The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (Mass DOT) is putting a shine on an important part of the state’s history, with the restoration of 21 historic tercentenary markers originally created in 1930 to celebrate the Bay State’s 300th anniversary.  The 21 historic markers are located in ten cities and towns, including Bernardston, Brimfield, Deerfield, Greenfield, Hadley, Hatfield, New Braintree, Northfield, West Brookfield, and Worcester.

Mass Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said MassDOT “is proud to be carrying out this project to restore these historic markers which highlight the rich heritage of Massachusetts and local communities.  These markers help inform residents and commuters of notable events and facts about cities and towns, and are well-known historical artifacts that enhance roadside landscapes throughout Massachusetts.”

The original markers were installed by the Massachusetts Tercentenary Commission, working closely with the Mass Department of Public Works, one of the predecessors to MassDOT.  The official advisor to the Commission was Harvard University History Professor Samuel E. Morison, acknowledged as one of the leading authorities on the Bay State’s history.

The original cast iron markers were in the form of a tablet, 42 inches long by 36 inches wide and erected on a post six feet high.  They had raised black lettering on both sides and a black border against an aluminum-grey background.

According to a news story at the time “The primary idea is to give a picture of these places, with the expectation that they will stimulate interest.  There long has been the realization that the ordinary memorial tablet – usually a flat, bronze marker attached to a boulder – did not fulfil the need. The letters are too small for the occupants of motorcars to read them without leaving their machines and the inscriptions in many cases were inaccurate.”

The new markers in 2019 are made of cast iron with the background painted aluminum, the letters and the trim in black, and the coat of arms of the Commonwealth in blue and gold. All of the markers are 36 inches wide and between 35 and 45 inches high, not including the post, and weigh between 165 and 200 pounds. They highlight past events and figures and provide facts and stories about local communities, and the text is the same on both sides of the markers so that travelers from either direction may read the inscriptions.

In 1930, Tercentenary Commission Chairman Herbert Parker wrote,  “The travelers who shall pass by the many storied ways through the lands of the Puritan occupation in the ancient days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, may now read on tablets set by roadsides or in city streets the tales which the ocean shores, the hills, the fields, the churches, the garrison houses and the old hearthstones, have to tell of the heroism, of the romance and of the tragedies, and the unfaltering faith, of the ancestors of our Commonwealth.”

Tercentenary Commission Vice-Chairman Frank Roe Batchelder of Worcester stated that “thousands of visitors from outside the state will get a more clear picture of early days in the old colony, and that many residents of the state will learn they have been living near or passing by almost daily, places of great historical significance.”

Originally, there were 275 markers in 95 cities and towns spread across the Commonwealth.  MassDOT has identified 174 of the original 275 markers.  Work to date has included cleaning and repainting these 21 markers, and conservators will also be restoring or replacing the original hexagonal posts. The full project is currently expected to be completed by winter 2019.

For more about the history of Massachusetts, visit the Mass Historical Commission.

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