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Signs of history are everywhere

On Friday, May 17th, Brimfield Auction Acres in Brimfield, MA, took its place on The National Register of Historic Places as the birthplace and originator of the World Famous “Brimfield Antique Show” with an unveiling ceremony that also marked the start of the Show’s 65th season.

The plaque reads: “Birthplace of the world-famous Brimfield Antique Shows. “Auction Acres” Auctioneer Gordon Reid gathered sixty-seven dealers on this farmland, aptly called “Auction Acres”. He launched the “Greatest Antique Show Under the Sun” envisioning Brimfield as the antiques’ center of the nation, and during his lifetime, the dream reached fruition. The show would grow to rival the nation’s most prestigious antique shows and today is touted by many as the greatest outdoor antique show on earth.”

For those unfamiliar with the backstory, Gordon Reid was a second-generation auctioneer who in 1959 heard about station-wagon-tailgate sales taking place in Connecticut and decided to bring this new type of flea market to a huge field he owned in Brimfield.” The rest, as they say, is history.

When Reid passed away in late 1974, the ‘Brimfield Show,’ as it became known, was taken over by Reid’s two daughters as J&J Promotions, carrying on the Brimfield Show tradition at Auction Acres for the next over 40 years. Today, that tradition is proudly carried on by the property’s current owners, Rusty & Kate Corriveau, who filed for The National Register based on an early 19th-century Homestead Deed and other recorded history they found on the property.

The National Register of Historic Places plaque that is now proudly and publicly displayed on this property makes Auction Acres one of over 2,600 historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts in the U.S. today, each representing an outstanding aspect of American history and culture. It is a visible sign and reminder for all that pass that history lives here and is worth preserving.

For more on The National Register of Historic Places, as well as recommendations on “must see” historic homes, unique sites, and landmarks to visit, see “These Old Sites on The National Register of Historic Places,” in our July issue.

Prior to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that established the nation’s official list of historic places worthy of preservation, history was found in travel guides designed to help Americans connect with their past. In the 1930s, no road trip across America was complete without a travel guide from the widely popular “American Guide Series,” published by the Federal Writers’ Project.

The Federal Writers’ Project, part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Second New Deal (1935-1938) following the Great Depression, published over four hundred travel guides to the states, major cities, highways, and regions of America, pointing out sites of interest along the way.

Katherine Kellock, Tours Editor of the Federal Writers’ Project, believed the road could carry important cultural images. Nowhere was that more evident than in the pages of the WPA’s “Here’s New England” series, which included over seventy references to historic houses and museums along the routes they provided. Facilitating this process for motorists were recently posted historic markers along roads which drew attention to local spots of importance and brought awareness to drivers that the routes they were traveling could connect them to a larger national heritage.

One of the things that made following the WPA travel guides easier in the early days of automotive travel was the universal adoption of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Street and Highways (MUTCD) in 1935, standardizing road signage across the country.

Over the next 60 years, traffic signs and street signage changed in color, size, and design. A round letter alphabet replaced the standard block lettering, sign legends were simplified by eliminating unnecessary wording or by replacing words with symbols, and a minimum level of retro-reflectivity was established to be maintained for all signs on public roads.

Since then, road signs of all shapes and sizes, and conveying all types of messages, have become a motorist’s most important navigational tool. We look to these signs to let us know where we are, where to get off, how to find where we are going and what can be seen and found along the way. They have also become highly collectible, as you will read in Rob Wolfe’s new column In the July issue, “Pickin’ with Rob Wolfe of American Pickers.”

Not all signs, however, are obtained legally. While old removed/replaced street signs can be legally purchased on online sites and at auctions and shows, the impulse to illegally grab a street sign with a name that catches your attention or a traffic sign as a décor ornament has left towns and state DOTs across the country with a growing sign theft problem. Although stealing road signs may seem like a harmless act, they are costly to replace and for perpetrators, the consequences can be serious. In addition to a fine and prosecution as a theft, people who steal street signs may be found criminally liable for any injury or death resulting from the removal of a sign. You can read more about collecting street signs in our July issue, as well.

As you travel the countryside this summer in the quest for your next find, don’t forget to look up from your GPS to take in the signs of history all around you.