Thoughts and Facts on Historical Highway Markers
For those not native to Virginia, it does not take long to recognize the importance of the past to most Virginians. Virginians like to reminisce, celebrate, and commemorate their forefathers and past events. In particular, they enjoy most the events in which their Virginian ancestors were courageous, heroic, and at the forefront of establishing our nation. For those not native to Fredericksburg, it really takes no time at all to see Civil War relics all around and recognize that people in Fredericksburg love their history. The Historical Highway Marker Program is dedicated to this same cause. It helps enthusiasts revisit long-forgotten battles, commemorate great lives, and learn more about the history of the sites that are crucial to local history. As Kathleen S. Kilpatrick writes in her foreword to the Third Edition Guidebook, the purpose of a Historical Marker is “to foster appreciation of Virginia history and historic places” (vii).
These Historical Markers are everywhere. In Stafford, Spotsylvania, and Fredericksburg alone there are 69 markers, as well as another marker that has been recognized in the Third Edition Guidebook but has yet to be put up. According to Kilpatrick, more than 75 new markers are proposed (vii), and somewhere between 20 to 40 markers are approved, funded, and actually erected each year.
When the Historical Markers program began in 1926, the markers were funded by federal grant funds. The purpose of the Marker program was to promote tourism in Virginia. In 1976, the state decided to stop funding new markers. Today, the Commonwealth of Virginia only covers maintenance costs for stolen, damaged, or outdated markers. All new markers are funded by donations from organizations, individuals, or the local government in which city or town the marker will be located. Today the markers are still drawing in tourists; some families even plan road trips around visiting markers.
Knowing about the events, places, or persons on the Historical Markers makes them even more enjoyable. By combining historical information and seeing the location that correlates, it helps bring history to the present. Historical Markers can achieve this for avid enthusiasts. More attention should be paid to the large black-and-white signs along the roads; they make history easy and enjoyable. It is important to know that there is more to the person, place, or event than what a marker can display in its 250 words or less. This site contains a base of knowledge and sources for further reading.
Timeline of Program:
1922 – The Virginia General Assembly passed an act for the creation of a board to put up historical monuments and markers. Edith Tunis Sale was the first chairperson of this committee.
1926 – The actual Virginia Historical Marker Program was started by the Conservation and Economic Development Commission. Their original purpose was to promote tourism in the historically rich state of Virginia. Dr. H.J. Eckenrode was the first director of the commission.
1926 – The first ten Virginia Historical Markers were erected on Route 1 between Fredericksburg and Richmond.
1929 – The Commonwealth of Virginia published The Key to Inscriptions on Virginia Highway Markers. This was the first public written record of the markers.
By 1934 – 1,200 Markers had been erected.
1941-1945 – Historical Marker Program suspended during World War II.
1946 – Historical Marker Program resumed.
1949 – Responsibility for erection and maintenance turned over to the Virginia Department of Highways.
1950 – Responsibility of approval and research of new markers given to the Virginia State Library.
1966 – The Department of Historic Resources and the Board of Historic Resources helped pass legislation which created the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. The Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission was the start of officially recognized “efforts to identify and preserve historic resources” (xi). This task required publishing Virginia Landmarks Register and Notes on Virginia, as well as occasional monographs. Also, this commission was now in charge of “authorizing new historic highway markers” (xii).
1980s – Sewah Studios began [the foundry that has cast the markers since the early 1980s].
1985 – First Edition of Guidebook by Margaret T. Peters
1994 – Second Edition by John S. Salmon
2007 – Newest guidebook [third edition] by Scott David Arnold
2007 – 80th Anniversary
Amazon.com, “Virginia’s Historical Markers Guidebook-Third Edition,” http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51LaLctDDLL._AA240_.jpg (accessed April 10, 2008).
For Further Reference
Arnold, Scott David. A Guidebook to Virginia’s Historical Markers: Third Edition. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2007.