The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s State Historical Markers are cherished and celebrated icons across the state, and for good reason! Every community takes pride in their history and how that history has affected the Commonwealth and the nation.
According to an article in PA Heritage from 2015, “A Century of Marking History: One Hundred Years of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program,” written by former Marker Coordinators Karen Galle and predecessor John K. Robinson:
Markers are many things to many people. They are memorials, history lessons, travelers’ guideposts, tourist attractions and a source of pride for communities that have them. They enlighten, inform and inspire the reader. Their brief stories of Pennsylvania’s history are part of the story of each of its citizens. Once they appear in the landscape, conversations arise and further research takes place. People actually talk to each other about the markers and what they mean to them.
Because the markers are so beloved and noticeable, individuals regularly notify PHMC when one is missing, damaged, or otherwise in need of some care. It is one of the most common outreaches we receive from the public, occurring almost daily.
The PHMC marker maintenance contractor provides both “cyclical maintenance” and “emergency maintenance” for the markers. Cyclical maintenance involves identifying 3-6 counties each year where the condition of every marker in that county is inspected to determine if maintenance is required. Emergency maintenance involves responding to those damaged markers reported by the public and the identified marker is added to the maintenance list.
With over 2,500 of them, it could take a few years before returning to a county. PHMC relies on the concern and good will of the public to alert us when markers are damaged or missing. If you’ve found a marker that needs refurbishing or notice that one has gone missing, contact the Historical Marker staff at email@example.com with the following information:
- Title of the marker
- Condition of the marker (damaged/missing)
- Image of the marker if damaged
- Approximate location of the marker
- Contact information of property owner
PHMC will arrange for the marker contractor to pick up, repair and refurbish, and reinstall the marker and our contractor will retrieve the marker as soon as possible. If the marker has been removed from its post, please let us know so we can arrange for safe storage until our contractor can retrieve it.
Our contractor places a yellow maintenance tag on the post when a marker is removed for maintenance so people know it was not stolen!
The marker plate is then taken to the shop to be sandblasted, primed, and repainted. The contractor performs additional repairs such as straightening bent plates, welding cracked plates, and re-tapping set screws for remounting on a repainted post.
There are currently over 200 reported missing markers across the Commonwealth, with dozens more damaged beyond repair and awaiting replacement. Rarely is a marker stolen or vandalized.
Markers are most often damaged by passenger cars and delivery trucks or large highway equipment such as mowers and snowplows. Sometimes a marker is removed during construction but not reinstalled, lost to storage garages or basements.
Markers have been reported found in antique stores, flea markets, and even bars. The markers are the property of the state, and therefore, should be returned to PHMC immediately when found.
Recently, the Commodore John Barry marker was discovered down a dirt road in southern New Jersey and returned by the concerned citizen who found it!
Many counties and local communities produce their own similar historical markers, and the Keystone Town Markers are regularly thought to be the Historical Markers. How can you be sure that you’ve identified an official PHMC State Historical Marker?
The State Historical Markers have a uniform look, the iconic yellow or gold lettering on a dark blue background. The state coat of arms appears in an oval at the top of the text plate and the phrase “Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission” with the year of dedication cast at the bottom.
The Keystone Town Markers often have similar colors but have the keystone shape and little wording. If one of the Keystone Town Markers are missing or damaged, contact the Keystone Marker Trust at keystonemarkertrust.org, which manages their maintenance.
As of 2022, PHMC has assumed financial responsibility for replacing missing and damaged markers. However, the agency can only commit to a limited number of replacements each year. It may be years before some markers can be replaced.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about replacement.