Literary Markers Dissecting a Marker How a Site Gets a Marker Historical Highway Markers The Commonwealth of Virginia can commemorate a landmark as historical in some way by giving it a historical highway marker and/or placing it on the Virginia Landmarks Register. Neither of these designations provides for the sites legal protection by the government; however, inclusion in these ways gives preservationists a means for acknowledging that the commonwealth deems the sites important enough to commemorate, which can be an important morale boost to people trying to protect a site.

The Historical Highway Markers program attributes its roots back to amateur historian Richard C. Wight, who tried to persuade Virginia's governors E. Lee Trinkle and Harry F. Byrd Sr. to authorize his concept of placing some kind of marker near sites of historical interest. Byrd and his associate William E. Carson figured that a system of marking historic spots along Virginia's roadways could benefit tourism and by extension the state's economy. The Virginia General Assembly in 1926 “created the Conservation and Economic Development Commission and provided funds for advertising the advantages and resources of the state to a growing traveling public.”5 The proliferation of travel via the automobile in the early 20th century certainly made tourism a more accessible activity. The Commission selected Dr. H.J. Eckenrode to direct such an effort, which in effect replaced another predominantly female state board charged with placing monument and markers at historically significant spots in Virginia. Aiding Eckenrode in the task were historians such as Douglas Southall Freeman (a writer who would after his death be commemorated by the very markers he helped establish), H.R. Mcllwaine and Lyon G. Tyler. The markers “were to be placed along major travel routes in order to reach the largest number of travelers” even if the sites themselves were not exactly on the side of the road.6 Text on the signs referred to the specific location of the landmark. Eckenrode published in 1930 the first guidebook to the markers, and approximately 1,200 lined the roads by 1934. The program passed through different hands of government over the years, becoming a collaborative effort between the Virginia Department of Highways and the Virginia State Library until the General Assembly in 1966 gave authority to a newly created Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. A series of governmental changes eventually transferred authority to the Department of Historic Resources, which was established in 1989. The state provided the funding for the research and erection of the markers until 1976, and today the black and white markers must be sponsored by private sources.

Literary Landmarks:  What and Why? How a Site Gets a Marker


This site was created by Emily Kane as part of the University of Virginia's American Studies program.
For more information about AS@UVA, click below.

American Studies at U.Va.