18 American Treasures That Should Be UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Mount Vernon overlooking the Potomac River at sunrise.

18 American Treasures That Should Be UNESCO World Heritage Sites

As one of the most notable organizations in the world, UNESCO has the goal of creating international cooperation by bringing nations together. Better known as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, this group focuses on world peace. 

Also as part of its mission, UNESCO looks at important sites across 194 member states to designate as World Heritage Sites. While there are currently 25 sites in the U.S. right now, another 18 are waiting to receive official confirmation after being nominated based on a variety of criteria.

Moravian Church Settlements

Moravian College, Bethlehem Pennsylvania
The Moravian Church Settlement offers beautiful buildings that are centuries old.

Arriving in the U.S. in 1735, Moravian Church members came to this country to help German immigrants. With around 60,000 members today, UNESCO hopes to celebrate 18th-century Moravian cultural tradition and its expression through architecture.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge in New York City at dawn.
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the best-known bridges in the United States.

One of the most famous bridges in the U.S. is the Brooklyn Bridge. Connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn, the bridge opened in 1883. At the time of its opening, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Spanning 1,595 feet, UNESCO looks at this bridge as a potential World Heritage Site due to its technological and architectural significance.

Ellis Island

Aerial view of Ellis Island, New York City.
Millions of immigrants were welcomed to the U.S. on Ellis Island.

Undoubtedly one of the most important places in American history is Ellis Island. More than 12 million immigrants arrived in New York and New Jersey by passing through this immigrant processing station. While it was closed in 1954, its significance as part of the “Great Atlantic Migration” cannot be understated.

Central Park

Central Park aerial view, Manhattan, New York; Park is surrounded by skyscraper
There is just something magical about seeing Central Park from above.

An urban park set between the Upper West Side and Upper East Side in New York City is Central Park. One of the most famous parks in the U.S., Central Park was completed in 1876 after nearly 20 years of work. UNESCO indicates the park is a “masterpiece of landscape architecture” and has multiple reasons to become a World Heritage Site.

Early Chicago Skyscrapers

Auditorium Building
Some of the oldest skyscrapers in Chicago have been nominated to UNESCO.

Focusing primarily on nine buildings as part of the original Chicago skyline, Early Chicago Skyscrapers awaits UNESCO approval. Constructed over 20 years in the 19th century, 9 buildings are thought to symbolize the first generation of skyscrapers in the U.S. Some of these buildings reached as tall as 20 stories, an unheard-of size at the time.

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

Racoon butterflyfishes, Chaetodon lunula, in Kingman Reef.
The Pacific Remote Islands monument stretches for 370,000 square nautical miles.

Essentially a group of unincorporated U.S. Pacific Island territories, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument has been nominated for UNESCO approval. Stretching over 370,000 square nautical miles, the entire space is twice the size of Texas. With gorgeous coral reefs and a thriving fish population, there is plenty of reason to designate this site as a World Heritage Site.

California Current Conservation Complex

Pod of Orca Killer Whales Splashing in the Pacific Ocean in Moss Landing Near Monterey Bay, California
There is a large number of incredible wildlife as part of the California coast.

Consisting of a group of marine protected areas alongside the California coast, this area is already protected by the state. The nomination to UNESCO now includes a variety of mentions highlighting the area’s rich biology for the migration of sea turtles, fish, sea birds, and other endangered animals.

Marianas Trench Marine National Monument

Geographical map location of Mariana Trench off coast of Philippines Pacific Ocean on atlas
The Marianas Trench is one of the deepest ocean locations in the world.

Already a United States National Monument as of 2009, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument is up for a World Heritage Site nomination. Consisting of 95,216 square miles, there are multiple units included within this space. This area is largely regarded as having some of the most biologically diverse species in the Western Pacific Ocean.

Marine Protected Areas of American Samoa

Pago Pago, American Samoa. Camel Rock near the village of Lauli'i.
American Samoa offers some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world.

Including the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, this area was nominated to UNESCO in December 2017. This nomination is based on the incredibly pristine and unique coral reef system. There are believed to be more than 200 species of coral, 1,400 species of algae, and 271 different fish species in the area.

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park, near Mexican border, USA at sunset
If you visit Big Bend National Park, you can see over 1,200 different plant species.

An American national park located in West Texas, Big Bend National Park already has national significance. The current park is designated to protect over 1,200 plant species, 450 bird species, 56 reptile species, and 75 species of mammals. Established in 1944, there is also a rich paleontological history in this area making its nomination even more important.

Civil Rights Movement Sites

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where Martin Luther King Jr. served as Baptist minister.
The three nominated churches played a significant role in the Civil Rights movement.

Consisting of three churches, the Civil Rights Movement Sites looks to celebrate locations that played important roles in the Civil Rights Movement. The King Memorial Church, Bethel Baptist Church, and 16th Street Baptist Church have all been nominated as World Heritage Sites since 2008.

Dayton Aviation Sites

The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, Huffman Prairie Flying Field in Dayton, Ohio
The Dayton Aviation locations are all places of importance to the Wright brothers.

The 2008 nomination for Dayton Aviation Sites is based on four locations that played a role in the Wright Brothers’ efforts as part of human flight. These locations include Huffman Prairie, which was used in 1904 for test flights, and Wright Hall, where the first practical airplane continues to be housed. Hawthorn Hill is also included, which is the 2.5-story mansion where Orville Wright lived until 1948.

Thomas Jefferson Buildings

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, USA at twilight.
The state capital building for Virginia was designed by Thomas Jefferson.

The Poplar Forest and Virginia State Capitol have been nominated to UNESCO as part of the Thomas Jefferson buildings. These two locations are considered to be notable architectural works constructed by Thomas Jefferson. As such, both buildings would be in addition to the existing World Heritage Sites from Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and the University of Virginia Buildings.

Mount Vernon

George Washington's estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia
The former home of George Washington, Mount Vernon has been nominated as a World Heritage Site.

Best known as the former home and plantation of George Washington is Mount Vernon. As the first President of the United States, Washington’s former home is widely considered to be an area of great importance. In total, there are 16 18th-century structures located on the site including the primary mansion, gardener’s house, storehouse, servants hall, and spinning house.

Serpent Mound

Serpent Mound Ohio
Serpent Mound is believed to be a prehistoric effigy location.

A 1,348-foot-long piece of property, the area known as Serpent Mound is located in Adams County, Ohio. The area is believed to be a prehistoric effigy mount standing around 3.5 feet high and 120 feet long. The U.S. has already designated this location a landmark since 1966 and it is maintained by a nonprofit organization.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Green lilly pads in the Okefenokee swamp National Wildlife Refuge near Folkston, Georgia
The area around Okefenokee receives around 400,000 visitors every year.

Located in both Georgia and Florida, this 402,000-acre area is known as the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. With over 400,000 visitors each year, the swamp is said to have longstanding Native American history. It’s believed the Native American population lived in this area as far back as 2500 B.C. if not earlier. The area was nominated as a World Heritage Site in January 2008.

Petrified Forest National Park

Blue Mesa in Petrified Forest National Park
The Petrified Forest National Park is full of deposits of petrified wood.

An existing American national park, the Petrified Forest National Park celebrates both Navajo and Apache territories. Named after famous deposits of petrified wood, there are around 346 miles in total space. There are also more than 400 species of plants in the area and fossils have been discovered dating as far back as 225 million years ago.

White Sands National Monument

Unusual White Sand Dunes at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, USA
Visit White Sands National Monument and discover important minerals.

A current national park located in New Mexico, White Sands National Park was designated as such in 1933. Consisting of 143,733 acres, the national park was established to protect the area’s gypsum sand dunes. This area is home to some of the world’s largest gypsum sand dunes, an important mineral that is mined around the world.

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