her amazing life and passionate career as remembered by some founders and friends.


  • 04/02/2021 10:52 PM | Michael Polk
    I am truly saddened to hear of Nellie's passing. I considered her a friend. She was, as described so eloquently above, a driving force in Historic Preservation and we were so fortunate to have her to guide us in our early and mid years. She was very helpful to me during my presidency from 2007 to 2009 and other years as a board member. She will be missed greatly. ACRA is all the better for her having been a part of us.
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  • 04/04/2021 4:20 PM | Jo Reese (Administrator)
    Nellie was the greatest, and was a mentor to me. She was The One who got ACRA a seat at the table when the ACHP's Telecommunications Working Group was putting together the Section 106 process for cell towers. (Remember when those were new!) Nellie showed me around town and gave me tips without making them seem like tips. For me, she walked on water. I attribute a lot of ACRA's early success to Nellie and the collegial tone she brought. I miss you, Nellie!
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