NC's roadside history markers generate 600K words

Historians in the News

RALEIGH, N.C. — The state's history office is taking the last steps on a long road toward writing a 600,000-word essay on North Carolina — at about 400 words a clip.

Each segment chronicles a stop on the agency's state's roadside marker program, which has history at more than 1,500 locations to as little as five lines of text.

For nearly 75 years, the signs have been a dollop of history sufficient for most motorists, some who like to spend a leisurely afternoon driving to search for markers using a state-published directory. But it's not enough for others in an age of faster cars, distracted drivers and the immediacy of the Internet.

"The most common complaint we get is 'I couldn't read the sign as I passed by,'" said Michael Hill, the research branch supervisor in the Office of Archives and History. "Our tradition from the 1930s has been to have concise, succinct descriptions of what happened in 3-inch-tall letters."

So as Hill's office began improving a Web site to identify better the markers, researchers decided to write extended narratives for every marker. Hill had already written essays for 250 of the markers dating back to 1982, leaving more than 1,250 to go.

After toiling in history books and file cabinets and behind computers, the researchers' five-year march through North Carolina history is nearly over. Hill said the project could be completed this week as the last essays are edited.

The essays, now posted on the Web with new photos taken by summer interns, have brought new insight and sifted truth from fiction for pieces of North Carolina history — a gift for generations to come.

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