Symbols of PA's Proud Past and Bright Future

Perfectly Pennsylvania, Uniquely Local

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Above: A proud symbol of a proud state, the Keystone Marker shape is featured prominently in this traveler's guide to Pennsylvania from 1929. (Courtesy of Christian Busch).

In shape, color, location, text, design, construction, material, and history, the Keystone Markers speak what it means to be from Pennsylvania. The markers once showcased the power and pride we had in our state. Their restoration and replacement re-affirms those virtues as a confident foundation for investment in all the ways we need.

Shape: The marker's distinctive shape reflects our once-revered status as the keystone of the American states. Pennsylvania once led the growing nation in all aspects of technological and social progressivism to which American ascendancy may well be ascribed. Road building was no exception, and Pennsylvania was a pioneer in both road construction and the promotion of highways as courses of tourism as well as commerce.

Color:  The signs are painted in our state’s official colors, Pennsylvania Blue and Gold/Yellow.  We have special paint formulas to match the official state colors.

Location:  The markers were placed at each of the principle entrances to our towns and cities. They also marked other places of interest, including rivers, creeks, trails, etc.  The markers always served as much to spark interest in the Pennsylvania places they represented as much as they were useful for wayfinding. Many towns had multiple markers along each of their principle thoroughfares.

Text:  The markers indicate not just where you are but also the name of the next town and the distance to it.  They also included a bit about how the town got its name.  They were oriented, then, not just for helping travellers find their way but also toward sparking interest in the place they denoted. See also what the markers denote.

Design: Markers consist of a sign and pole. Close inspection of the markers reveals the level of sophistication in design that was common to the ferrous industries upon which Pennsylvania was built. The historic poles dovetail perfectly with the signs.  That some many markers have stood for over 60 years with no maintenance is a testament to the quality of their design.

Construction:  The markers were constructed right here in Pennsylvania.  Our replicas and replacement parts will be as well.

Material:  Constructed of cast iron, the keystone signs and their specially-designed ornate pole were products of Pennsylvania’s proud iron industry and worked together to make a strongly positive and memorable statement of place.  Pennsylvania was the earliest iron maker in the colonies and its iron and steel literally built the nation.  Everything from locomotives to the Golden Gate Bridge and Panama Canal lock gates were built in Pennsylvania.

History:  Created by PennDOT's predecessor, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways, just after the First World War, the markers were products of the height of the “good roads” movement sweeping the nation. Founded in 1903, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways was of the earliest of such departments of any state in the nation and its markers were literally signs of Pennsylvania pride.

One of the earliest turnpikes in the nation between Philadelphia and Lancaster was begun in 1793, and proved the financial advantages of a well-manicured highway. The first federally-funded interstate highway, the National Road, was constructed through the Commonwealth in 1811. In 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was formed to build one of the first modern transcontinental roads, and its route would cross the length of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, opened October 1, 1940, was considered to be the embodiment of the future of modern travel and set design precedents copied around the world.

The Keystone Markers are tangible reminders of this great heritage and serve as inspiration for the future.

View the Markers:  Use the Find A Marker link on this website. The largest number of them that we know of are "Town Name" markers, and these are listed alphabetically in our database.  Others noted the names of creeks or rivers.  These were double-sided so that only one marker per bridge crossing was needed.  Look for these under "S" for Stream.  Still others marked sites of historic significance;  these are under "H" for Historic.  Prior to, and concurrent with these others, routine highway traffic signs, such as "School Zone" or "Danger Steep Hill" were also made on these iron keystones.  Only a few survive, and these and archival photos of others can be found under "T" for Traffic.
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© 2010 Keystone Marker Trust (unless otherwise indicated)