The New York State Historic Marker Program started in 1926 as a way to commemorate historic sites during the Sesquecentennial of the American Revolution. It was a temporary program and state funding ended around 1939.
During this period, over 2,800 historic sites were identified for passersby with the bright blue and gold signs, which proclaimed the significance of each location. This was an age when the first tourists were venturing out into unfamiliar territory and were curious about the history of places they had never seen before.
Although a new State Historic Marker Program was established in 1966, concerns for the risk of trying to read small roadside markers in the emerging age of high speed automobile travel caused the State to focus only on large signs, installed at parking lots or roadside rest areas. These signs dealt with regional history, not individual sites. A booklet titled HISTORICAL AREA MARKERS IN NEW YORK STATE (1970, $4.50) presents the text and locations of these large markers and is available from the Museum Shop.
The popularity of the smaller, roadside markers continued, however, and people raised private funds to purchase and erect markers on all sorts of local historic sites. This activity seemed to reach a peak during the Bicentennial years (1976-1983), but local historians and civic groups continue to buy and erect such markers right to this day.
At present there is no review and approval process for historic markers if placed on private land. However, we urge anyone thinking of erecting an historic marker to first consult with local historians to insure that the text is accurate and the proposed location is correct.
The land owner's permission is required, of course, before a sign can be erected. If the landowner is an agency of the State of New York, a formal approval process is required. Often the rights of way of state highways extend some distance from the edge of pavement, and one may find that the proposed location is, in fact, on state lands, even though it appears the land is private.
When it is found that state land is involved, the text and a map of the proposed location should be sent to the address below. We will notify the applicant in writing when the project is approved. They should then consult with the state agency that has jurisdiction over the land on which they propose to erect the marker, and once they have permission to erect the sign, they may order the sign from any foundry.
The phone numbers of foundries that have recently produced markers of the traditional pattern recognized as "State Historic Markers" are listed below. Other foundries can be found in the Yellow Pages or on the Internet.
Foundries in New York State
We are creating a statewide database of all historic site markers of this type, regardless of funding source. We urge you to provide this office with copies of the text and location of each marker erected for that database, and also to the County Historian for the county in which the marker is erected. A list of the County Historians is available on this website at http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/services/historian/hishistorians.html.
Send inquiries to:This program is on temporary hiatus, there is not a current contact person.
Historic properties may also qualify for other types of markers and plaques. If the property is listed on the National Reguster of Historic Places, a bronze plaque may be obtained to identify the site or building. If it is not presently listed, it may be worthwhile looking into that type of designation, since it carries with it some advantages and protections which the traditional State Historic Markers do not.
If you would like more information about the National Register of Historic Places, you may contact The State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Identifying historic sites with permanent signs was a great new idea in 1926. It remains a good idea today and represents a popular and enduring form of historic preservation and cultural education.