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Interpretational Signage©

When is your story

too young to be told?

Part 1


Jacqueline L. Evans

Heritage Tourism Development

Jacqueline L. Evans

Signs play an important part in our everyday lives, but they also play an important role in the development of a good heritage tourism profile which is often overlooked.  There are four general categories and each holds equal importance:  Directional Signage©, Interpretational Signage©, Progressional Signage© and Apologetic Signage©.

Let’s discuss Interpretational Signage©...

Many communities feel their history speaks for itself through their architecture and a few signs, but heritage tourists are usually curious and want more. Tourists appreciate when historic buildings and sites have been emphasized with quality Interpretational Signage© even if the sites are not in perfect condition nor yet registered with the National Register. In fact, professionally constructed interpretational signs will upgrade any site at any stage of development.

Interpretational Signage© allows communities to emphasize a site’s multi-faceted past during every level of the restoration process. Local tourism developers are often held back because they do not know:

  • When it is time to take action and start marketing tourism.
  • When the tourist wants more information than the community is offering.
  • When or if the story is too new to be marketable
  • How to avoid being ho-hum (boring).
  • ​When procrastination is costing more money then moving forward.​
  • When is it time to take action and start marketing your tourism project?

Waiting to market a tourism project until it is perfect is like waiting for the perfect wave to come in before surfing.  A brief background of the project, explained with Interpretational Signage©, makes the traveler’s experience far more interesting and, at the same time, shows the respect your community has for its past and present.  There is no need to wait until a site is perfect when total restoration may not be necessary to the story.

When is the tourist wanting more than you have offered?

Ask yourself this:  Have you ever stood in front of a building wondering why it was built in the first place?  Have you ever driven by fields of agriculture wondering what was planted there?  Have you looked for signs and found none?  If so, opportunities were missed, questions left unanswered, and the tourist is wanting more.

Traveling California’s I-5 between the Tri-Valley area and LA,   travelers drive pass huge orchards and agricultural fields on both sides of the highway for more than 500 miles. There is nothing that describes WHAT KIND of orchards they are or WHAT is planted in the fields. How much better and how much more interesting it would be if Interpretational Signage© was placed at regular intervals large enough to read as travelers traverse this long, boring stretch of highway.

Of course, nowadays travelers probably just turn to Smart Phones for background information, but isn’t it time we found good reasons to look at the real world? Travelers yearn for more information. All we have to do is provide it.

Kearney, Nebraska, Sandhill Crane Capital of the World, has many wonderfully restored buildings. The magnificent old courthouse dominates the town square but there is a small yellow building standing on the corner adjacent to the courthouse called “Clarence’s Corner” that garners most of the attention.

The developers of Kearney could have left this building just as it was for the locals to enjoy.  Why not, since the locals already knew the history behind Clarence and his popcorn?  Instead, they erected a statue of Clarence and a young boy depicting Clarence handing him a bag of popcorn.  ​

The small brightly-colored building by itself would prompt visitors to question what the building is all about and the statue would peak curiosity even more. But that curiosity is satisfied with a distinctive plaque explaining Clarence’s importance to the community and partners it with a poem which reads:

The Popcorn Man

It’s not how perfect a man is born
There are none without some fault.
It’s how we play the hand we’re dealt
That makes a man worth his salt.

When he smiles and makes life pleasant
He gives hope to his fellow man.
Finds his way through the trials of life
Makes the simplest grand.

We don’t know if he lived with pain.
We don’t know his fear.
We only know what he showed the world
A smiling face that we hold dear.

Shalah 2008

Kearney also has the distinguished Sterling Public Library (circa 1916) which has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The library is no longer used as such but, instead, has been converted into a lovely private home.  Much to this author’s dismay, the latter information was not made apparent until my nose was nearly pressed against the front door’s small paned-glass windows and a very small message told me I was a little too close.

Constructing Interpretational Signage© at curb side would not only give tourists additional knowledge of the library’s history and conversion but also preserve the homeowner’s privacy…and my dignity.

Saint Joseph, Missouri is one of America's best-kept secrets for historic architecture. Founded in 1843, St. Joseph quickly grew to become one of the most important cities for commerce and trade on the western continent. Early on, it was at the forefront of advances in transportation and communication.
Few figures have attracted as much notoriety as the legendary outlaw, Jesse James, who allegedly died in St. Joe. Some called him America's Robin Hood, while others saw him as a cold-blooded killer.
The Pony Express was founded by William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors in St. Joe. Plans for the Pony Express were spurred by the threat of the Civil War and the need for faster communication with the West. The Pony Express consisted of relays of men riding horses carrying saddlebags of mail across a 2000-mile trail.
St. Joseph also has numerous other historical sites – some reused, some waiting for the right opportunity to be recognized.  One of the best examples of building reuse in St. Joe is The Home Style Furniture & Bedding - a five-story store formerly known as the Turner-Frazier Mercantile Company built in 1881.
Every floor, except the basement, is being used as a retail showroom.  It’s a fascinating walk-through where owner Bob Hand has aptly converted the building to a showroom while respecting its historical past.  You can still see the trap doors where dry goods were dropped from floor to floor during early covered wagon days.  And you can see the bins which once displayed yarn and fabric.
Enticing Interpretational Signage of its history displayed outside this grand structure would make the experience of walking through the doors even more rewarding.

Part 2 Continued….
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