Throughout Johnson County, important pieces of local history are captured in markers by the side of the road.
The 36 placards recognize where famous people such as Roger Branigin, William Merritt Chase and Paul Vories McNutt once lived. Important places, such as the pioneer trail Whetzel Trace and Edinburgh’s Thompson Mill, which are no longer standing, live on in vivid description.
But like the places, people and occasions those markers commemorate, time has taken its toll. Paint has chipped, descriptions are worn away, and the surfaces are cracked and broken.
A group of local residents have stepped forward to refurbish and restore the markers in the worst shape. The team, established through the Leadership Johnson County program, has spent the past two months getting approval from historic agencies, assessing the markers and working on the worst ones.
Their hope is that, by bringing attention to the markers themselves, they can make the public aware of all of the historic moments that the county has been part of.
“I’ve been a resident of Johnson County for my entire life, and I’ve never thought of these markers. A lot of them are off the beaten path, so it was an educational process for all of us,” group member Erin Dunn-Vance said. “We felt it was important to do something to raise awareness of all of these things out there, and help the public realize the significance of them.”
Group members have started spending two or three hours each Saturday morning working on the project.
Set up in the public works building in Greenwood, they scrubbed and scoured the aged plaques. Pressure washing removed decades-old paint. Once the markers had been cleaned, they covered each in a weather-
resistant coat of blue paint.
Others will need to have the bases, mounting brackets and posts fixed before going back outdoors. The signs have come from locations ranging such as Youngs Creek Christian Church near Amity, an Underground Railroad station in Franklin and the first church and school in Greenwood.
The group calls itself Restoring Guideposts to the Past. The simple and straightforward name encapsulates everything its members are attempting to do.
“When we first started looking at projects as part of this, we all were in agreement that we wanted to do something that would last and would have a lasting event for the county,” group member John Siminski said. “We looked at it as something we could show our kids 10, 15 years in the future that we had helped with.”
The project was conceived during a historical field trip, part of the Leadership Johnson County program. The group was taking a tour of the county’s historical markers, in an effort to learn more about aspects of the county.
The seven members of what would eventually become Restoring Guideposts to the Past were amazed how much history happened locally that they had never heard of.
“We discovered a whole bunch of historical information that we never knew before and wanted to make sure others that come after us gain as much from that experience as possible,” Matt Giebler said.
After assessing the markers, the group settled on the seven plaques in the worst condition. Some were missing and required new plaques. Others simply had worn down to being unreadable, Giebler said.
“We put together a system with a one through four score and looked at the condition of the paint, legibility of the lettering and overall sturdiness of the mounting,” he said. “Most just needed painting to be touched up, and one had been spray-painted by vandals.”
In order to get the project done, they needed to team up with a number of local and state organizations. The Greenwood Board of Public Works provided a workshop to do the refurbishments. The board also had a listing of the signs inside city limits.
The Johnson County Historical Society helped indicate where many of the markers were throughout the county and gave permission to work on signs the society had erected, group member Mark Richards said.
“One thing we didn’t expect was how many different organizations have jurisdiction over the markers. The State of Indiana has a few of them, the Indiana Masonic Home has one, Camp Atterbury has a couple,” he said. “It’s a real challenge to work with all of these organizations in the class time that we have.”
Work on the markers will continue throughout April and into May. The group hopes to have all seven of the repaired signposts back in their original locations by the time they graduate from Leadership Johnson County in mid-May.
The effort has inspired plans for the Johnson County Historical Society to create a driving tour, letting people know where the signposts are and what each signifies.
“That’s all part of what we want to accomplish, not only improving the condition but to let more people know that they’re out there,” Giebler said. “We hope it will do a lot to increase visibility and awareness.”