OHS Historical Marker Program
A Brief History
The Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) Historical Marker Program officially launched following World War II. State Representative John E. Wagner met with Dr. Charles Evans, secretary of the OHS, to make plans for the OHS and the Oklahoma Department of Highways to establish a historical marker program. With the help of General William S. Key, an OHS board member, the Oklahoma Legislature authorized $10,000 for as many markers as possible. The OHS was directed to select 100 people, places, or events important in state history.
The number of historical markers increased dramatically after the state’s semi-centennial celebration in 1957. By the mid-1970s, with anticipation of the celebration of the bicentennial of the United States, there were more than 250 roadside and on-site markers in the state. Today there are records for more than 660 markers, but keeping an exact count is difficult. Many markers no longer exist; they were either stolen, destroyed by vandals or automobile accidents, or removed for roadwork and lost. We have only the written record of these markers. Unfortunately, no funding has ever been authorized for maintenance of the markers. In the mid-1980s, a $1.2 million federal highway matching-fund grant program helped replace selected damaged and missing markers, and improved the safety and attractiveness of many roadside markers.
The Oklahoma Historical Society accepts applications for the historical marker program twice yearly. The first deadline is May 15, and the second deadline is October 15. Completed applications must be received by 5 p.m. on either May 15 or October 15. If the date falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the deadline automatically is extended to the first working day following that date.
Applications received after a deadline will be held for consideration in the next round. Incomplete applications will be returned with a list of deficiencies.
Applicants will be notified within 60 days of the approval or rejection of their application.
Complete applications will consist of:
- A completed application form
- A narrative history including documentation
- Written approval of the landowner, if applicable
- A photograph of the recommended placement location
- A United States Geological Survey map with the proposed location marked
- Suggested wording for the marker
- An image for etching into a granite marker, if applicable
Cost of Historical Markers
The OHS does not have funding available to support the historical marker program. All markers must be paid for by the applicant.
The two most common types of markers are:
- Free-standing cast aluminum markers approximately 42” by 44” with post
- Red granite markers approximately 5’6” tall by 2’6” wide by 4” thick
The OHS will consider requests for variations on a case-by-case basis.
The OHS has, in the recent past, worked with two marker manufacturers. Sewah Studios (190 Mill Creek Road, Marietta, OH 45750, 740-373-2087) fabricates a two-sided aluminum marker with pole, delivered for approximately $2,800. This does not include installation. Willis Granite (900 Quarry Drive, Granite, OK 73547, 580-535-2184) charges approximately $4,200 for a granite marker. A delivery charge of $2.50 per mile one way applies. This includes installation of the marker on a preexisting concrete pad. Please note that these are approximate prices, and final charges may vary.
While the OHS has worked with these companies in the past, applicants are free to work with a company of their choosing. However the OHS reserves the right of final approval of the design.
Free-standing cast aluminum marker
Red granite marker
Completed applications can be sent to Valerie Duncan by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Oklahoma Territorial Museum and Carnegie Library, 406 East Oklahoma Avenue, Guthrie, OK 73044.
Criteria for Historical Markers
- Markers commemorate a person, place, or event that has local, state, or national significance.
- The event, contributions of a person, or associations with a place to be commemorated must, as a general rule, have occurred at least 30 years ago. Additionally, markers dedicated to the contributions of an individual only will be considered after the individual has been deceased for a minimum of 20 years. If exceptional merit is clearly documented in the marker application, the OHS may consider exceptions to this criterion.
- Birthplaces must have special significance to be considered for a historical marker.
- Markers must be accessible to the general public. If the marker is to be on private property, applicants must obtain written consent from the property owner and any authorities with a regulatory interest in the marker location.
- Marker design must comply with specifications and standards set by the OHS.
- Text must be grammatically correct, historically accurate, and supported by documentation.
- Individual graves within a cemetery are not eligible for the historical marker program.
- Individual historic buildings are not eligible for the historical marker program. If listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a building plaque is appropriate. For information about sources for these plaques, contact the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office at 405-521-6249.
Placement of Historical Markers
Once the application is approved and the applicant notified, the OHS will notify the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) if the marker location is on a state road, and request approval of the proposed marker location. After receiving approval from ODOT, the OHS can, if you wish, forward the order to Sewah Studios or Willis Granite depending on the type of marker selected. The vendor will process the order, bill the applicant for the cost of marker production, and make arrangements for delivery. If you wish to work with a different vendor, you are responsible for contacting them and handling the details of the manufacturing and delivery.
The placement of historical markers must be considered carefully to ensure accessibility, safety, and protection of historic resources. All OHS historical markers must be accessible to the public. Sponsors are responsible for the physical placement of a historical marker unless the site is on a state-maintained highway right-of-way, in which case ODOT will be responsible for erecting the marker in consultation with the OHS. There may be an installation fee charged by ODOT for erecting the marker and creating a pullout along a state highway. The applicant will be advised of the final cost in advance.
Further Information and Instructions
- All text for markers must be grammatically correct and historically accurate as demonstrated by the documented historical narrative. The OHS reserves the right to edit all historical marker text. Edited text will be returned to the applicant for approval prior to the order submission.
- The narrative history should be submitted on letter-size (8.5” by 11”) white paper, double-spaced and clearly printed with 1” margins and a minimum type size of 12 point.
- Do not send payment with application.
- All materials submitted for OHS historical markers become part of the permanent files of the OHS and may be used or cited in OHS publications and programs.
- Digital files are preferred.
The OHS reserves the right to reject applications that do not meet the criteria. It is the responsibility of the applicant to establish the historical significance through a documented historical narrative.
Guide for Historical Marker Documentation
Good documentation, the use and citation of reliable sources, is an essential part of the narrative history required for a historical marker application, or for any type of research paper you might be writing. Use this guide for assistance in preparing a well-documented research paper.
Types of Sources
The Oklahoma Historical Society will consider the objectivity and reliability of sources used in compiling a narrative history. Whenever possible, consult primary source material. Primary sources, those contemporary with the topic, include such records as newspaper accounts, diaries, meeting minutes, deed records, census records, and legal documents. Such sources, as well as the recollections of disinterested, unbiased, and authoritative persons, are preferred over secondary sources. When using secondary sources, be sure to check them thoroughly since they are often not as reliable as primary sources. Secondary sources, such as history books, are not contemporary with the topic’s history. Oral histories collected from authoritative sources are valuable research tools if properly documented (see example at the end of this guide). Any claims of uniqueness (earliest, oldest, first, largest, etc.) must be accompanied by factual documentation from an authoritative, unbiased source.
Writing the Narrative History
Narrative histories should be typewritten or computer printed, double-spaced, on one side of letter-size (8.5” by 11”) white paper. The length of the history will depend on the topic, but generally a thoroughly researched paper should be at least three pages long. The significance of the topic should be clearly stated, with factual documentation clearly identified. Copies or collections of miscellaneous documents and notes are not acceptable in lieu of proper reference notes. If the reference notes and bibliography are complete, there will be no need to submit copies of documents.
Difference Between Reference Notes and a Bibliography
Reference notes (footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical notes) and bibliographic citations often include much of the same information, but they serve different purposes. Reference notes tell the reader exactly where in a source information can be found. Bibliographies provide a list of all of the sources used in researching the topic, whether or not they are cited specifically in the narrative, and tell the reader where the source may be located.
Preparing the Reference Notes
Generally speaking, facts that cannot be assumed to be common knowledge should be documented with a reference note. Reference notes can be footnotes (placed at the foot of the page on which the fact is mentioned), endnotes (listed sequentially at the end of the history), or parenthetical notes (placed in parentheses immediately following the fact within the narrative history). The notes must be complete so the reader finds the referenced source quickly and easily. Following are some examples of reference notes for commonly used sources:
- United States Congress, ed. by George P. Sanger. The Statutes at Large, Treaties and Proclamations of the United States of America From December 5, 1859, to March 3, 1863, vol. 12 (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1863), 504.
- Mary Nielson Taylor to Berlin B. Chapman, July 31, 1966, Old Central Centennial History Collection, Special Collections, Edmon Low Library, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK.
- George Elexander Lambe, interview by Mrs. Nora L. Lorrin, March 15, 1938, vol. 52, no. 10265, Indian-Pioneer Papers, Oklahoma Historical Society Research Center, Oklahoma City, OK.
- John Alley, City Beginnings in Oklahoma Territory (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939), 10.
Preparing the Bibliography
The bibliography is included as part of the narrative history at the end of the research paper. It should be organized alphabetically or topically rather than numerically. The bibliography for the sample notes listed above would appear as follows:
Alley, John. City Beginnings in Oklahoma Territory (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939).
Lambe, George Elexander. Interview by Mrs. Nora L. Lorrin. March 15, 1938. Vol. 52, no. 10265, Indian-Pioneer Papers, Oklahoma Historical Society Research Center, Oklahoma City, OK.
Taylor, Mary Nielson, to Berlin B. Chapman. July 31, 1966. Old Central Centennial History Collection, Special Collections, Edmon Low Library, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK.
United States Congress, ed. by George P. Sanger. The Statutes at Large, Treaties and Proclamations of the United States of America From December 5, 1859, to March 3, 1863 Vol. 12 (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1863).
For Further Assistance
There are many different styles of reference notes and bibliographic citations. The preferred style for the Oklahoma Historical Society is The Chicago Manual of Style. You also might wish to visit Knight Cite at www.calvin.edu/library/knightcite/index.php@standard=Chicago for further assistance in formatting your source information.
If you have questions, please contact:
Oklahoma Territorial Museum and Carnegie Library
406 East Oklahoma Avenue
Guthrie, OK 73044
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In 1976 the Oklahoma Historical Society published Mark of Heritage. Written by Muriel Wright, George Shirk, and Kenny Franks, this publication contains information about historic sites and historical markers in Oklahoma.
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