Friday, April 25, 2014


Recently I was asked to co-author an article on the Historical Marker Program of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum, for whom I worked as director of the marker program in the 1990s. The article will appear in an upcoming issue of Pennsylvania Heritage© magazine. (If you follow this link, note the photo of Pennsylvania German potter Lester Breininger on the cover to the extreme left. An interview with Lester was my first article for Heritage.)

The marker program was begun in 1914, just a year after the then Pennsylvania Historical Commission was created. Of course, 2014 is the 100th anniversary of this significant and popular program.

The first markers were big ol' bronze plaques attached -- usually -- to bigger ol' rocks and other heavy stuff. These bronze plaques attempted to mark the sites of important events in the early life of the Commonwealth.They were often found set back a bit from the road, so you had to stop to read them.

The marker shown in the photo was recently moved to a "more historically accurate" position. A newspaper reports that it was dedicated in 1924, is more than eight feet tall, and weighs a mere five tons or so.

Personally, I feel something was lost by moving this to make it "more accessible to the public." Something that has stood in place since 1924 now has a history of its own. A new marker could have been created for the "heritage center" in the photo.

As roads got better and cars faster, the bronze plaques fell out of favor, and in September 1946 the first of a new style marker was dedicated along US 22 in East Hanover Twp., near Grantville, Dauphin County, within view of the Lebanon County line. The text reads: The earliest resolves for independence in the State. Drawn June 4, 1774, by Col. Timothy Green and eight Hanover Township patriots. They committed their cause to "Heaven and our Rifles."

Take a look at an earlier photo of the marker to see if you can find the error, based on the text above. Because the error was never corrected, I suspect this is the original plate. If it was ever replaced, the text would have had to be re-set, so wouldn't it have been corrected? Nowadays the year the marker is made is included in the lower right-hand corner of the plate.

This photo was taken at the dedication of the marker. That's future governor James Duff to the left. Do you think he was the only one to show up?

This was the new "history on a stick" style, with an aluminum plate containing the text on both sides so that it could be read from either direction, mounted on a steel post. These posts have evolved over the years into aluminum posts, which is safer if a vehicle strikes it.
When speaking with my co-author Karen, the present program director, I recalled that I had not seen that first marker in place when I passed by recently. (Ask my wife what I say each time we pass it: "There's the very first historical marker of its kind ever installed." "Yes, dear.") I asked if it were down for cleaning and painting, perhaps in anticipation of our article, which will feature a photo of the dedication of this new-style marker. The answer was, "No, I thought it was standing." (So many of the more than 2,500 markers are "missing" at any one time that it's impossible to know the count. They often turn up, but sometimes they are lost forever.)

After our meeting, I determined to go out to the site of the marker, which commemorates the "Hanover Resolves," to see what was up. As I approached, I saw that the post and two-thirds of a broken frame were still standing. Upon closer inspection, I found the text plate lying on the ground. It was there long enough to just about have killed the grass beneath it.

Here's what I found upon arriving at the marker site.
Using my enormous strength, I lugged the marker over to the car, determined to save it from the first mowing of the lawn (there's an office building just beyond the marker, so you know they will hire someone with a heavy mower). 

I hoisted it into the Box, where it fit perfectly.

I returned to the marker site, a few yards away, to see if I could find the piece of the frame that had broken off. Unfortunately, I could not find it.

The marker certainly made an impression on the lawn!
The next day I reported that I was in possession of the plate and would hold on to it until a contractor came to pick it up, clean it, and paint it.

All this work made me thirsty. Can you tell where I stopped for a diet soda?

So, how do you think this marker ended up on the ground? When I last saw it, it was leaning east (see below), and I bet it was hit by a ton of snow from one of PennDOT's plows. 

This photo was taken last year.
How that problem will ever be solved I do not know. I am pretty sure PennDOT would love to take them all down and return them to the marker office in one big pile.That'd fix the problem, right?

Here's one suggestion. Hire guys like the one below, balancing the marker on his head. This "human pole" can just step aside with the marker when a snow plow approaches. What do you think?

From the Internet.

You can see how the markers are made, although ours are made by a Pennsylvania company in Erie.