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Brackenridge historical marker gets noticed

Mary Ann Thomas
| Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, 12:46 a.m.
Paul Valasek, Chairman of the Brackenridge Improvement Group, stands in front of the Brackenridge historical Keystone marker that the group had refurbished.  Photographed on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Paul Valasek, Chairman of the Brackenridge Improvement Group, stands in front of the Brackenridge historical Keystone marker that the group had refurbished. Photographed on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.
Paul Valasek, Chairman of the Brackenridge Improvement Group, stands in front of the Brackenridge historical Keystone marker that the group had refurbished.  Photographed on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Paul Valasek, Chairman of the Brackenridge Improvement Group, stands in front of the Brackenridge historical Keystone marker that the group had refurbished. Photographed on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.

Editor's note: As we reflect back on 2015, we think of many of the interesting and offbeat stories we've covered and ask ourselves, ‘Whatever happened to ...” As a result, we're publishing a series of articles updating stories covered by the Valley News Dispatch in 2015.

Everyone who drives into Brackenridge along Freeport Road near the Tarentum border now know, without a doubt, that Judge Hugh H. Brackenridge founded the town and Freeport is a mere six miles away.

Earlier this year, volunteers restored the luster to the cast-iron, blue-and-gold historic Keystone Marker denoting the town's name and other attributes.

It took three men to rehang the nearly 100-pound sign just before Tarentum's holiday parade in late November.

Like other towns, Brackenridge's Keystone Marker — a relic from PennDOT's predecessor — was fading fast.

The historic beacons dot the countryside along roads and waterways, announcing towns, rivers, their histories and mileage to a nearby town. Many of the signs, erected between 1926 and 1943, are gone, knocked down by cars or felled by road projects and other mishaps. Some of the markers are lost forever.

But a nonprofit, the Keystone Marker Trust, refurbishes the remaining signs and offers newlyminted replacements.

And there are community volunteers, such as Paul and Jan Valasek of the Brackenridge Improvement Group (BIG), increasing the mileage of these Keystone Markers.

The couple estimates the last time the sign was refurbished was around 1972. So, they took the sign down and took it to their garage to strip, prime and paint.

The raised lettering required a careful hand. Jan Valasek said, “it was tedious but not difficult.”

The work was worth it.

“We got a lot of good feedback from people noticing it is cleaned up,” Valasek said. “It's a way to let people know where Brackenridge is plus it's a way to improve the landscape and community spirit.”

Such efforts are in demands across the state.

“Although many of these iconic markers have been saved and restored by members of the Keystone Marker Trust and by dedicated citizens of the community, there are still many that stand ignored and neglected, or which have already fallen to the wayside,” said Jack Graham of New Bloomfield, vice president of the Keystone Marker Trust.

“Diligence to seek them out and the interest to save them is still much needed by folks in communities across Pennsylvania,” he added.

Graham recently repaired and repainted markers in Newburg, Cumberland County, and Green Village, Franklin County.

Other restorations are in the works with volunteers throughout the state, including schools such as the Gettysburg High School vocational technical program.

Mike Wintermantel of Kilbuck, a board member of the Keystone Marker Trust, has a list of marker projects: Homewood Borough, Darlington Township and Frankfort Springs in Beaver County have been repainted. A local scout troop repainted the marker for Industry in Beaver County. The Sweden Valley marker in Potter County is awaiting installation as are two markers for Hickory in Washington County.

Still in the queue in Wintermantel's garage are markers for Parker in Armstrong County and Crooked Creek in Indiana County.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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