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Ohio's Historical-Marker Program Marks 50 Years

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DAYTON, Ohio (AP) _ They tell about the Wright brothers and the Ohio-Erie Canal _ and also about the Bentonville Anti-Horse Thief Society, the death of Pretty Boy Floyd and the Cholera Cemetery.

Like a history book scattered across Ohio's landscape, 1,210 state historical markers crisscross Ohio's 88 counties, and the program that gave rise to them is celebrating its 50th birthday.

The markers celebrate historic events, natural wonders, inventors, American Indians, settlers, entertainers, artists, athletes _ such as the late Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes _ and others.

``Historic markers have transformed our landscape into a history lesson of interesting places, people and events,'' said William Laidlaw Jr., executive director and chief executive officer of the Ohio Historical Society.

The roots of the program trace back to 1953, when the Ohio Sesquicentennial Commission began erecting blue, Ohio-shaped markers at communities' corporate limits, noting in 13 words or less something historically significant about the place. Many people felt these brief descriptions were insufficient.

So in 1957 Ohio began putting up state historical markers, cast-aluminum signs bearing up to 300 words.

The first was in Akron. It denotes the significance to Ohio of the settlement of Portage Path, the carrying-place between the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas rivers.

The most recent marker, dedicated Dec. 3 in North Olmsted, celebrates the Springvale Ballroom, a dancing pavilion built by the grandson of an English immigrant.

Some states have even more robust marker programs than Ohio. For example, Pennsylvania has more than 2,000 markers.

Proposed markers are nominated by individuals, public agencies or private organizations, which do the research and submit a request to the state historical society.

J.D. Britton, director of the society's local history office, checks the facts and generally revises the proposed text, sometimes adding information.

``I think the marker should be a good story,'' Britton said.

Few proposed markers are rejected; those that are often attempt to advertise a business. Last year, all 70 proposed markers were accepted.

``What is worthy is what a community feels is worthy,'' Britton said. ``We're not in the business of saying, 'No, you can't have a marker.'''

The number of proposals have increased since a grants program was established in 2006. The program gives annual grants of $750 to 20 proposals to help pay for the marker, which can cost up to $2,150.
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