The Life of a Roadside Historical Marker

By Nancy Kurtz, Marker and Monuments Programs

The marker you pass on your journey, embossed with the Great Seal of Maryland, could have been born in the early 1930s, cast in iron and displayed along a narrow roadway in the days when the family car and the road trip were new ideas and local citizens wanted to inform travelers of the people, places and events important in their history.

The Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) and Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) jointly manage the state roadside historical marker program.  The State Roads Commission began the program in 1933 in cooperation with the Maryland Historical Society.  The program was transferred to the Maryland Historical Trust in 1985, with new standards, criteria and placement guidelines added in 2001, including the requirement for markers to commemorate topics that carry statewide significance.  MHT reviews and approves new marker applications.  SHA installs and maintains the markers, and now funds all new and replacement markers.

RM-733h THE BANK ROAD old

The Bank Road marker, when it was young

When either agency is notified of a marker problem, SHA staff pick up the marker and start the refurbishing, repair or replacement process.  A tag is installed on the pole to notify the public of its whereabouts.  If you should notice a sudden unexplained disappearance, a marker on the ground or other problem, please contact Nancy Kurtz at 410-697-9561nancy.kurtz@maryland.gov, or send in a problem report found on the MHT marker website:  http://mht.maryland.gov/documents/pdf/research/MarkerReport.pdf.

With over 800 markers installed since the 1930s, maintenance is ongoing. Markers requiring repair or refurbishing are sent off-site for the work, usually in groups of two or more.  Sandblasting and welding repairs can take three to four weeks.  Repainting can take four to six weeks.  Reinstallation is dependent on weather and work schedule, and usually grouped geographically, so can take two to three months after repainting.  The best time estimate for the whole process would be approximately six months, but can vary according to these factors.

One important aspect of reinstalling a marker is safety.  Roadways, traffic volumes and speed have changed through the years and do not always allow reinstallation in the original location.  Where possible, the markers are placed near a side road to allow drivers to pull off the highway.

RM-733 THE BANK ROAD refurbished

The Bank Road marker, refurbished

The early markers are historic in their own right.  Although some show the scars of damage and repair, we strive to keep them on the roadways well into the future.  The history of the marker program, thematic tours, application procedures, photographs and maps are found on the MHT website, including a keyword search for travelers who pass a marker at today’s highway speeds. To learn more, please visit:  http://mht.maryland.gov/historicalmarkers/Search.aspx

 

Floating a Watch Box Down the Potomac: a Section 106 Success Story

Floating a Watch Box Down the Potomac: a Section 106 Success Story

By Amanda Apple, Preservation Officer, Review and Compliance

Starting Condition of Watch Box at NSF Indian Head

Starting Condition of Watch Box at NSF Indian Head

Until recently, the oldest building at Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head in Southern Maryland was believed to be the watch box (also known as a guard shack). Originally, in 1854, this little yellow building helped secure the Eighth Street entrance of the Washington Navy Yard. The watch box functioned as a sentry post manned by Marines until approximately

1905, after which it was relocated to NSF Indian Head by barge. Munitions produced at the Navy Yard were shipped down the Potomac River for proving at Indian Head on a regular basis, so the inclusion of the 13’x13’ building would not have been considered unusual. At NSF Indian Head, the watch box served as a foreman’s office, the main telephone switch facility, and a grounds store house between 1911 and 1932, after which time it was finally abandoned to the elements. In 1997, the watch box was identified as a contributing element to the Naval Proving Ground Historic District, significant as the original location of the proof work for the Navy Yard, and for its later role in testing smokeless powder manufactured at the nearby Single Base line.

Loaded on the travel dolly

Loaded on the travel dolly

Recently, the Navy decided to demolish its deteriorating and unused Piers 3 and 4 at the Washington Navy Yard, contributing elements to the Central Yard National Historic Landmark. As part of its obligations under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Navy entered into an agreement with the State Historic Preservation Officers for Maryland and the District of Columbia to mitigate the harm to the historic district caused by the demolition of the piers. All parties agreed that the relocation of the little watch box from NSF Indian Head to its original home at the Navy Yard would help mitigate the loss. NSF Indian Head had no potential beneficial reuse for this building, due to its small size and extensive renovation costs.

Watch Box being lifted on to the barge at NSF Indian Head. Photo courtesy of Thomas Wright, NSF Indian Head

Watch Box being lifted on to the barge at NSF Indian Head. Photo courtesy of Thomas Wright, NSF Indian Head

In April 2015, the watch box started its journey home to Washington. The 11-ton, Italianate – style building had an internal wood frame fabricated with custom corner angles and cables on the exterior which were attached to a steel beam base, so as help the building maintain its shape and not be damaged in the move. The building was lifted and placed on a remote controlled travel dolly and driven approximately half a mile to the pier at NSF Indian Head, where it was then placed on a barge with a crane. After a five hour barge ride back up the Potomac River, the watch box was offloaded with the crane at the Navy Yard.

Watch box being craned off the barge at the Washington Navy Yard.

Watch box being craned off the barge at the Washington Navy Yard.

The watch box is currently waiting in a parking lot for its final move to West Leutze Park. When the project is complete, the historic watch box will be positioned just south of its original location on the Washington Navy Yard. It will be restored to serve as a historic and educational display. Stay tuned to see the final product in a future post!

National Recreational Trail Grants Available – Applications Due July 1, 2010

Each year Maryland is apportioned National Recreational Trails Program funds through the Federal Surface Transportation Equity Act for disbursement to qualifying projects. These funds, administered by the Maryland State Highway Administration, have made it possible for communities across the State to develop, improve and maintain trails in order to provide access to Maryland’s awesome natural and recreational resources. Continue reading