Historical Highway Markers

Important Information for Marker Sponsors

Application Process

If you are considering sponsoring a new historical highway marker, please read the information below covering the following matters:

Topic Criteria for Virginia Historical Highway Markers

Additional Topic Information

Proposing a New Marker

Writing Style for Markers
Criteria for a Marker's Location

Topic Criteria for Virginia Historical Highway Markers

Approved by the Board of Historic Resources, December 8, 1993:

The state historical highway marker program commemorates facts, persons, events, and places prominently identified with the history of the nation, state, or region. Each proposed marker text shall be reviewed and edited by the manager of the marker program and the staff of the Department of Historic Resources and, with the location, shall be approved by the Board of Historic Resources.

No marker shall be erected to commemorate a living person.

In order to be eligible for a marker for an event, the event must have occurred at least 50 years ago. A fact, place, or person must have attained its significance at least 50 years ago. Exceptions may be allowed if the event, fact, place, or person is of extraordinary historical significance.

The size and shape of the state marker shall be that presently in use. Only the following shall appear on the marker: the seal of Virginia; identification code; title; text; name of the Department of Historic Resources; and the year the marker was approved.

Markers shall be erected in safe locations, at or close to the places being commemorated, and where they will be visible to the traveling public. Markers shall be placed in public rights-of-way and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation or local public works department. The marker sponsors and the manager of the state marker program, subject to approval by the Virginia Department of Transportation, shall select marker sites.

Additional Topic Information

Buildings, historic districts, and archaeological sites: Historic resources listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register or the National Register of Historic Places may warrant a historical marker if the level of significance is regional, statewide, or national. However, there is no guarantee that a resource listed on the state or national registers automatically qualifies for marker status. 

Churches and Cemeteries: Markers that deal with churches typically focus on the history of the building, not the congregation. Any of the following three attributes may qualify a church for a state historical marker: (1) the church dates from the colonial period; (2) the church was the first one established for a denomination within a particular locality; and (3) the church features significant architectural qualities. In most cases, however, a church is more appropriately honored by a local, non-state marker. In the case of a cemetery, it must be listed on the state or national register or contain the grave of someone of state or national historical significance.

Proposing a New Marker

1. Research and Write the Marker Text. Research the topic by consulting multiple primary and secondary sources, and develop a text that is limited to around 100 words. It is often helpful to seek assistance from local and regional historical associations and governmental entities in researching and crafting the proposed text. It is also helpful to review recently approved markers to get a sense of the writing style. Typically, DHR edits a marker text after it is submitted, working in collaboration with the sponsor and DHR's editorial committee.

2. Determine a Suitable Marker Location. The marker preferably should be placed on public land or a highway right-of-way; if it is on private land then the department must receive the owner’s consent for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to access and maintain the sign. When choosing a suitable location take into account traffic safety (see below “Criteria for Marker's Location”). If the marker is approved, VDOT staff (or staff from the appropriate jurisdiction, if not serviced by VDOT) will consult with the sponsor about the location. VDOT has the final say in approving and determining the location. Be sure in your application to specify the highway route number and the physical site (e.g., U.S. 11, 0.2 miles south of Va. Rte. 270) and indicate the location on a street or highway map accompanying the application.  To the extent feasible, the marker site should be close to the location of the subject of the marker. Also, please note if a proposed site lies within the corporate limits of a city or town.  

3. Submit the Application for a Proposed Marker. Follow the instructions in the application and be sure to submit to DHR a complete application packet, including a map indicating the marker's location, and photocopies of the appropriate bibliographical references that support the marker's text. The packet should be mailed to DHR, 2801 Kensington Avenue, Richmond, VA 23221, and sent to the attention of Jennifer Loux. DHR must receive applications for new markers at least 90 days before the Board of Historic Resources convenes for one of its quarterly meetings. See Overview of the Application Process.

Writing Style for Markers

To ensure stylistic consistency among state markers, DHR staff typically revise and edit a sponsor's proposed texts. The goal is to provide as much accurate and interesting information as possible in a limited space. Sponsors can assist us by following these suggestions when writing their drafts.

  • Aim marker body text to be around 90 to 100 words; however, it is better to be a little long (no more than 120 words) than too brief, as it is often easier to cut text than add to it. Space constraints on signs require that the text be limited to approximately 100 words, not exceeding 700 individual characters including spaces. The title for a marker is typically around 15 characters.  
  • Spell out numbers less than 10, otherwise use Arabic numerals (one, two, etc., but 10, 237, 10,000, etc.).
  • Do not use honorary titles such as Mr. and Mrs. but do use and abbreviate occupational titles and ranks (Rev., Col., Maj. Gen., Dr., etc.).
  • Use military style for dates, and abbreviate months (7 Dec. 1941).
  • Do not use commas before or after Jr., Sr., II, etc. (James Brown Jr. was secretary of the board).
  • Write nicknames as follows: Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.
  • On Civil War subjects, write "Civil War," not "War Between the States." Give an individual's rank at the time (for instance, if writing about Jackson at the First Battle of Manassas, write Brig. Gen.; at Cross Keys, Maj. Gen.; at Chancellorsville, Lt. Gen.).
  • On first use, give a person's full name as he or she used it or as it is best known (Alexander Graham Bell; Maggie L. Walker), but on subsequent use only the last name.
For advice on writing with concision and vigor, refer to The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. DHR uses the 14th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style as its authority on copy style.

Criteria for a Marker's Location

To ensure the highway markers are accessible to motorists and can most effectively educate and inform the traveling public, the Virginia Department of Transportation assumes the responsibility of approving the site for a new marker and maintaining it once it is erected. However, a few local jurisdictions handle the maintenance of the markers since they are responsible for maintaining the roadways in their localities. Also, in some jurisdictions, the sponsor may be responsible for paying for a marker's installation.

The final location of the marker is based on the following criteria:

Safety. It is expected that travelers will need to pull off the road to read the marker, then re-enter the highway; they must be able to do so conveniently and safely. Markers must be placed so that they do not block drivers' lines of sight when making turns or create traffic hazards when visitors stop to read them.

Markers should be placed where they are unlikely to be struck by motor vehicles or otherwise endanger motorists or the signs. Thus VDOT will avoid siting a marker on a curve, at a heavy industrial or commercial intersection, in a congested area and other such places.

Visibility. The marker should be placed in a safe but relatively high-traffic area, so that it can be read by the largest possible number of travelers. Given the choice between a secondary road and a primary road, the marker will be placed on a primary road. Markers are not permitted on interstate or other limited access highways, except in rest areas.

Location. Ideally, the marker should be placed as close as possible to the site it commemorates. Sometimes, however, because of traffic conditions, the remoteness of the site, or other reasons, the marker must be placed some distance away.

Cost efficiency. It is more cost effective to place the sign at an existing turnout or wide shoulder rather than construct a new pull-off. 

Placement on private property. State markers are usually placed in VDOT rights-of-way or on public property. Under special circumstances they may be placed on private property (usually because of highway conditions) if the owner provides VDOT written permission to access the sign for maintenance purposes.

Updated: 4.3.14