Do you know what happens when a PHMC marker is damaged by a delivery truck, plowed over after a snowstorm or original 1946 blue and gold paint resembles the make-up of a faded movie star? Do you think PHMC throws out the markers and orders a new one?
No way! We work in the State Historic Preservation Office so we hire a qualified contractor to hit the roads and highways of Pennsylvania to retrieve the damaged markers, repair them in a shop, and return them to the original location with a “facelift.”
For a number of years, PHMC has contracted with a vendor to provide historical marker maintenance services. The contract is bid every five years, and the Marker Program recently gained a new maintenance contractor, Craig Wise of Clearfield, PA.
Scott Doyle and I recently traveled to Somerset, PA to meet Craig at a location where there is both a modern PHMC marker and a bronze plaque attached to a large boulder, erected by PHMC’s predecessor, the PA Historical Commission.
The plaque is surrounded by a small landscaped plot of land that has become rather overgrown in nearly 75 years. Coincidentally, Wise owned and operated a landscaping business for 20 years, so we met at that location to discuss clearing and trimming the existing shrubs and foliage and planting new low-maintenance vegetation. We discussed the possibility of Wise leading a community effort to revitalize the area, as there has been local interest in the site.
While there, Wise showed us his truck and some of the equipment he has modified to accommodate removal and transport of the deceptively large and heavy markers. Some of his custom designs are rather ingenious.
We have had really great experiences with our maintenance contractors over the last decade. Although none had prior experience with markers or this specific type of work, they all were flexible and took the initiative to come up with better and more efficient ways to get the job done.
Following our meeting in Somerset, we proceeded to Clearfield, PA where Wise’s former nursery is located and where his marker maintenance operations are currently set up. Here we found that Wise had fabricated custom holders for the markers for both the detail painting and drying process.
He has one building that is used to serve as an office and a paint studio. He let us have a go at repainting some of the letters. He and his wife experimented with several methods before settling on the one that gave the best results with a reasonable investment of time. Marker supplies – replacement posts and yokes – are stored in a barn nearby.
After our visit to view the marker maintenance operations, we proceeded to Milesburg where we got to inspect the recently refurbished and reinstalled Bald Eagle’s Nest marker. Our final stop was Bellefonte, PA where we assisted with the reinstallation of the refurbished Bellefonte Air Mail Field marker. We got to see the customized dolly in action and helped to lift the marker onto its previously repainted post.
In his own words…
We asked Craig to describe some of his experiences. He commented that it has been a lot of hard work and a great deal of travel but at the same time it has been a rewarding experience.
“I get a lot of satisfaction when we retrieve a marker that is damaged or showing years of wear and we do a full restoration before returning it almost as good as new.
It is surprising to see how protective some local residents are of their Historical Markers. We have met many locals that are appreciative that we keep the markers looking good and maintained. One day we were removing a marker for refurbishing when a gentleman confronted us, sure that we were stealing the marker. It was in the middle of the afternoon with a van full of tools and other markers in the back. I told him that I was the contractor for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to which he answered that he had heard that one before! The gentleman wasn’t satisfied until I showed him my identification and the PHMC signs on our van. He asked about how long before we returned it, then reluctantly let us continue with the removal.
We have come to understand how important these markers are to Pennsylvanians. Our history is the one thing all Pennsylvanians have in common and I am proud to be a small part of telling the Pennsylvania story.”
Do you know of a marker that needs a little TLC?
If you know of a PHMC historical marker or older bronze plaque that needs some maintenance attention, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 717-705-4266.
And, remember that any applications for new historical markers are due on December 1. Please get in touch with me if you any have questions!