Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Know of a cool person, place, or event? Maybe it should have a PHMC Marker!

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Question: What do Albert M. Greenfield, Eddie Adams, and Mr. Rogers have in common? One was a Philly businessman, politician, and influential member of the Planning Commission. Another was a Westmoreland County native who won a Pulitzer Prize for his photojournalism of the Vietnam War.  And who doesn’t know Mr. Rogers, whose show on PBS stations everywhere taught us all about being good neighbors?

Answer: They were all honored with Pennsylvania State Historical Marker dedications this year. They joined a handful of others that received a marker to acknowledge the contributions Pennsylvania’s places and personalities have made to state, national, and even international history. PHMC’s markers are quite diverse and interesting, just like Pennsylvania itself. For example, in the last two years alone, the Commission has approved markers that range from the site of a rural 1817 iron furnace that revolutionized the iron industry to the 1960s Philadelphia soul music leader Sigma Sound Studios.

The dedication of the marker for Sigma Sound Studios in 2015. Photo by Martin Rosenblum.

The dedication of the marker for Sigma Sound Studios in 2015. Photo by Martin Rosenblum.

Do you think you know of a person, place, or event that deserves some recognition? Well, now’s your chance. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) invites the members of the public to prepare and submit marker nominations for the upcoming December 1, 2016 deadline. The PHMC’s Historical Marker Program is one of its most popular public programs, with nearly 2,500 markers throughout the Commonwealth and new ones dedicated each year. Visit our website and download the application to get started.

Here are a few things you should know…

Over the years, the nomination process has gone from being exclusively staff driven to being exclusively public driven. While staff can provide assistance with preparation of nominations, the interested members of the public are responsible for completing the nomination forms and doing the research to document the subjects’ significance. It can be a lot of fun to discover a person, place, event, or innovation that you or many members of the public were not aware of and bring the subject to light in the form of a marker. Markers are a great source of community pride.

Dedication of the McClurg Iron Foundry marker in Pittsburgh, 2016.

Dedication of the McClurg Iron Foundry marker in Pittsburgh, 2016.

The Commission has established Approval Criteria for evaluating marker nominations. The criteria have been slightly revised since first adopted in the 1980s, but the primary criterion, “that the subject have statewide and/or national rather than local or regional historical significance” remains in effect. Additionally, a nomination that proposes a subject “solely due to sensationalism, durability or longevity, or philanthropy or beneficence does not conform with the intention of the State Historical Marker Program.”

The most common reason that a subject is not approved is that it does not have statewide and/or national historical significance. This criterion has a bit of subjectivity, but to gain approval, it is expected that a nominated subject has had broad impact on a statewide or national level. There should be something unique or special about a subject or it should have prompted important changes within its subject area.

Preparers are also required to include scholarly documentation to ensure accuracy of the markers and should expect to include both primary and secondary source material that corroborates the claims of significance in the narrative portion of the form. A Guideline sheet is provided with each nomination form and it includes questions to consider when proposing a subject for a marker.

Heads up! It’s key to read through the criteria and guidelines and don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you have questions. Staff can help you understand what does and doesn’t make a good subject for a nomination and our Guidelines also offer tips about what the panel is and is not looking for.

If you want to nominate an individual: Individuals nominated for a marker must have a substantial connection to Pennsylvania, more than simply having been born here. This means they must have spent enough time in Pennsylvania to have been shaped here, started their life’s profession here, and/or exhibited a long-term effect of having lived in the Commonwealth.

Historical marker for Humphrey Marshall, one of the first nurseryman in the nation. Image courtesy of Marshallton Conservation Trust.

Historical marker for Humphrey Marshall, one of the first nurseryman in the nation. Image courtesy of Marshallton Conservation Trust.

If you want to nominate an organization, business, institution, or event: Nominations for these types of places that claim to be the oldest are often discouraged unless they are also the first of a type, indicating innovation.

Dedication of the PHMC Historical Marker for the Stuart Tank, 2015. Image provided by Reliance Fire Co. #1.

Dedication of the PHMC Historical Marker for the Stuart Tank, 2015. Image provided by Reliance Fire Co. #1.

If you want to nominate a church and/or burial ground: These places and spaces are often subjects of unsuccessful nominations. Only churches that were the first of a denomination, were the site of an important event, or prompted broad changes within the religion would be approved for a marker. Places of burial are generally only marked if they were very early or especially significant within a particular cemetery movement. Many cemeteries contain the remains of Revolutionary and/or Civil War veterans; their presence does not warrant a PHMC marker.

Confused? Overwhelmed? It is generally helpful for a potential nominator to consult with PHMC staff in the initial stages of his or her research. Staff is available to review draft nominations, and can provide advice on whether or not a particular subject is viable and suggest ways to adjust focus or sources to pursue that would afford one a better chance for approval. To allow time to make revisions to your nomination and meet the December 1 deadline, drafts must be submitted prior to November 1, 2016.

PHMC is especially interested in encouraging markers for subjects or in regions of PA that are generally underrepresented. So, do a little research. See if you can dig up an interesting and significant tidbit of history related to your community. If interested in learning about how to apply for a PHMC marker or simply to learn more about the Historical Marker Program, please visit our website.

Author: Karen Galle

Karen Galle is the Historical Marker Program Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). On staff at the PHMC since 1995, she was born and currently resides in Cumberland County.

One Comment

  1. Before I get too excited. Can I talk to someone via telephone. I’m old school when it come to communication.
    I can be reached at anytime @ (215)402-0429.

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