Historic Landmark Identification Plaques

The typical historic landmark plaque often leaves you thinking, "so what?"

The typical historic landmark plaque often leaves you thinking, "so what?"

In my travels, I’m continually encountering plaques that identify historic landmarks but most of them are boring.  They don’t add much to your knowledge about the landmark (perhaps a name and date) nor contribute to the aesthetics of the community.  And because they are typically made of bronze, they blend into the background and become easily overlooked.

Great landmark identification plaques have the following characteristics:

  • Tell you why a place is significant, going beyond the usual “tombstone” information (name and date).  Writing great text is tough and most helpful will be books or articles on writing labels for museum exhibits (look for Beverly Serrell or Judy Rand).
  • Help make links beyond this landmark, either to other landmarks as part of a trail or to national events or stories.
  • The design reinforces the existing design features of the neighborhood or enhances the community.  People should say, “Hey, that looks nice!” and remember that only the boring and dull designs achieve unanimity.  Aim for making most of the people happy most of the time.
  • Provide a surprise or something unexpected.  This can be done by its location (not just stuck by the front door), its design (a color, shape, or material), or in the text (tell me something fun, ask me to look more closely at a feature, or connect this place with my life).

To provoke some thinking about the possibilities, I’ve created a one-page sheet with twelve different designs.  It’s the first of a series of Community Design Ideas that can be freely copied and shared with others to start a conversation in your neighborhood and hopefully curtail the growth of the same square bronze plaques.  Every place’s history is different, shouldn’t their plaques be as well?  And if you want to share a cool plaque or idea, please do!

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