Celebrating Fifty Years of State Historical Markers


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Celebrating Fifty Years of State Historical Markers by George Redman Beyer. Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine, Summer 1996.

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Celebrating Fifty Years of State Historical Markers

  1. 1. Celebrating Fifty Years of State Historical Markers by George Redman Bey n a September day in 1946,threemen stood alongside The formal marking of Bgore the erection of today's U.S. Route 22, fourteenmiles east of Harrisburg, historic sites,however, was familiar statehistm'al m r b s , inspectinga distinctiveblue and gold sign that had not new to Pennsylvqnia. bronzeplaques were aftacked- just been erected.They were JamesH. Duff, chairman Bronze plaques had been0 usually with great ceremony- of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission(whoin installed between 1914 and to large bould~s. four months would be inauguratedthe Commonwealth's thwty- 1933 to commemorate fourth governor),and Commissionmembers Charles G. Webb significantindividuals, and ThomasF. Murphy This roadside plaque, entitled "Hanover events, and landmarks by the old Pennsylvania Historical Resolves," was the first of the statehistorical markersthat would Commission, predecessor to the Pennsylvania Historical and eventuallyappear throughout Pennsylvania's sixty-seven Museum Commission (PHMC).An act of the General counties and which now-exactly a half century later-number Assembly of Pennsylvania, approved July 25,1913, established more than sixteenhundred. the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, mandating that it 4
  2. 2. "mark by proper monuments, associatedwith founder tablets, or markers, places or William Penn. Many of these buildings, within this plaques highlighted Pennsyl- Commonwealth, where vania's colonialhistory, historical events have tran- Native American settlements spired, and ...arrange for the and trails, frontier forts, and care and maintenance of such earlv dtarvfipUres., - - J - 0 - - - - markers or monuments."- Township patriots.Thev committed enplaques dedicated in During two decades, nearly 1924heralded a new era in the one hundred and fifty bronze program's histov. A design plaques were placed in forty- introducedby the eminent one counties. They were PhiladelphiaarchitectPad usually dedicated in conjunc- PhilippeCret featured a tion with county or local -- distinctivemderinc of the historical or pakiotic societies. Often the dedicationswere impressiveaffairs,with carefullyplanned ceremonies attended by state and local officials,area residents, and school children. Thefirstbronze plaque, marking the siteof Fort McCord in Franklin County, wasjointly dedicatedby the Enoch BrownAssociationand the PennsylvaniaHistorical Commissionin October 1914. The followingyear, twenty-one plaques were dedicated-the most in any year until 1929- and induded sixteen commemoratingthe 1777Battle of Brandywinein Chester and ': ~elaw&Counties,and five markingeventsin Dauphin, Northumberland, Snyder,and Franklin Counties. During the next eighteen years, plaques were dedicated in every year except three. Of the twenty-six plaques placed in 1929, twenty-scattered throughout Northampton, Monroe, Luzerne, North- umberland, Wyoming, and Bradford Counties-com- memorated the Sullivan Expedition of 1779.Two other special seriesincluded a group of thirteen placed in Bedford, Somerset, Westmoreland,and Allegheny Countiesin 1930 to mark the Forbes Road of 1758, and eight dedicated in Delaware " Commonwealth's coat of arms.Although severalwkk affixedto buildings or structures,most were attached to large stonesand boulders. Both the plaques and the dedicationceremonieswere usually underwrittenby private contributions.JoidAg the public, stateand local dignitaries,and partiapating childrenat the dedications were the Commission's chairman, Henry W. Shoe- maker, and its secretary,Albert Cook Myers, as well asStrong Wolf and War Eagle, each identifiedas an Indian chief. (StrongWolf appeared, quite 1 incorrectly,attired in ~LLLI headdresi.)At an appropriate time in the program, Strong Wolf or War Eaglewodd offer an invocation to the Great Spirit.Attendanceat someof these eventsnumbered in the hundreds. The eight bronze plaques placed in 1932were followed by only one the next year. Commemoratingthe 1780 Sugarloaf Massacre, dedicat- ed at Conyngham, Luzerne County, in September 1933, it proved to be the last marker erected by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission.This Commissioncontinued for twelve more years, but it concentrated on other maf& programs such as historical * and archaeologicalresearch, c&ty and Philadelphia in publications, aiquisition and 1932to commemorate sites restoration of historic properties, and support of Marking time in the Keysto~ze the endeavors of historical State-from an old bronze tablet societies. During the late citing William Penn (top)to a twenties and thirties, the marker honoring St. James construction of straighterqnd A.M.E. Church in Erie (bottom). smootherhighways accel'erat- ed automobilespeeds, and
  3. 3. the bronze plaques,handsome though they were, became impossible to read-and sometimeseven to see-from a speeding vehicle.It became obviousthat a different type of marker, better suited to a faster-paced era, was need- ed-but in Pennsylvania its inceptionwas to await the end of World War II. It was in the Common- wealth of Virginia in 1927that the nation's first official marker program of the modem type was launched one that used large, double faced cast-metal signs affixe to posts alongsidemajor highways. In 1929,Virginia's Sta Conservationand to Inscriptions on Virginia Highway Histortca 1930s, the new type of marker program began to spread s to other states and was firmly established in both North at the time differed markedly Carolina and West Virginia before the end of the decade. County and localhistorical statewide or even national Murphy, who served as In September 1947,Stevensreported that all CharlesG. Webb, and E under the first contract-totaling four December meeting, Commissioners authorized the agency's hundred and ninety-seven-had been delivered and paid for executive director,Donald A. Cadzow, to ask the Department and that most had been erected. He was pressing the of Property and Suppliesto solicit bids for at least five hundred markers.At the March 1946meetingit was reported that Sewah Studios of Marietta, Ohio, had been the successfulbidder for the manufacture of these large cast-aluminummarkers- Modem markers honor (from left)conservationist Rachel Carson,inventorDaniel Drawbaugh, artist Horace Pippin. VORK TNTTRR-GTATFFAlR+ z& *" * ^:i*:t~Ç¥r^l <> **%-*-#-&***.***-37- &t*&+%<*;p$3$f~s**-&$a: 3 $?*S+* *+:" ?<sfxtecognized as America, ;ildesi$F agricultural fair, dating $s'origii">': -oma charter issued by the ~enn~s'1; 1765.Discontinued after 1815, the rair has been conducted annually since 1853by the York County Agricultural Society.The present ground has been ised since ' t O O O York Counts. , icot Department of Highways to place the remainingmarkers in time for Pennsylvania Week in October. The firsteditionof the Guide to theHistoricalMarkers of Pennsylvania,published in 1948, containedtitles,texts, and locationsfor more thanseven Many early bronzeplaques concentrated on Native American histoy, such as the Walking Purchase of 1737 (facingpage).
  4. 4. hundred roadsidetype markers in sixty-twocounties.Someof thesehad been manufactured under a second contractfor more than threehundred roadside-type markers, which had been awarded to Sewah StudiosinApril 1947. Developments in the marker program accelerated. In 1948,the PHMC authorized the production of a property- type marker (similar to the roadside type but with larger letteringand a briefer inscrip- tion) for erection at historic sitesit administered.Fifty state-entrancemarkers (also similar to the roadside type) m 1852to 1875.The nearby y the versatile clown and showman, were approved for placement on major highways entering Pennsylvania. Smallerand cheaper were approach markers, reading "Historical Marker Ahead." Suggestiveof large historical markers in appearance,they were authorized in 1950 and numbered more than two hundred by the followingApril. The most important development during this period was the inceptionof the city-type marker.An order for the manu- factureof these markers was given in June 1949to Lake Shore Markers, the Erie firm that would manufactureall city and roadside markers for the following forty-twoyears.Unlike the larger roadside markers being erected alongsidehighways, the city markers were designed for installationin urban areas, usually at curbside and often in front of the site described. The first fourteen of these new markers were erected in the Cumberland County seat of Carlislebetween October December 1949.Sixteen markers were also installedin December in the City Major installationsof markers took place in Lancaster in 1950and 19 Reading and Bedford in 1951, West Chester in 1952, Chambersburgin 1952and 1953,Harrisburg, Easton, and Bethlehem in 1953,Somerset and Philadelphiain 1954,and Pittsburgh in 1958.A few city markers were also erected in smallercommunities. City markerswere praised forboth design and craftsman- shipby residentsof the communitiesin which they were being erected.The PHMC nurtured public interestby publishing, in 1952,the second editionof the Guide to the Historical Markers of Pennsylvania, containing listingsfor more than a thousand markersin all counties exceptPhiladelphia.A third edition, released fiveyears later, included the texts of more than twelve hundred roadside, property, and city markers in all sixty-sevencounties.Nine years later a supplementto the third editionprovided texts of eighty-onemarkers that had been added or, in six instances,significantlyrevised.As costsincreased and fundingdiminished,the erection of markersbegan to decrease. However, numerous markerswere erected during the 1960sand early 1970s,many of which-enjoying stronglocal support- were accompaniedby great fanfareand impressive dedications. Severalmarkers dating from the program's early years would not be erected today-more often than not because they commemorated subjectsthat would be deemed to be of local or regional significance.Otherswould not be approved because of
  5. 5. their interpretation.And at least one was removed. The text of the "Tom Quick marker erected in June 1948 on U.S. Route 6, northeast of Milford in Pike County, read: "The Indian-slayerof leg- endary famelived in this region. Angered by the slaying of his father, pioneer settler of Milford, in 1755,he spent the remaining forty years of his life killing Indians. His tally reached ninety-nine." After a Philadelphia!! strenuously objected to the marker in a letter to Governor MiltonJ. Shapp,Stevensresponded on ~ e ~ t e m b e r7, 1971,bypledging that he personally would see Fair" marker in September 1978. that the offending marker was removed. It was taken down A major seriesof events in the history of the marker two days later. program was driven by the statewide celebration of By the early 1970s,several of the procedures that now guide "Pennsylvania's 300th Birthday:A Celebration of Friends," an the marker program had been initiated, includingthe require- eighteenmonth long observance commemoratingthegranting ment that new markers be approved by the members of the of the charterto William Perm by King CharlesIIon March 4, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.Guidelines 1681,and the founder's arrival in his Provinceof Pennsylvania for approval were adopted by the PI-CMC in 1975-the year the late the followingyear. As part of the observance, a city marker fourth edition of the Guide was issued-and three years later was dedicated in each of the county seats (usuallyat the court- the most important of these criteria was revised to require "that house).The markers, funded by the Commonwealth, focused on the person, event or site to be commemorated have had a the originsand naming of the countiesand their seatsand meaningful impact on its times and be of statewide or natic--I included at least one distinctivefact about each county. rather than only local The first of the dedications significance.'' Markers were at took place at theWarren first approved on an individ- County Courthou& in Warren ual basis as the occasion in March 1981,and the last warranted, but by 1980the approval of new markers was based on staff recommenda- tions. Some of these markers were approved for state funding, which had been used in almost all instances in earlier years, but, with appropriationsgrowing increasingly limited and costs rising steadily,production of other approved markers depended on private or alternative funding. By early 1978, the Commonwealth was- . spending more than five hundred and fifty dollars for ' a roadside marker-up from. seventy-twodollarsin 1946à and four hundred and fifteen dollars for a city marker. The hundreds of historical markers erected in the early years after 1946Ñunlikthe bronze plaques placed between 1914and 1933Ñwer in most cases installed without ceremony. By the 1960sand 1970s,however, a small but significant number of local participating organi-
  6. 6. , erected since 1946.Topics foundto have had extensive coverage were the period from 1750to 1900,public officials (especiallygovernors), military figures,churches (especiallyPresbyterian), houses and taverns predating 1900,educational institutions, fortsbuilt between 1750and 1800,Indianpaths and villages,canals (especially state-owned),forgesand * furnaces,military campaigns and battles, conflictsbetween Native Americans andsettlers, and the Frenchand Indian, tion, ~ u d iasjwist1Maohad A. Revolutionary,and CivilWars Musinanff~,lyricist Oscar (butno others).Staff members alsoidentified areasthat ¥leadeBayard-ilustm,and deserved greater coverage:history since1865and, especially, Avenue i-ioa Station.And since 1900;minority and ethnic history; women's hisfory; agriculture and labor history; entertainers, performers, and sportsfigures; communicationsand the media; and twentieth- centuryarchitectsand architecture. In December 1987,inthe most recent revision of thepro- gram's guidelines, a standardwas adopted, urging"at awardedby the William Porn Foundation to the CharlesL. BlocksonAfro-American Collectionat Temple Universityfinancedthe placementfrom 1990to 1993of sixty-fivemarkers chronicling AfricanAmerican history in Philadelphia.Among these are markers commemorating sailmakerJamesForten, Mother BethelA.M.E. Church, singerPaid Robeson, Freedom Theatre,opera contralto - 9 -
  7. 7. for the markers are keyed to numbers tin the maps that introducethe regionalsections. More comprehensive than bonist Tommy Dorsey (1905- previous versions, thisfifth edition of the Guide includes saxophonistJimmyDorsey (190 titles, texts, locations, and dates of erection (or dedica- tion) forthe plaquesinstalled by the old Pennsylvania rew up and began their musical careers Historicalchnmhion in place-as well as for more than fifteen hundred markers erected by the PHMC between 1946and 1991. As the nineties progress, the marker program faces many new and unprecedented challenges. One is cost containment.The cost of a roadside marker has risen to nearly twelvehundred dollars, while the price of city markers has reached nine hundred dollars. (Becauseof spiralingc markers are increasingly being paid far by various sources.) Nevertheless, public interest in Pennsylvania's statehistorical marker program continuesunabated, evidencedby the number that have recently been dedicated-forty-eight in 1994and thirty-one in 1995Ñi conjunctionwith local organisations. Only about a third of the markers proposed each year are approved, a result of today's stringentjpiid$tu-ies. The materials used in the productton of statehistorical markershave untilnow scarce other than the change from steelposts in the 1950sand occas T.Morris Chestermarker in Harrisburg (below).1967 dedicationof Veteransof Foreign Warsmarker in Pittsburgh{right).
  8. 8. imagination,will be the state historicalmarker program's continuingchallenge~andits abiding opportunity-in the years to come. + GeorgeRedman Beyer joined the staff of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commissionin 1961 Kaufmann.Widely admired and has served as coordinatorof its h~st~rt~cdmarker program since its design, it is dramatically 1977.B O ~in ,Lynchburg, cantilevered over awaterfall; Virginia,hegrew up inMamfleld, Tk<siCounty,'wherehisfather was t exemplifies Wright's desire to acollegeprofessorfir twenty-five oin architecturewith nature. years. Theauthor holds degrees from Mansfield Universityand Cornell Univer*. Before assuming his present responsibili- onservancy in 1963. ties,he served as an archivistfor the PUMC and directed its micrqfilmprogram. ThePennsytvania Historical and Museum Commissionstaffwelcomes comment on the state historical marker program. ~ndiind&lswho wish to report a damaged or missingMarkers. Philadelphia:The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American marker, nominatea new marker,should write:State Historical Marker Collectionand The WilliamPenn Foundation, 1992. Program,Pennsylvank Historical and Museum Commission,Post OfficeBox im6,Havisbuq, Pennsylvania 17108-2026;or tdephone NichO1sf-Smf f Penns*ania Hi&~ricagand~~@um (717)787-3034.Persons who are deaf,hard of hearing,or qpeech Ccimmis&n: ~&tony. ffarrisburg:Pennsylmnia Historical and impaired, who wish to contact ahearingperson via Text Telephonemay Museum Cornish use the PA Relay Centerat (800)654-5984. Pisny,Raymond E HistonCal Markers:ABtbS6yaphy. Vero-ny, Va.:~ c C f w iPress, 1977.