Volunteers work to refurbish island history one marker at a time
Lynne Covey Langdale always has liked history. In her spare time, she researched her family’s history and found a connection to a relative who fought in the American Revolutionary War. Because of that documented link, she was able to join the Daughters of the American Revolution to help spread the word of our nation’s history.
And, on a local level, she’s helping to reinvigorate Galveston’s record of its history by volunteering to refurbish the Texas Historical Commission’s markers erected on the island.
“I’ve always been interested in history and this is a way to learn more and do something good for our community,” said Langdale, who lives on Galveston’s East End.
When Langdale retired eight years ago as a program analyst for the IRS, she was looking for new and different projects to fill her time, she said.
In tracing her family’s history, Langdale discovered that Samuel Covey, her fifth great-grandfather, fought in the Revolutionary War as a teenager. He was born in upstate New York and was part of the Minutemen, voluntary militia who fought during the war.
Covey moved with his wife to Virginia and later South Carolina, where his name is inscribed at the Kings Mountain National Military Park.
Because of her interest in history, she volunteered to be a docent at The Bryan Museum, which houses the world’s largest collections of historical artifacts, documents and artwork relating to Texas and the American West. At that Galveston museum, she shared her enthusiasm and knowledge with visitors. As a member of Daughters of the American Revolution, she attended a conference in Dallas in March and learned about restoring markers and realized no one in the Galveston area was doing that, so she took on the project.
And what a project it is. There are 252 historical markers in Galveston — and they all need some work. Statewide, there are about 17,000 markers, with about 200 being added every day, said Chris Florance, with the Texas Historical Commission.
“We certainly appreciate and encourage this type of work and restoring the markers,” Florance said.
Although county historical commissions approve, research and often pay for each marker, some businesses or homeowners donate the funds to erect one on their property, Florance said. The markers cost about $1,500 each.
Langdale has teamed up with Hitchcock resident Donna Hatch, another local member of the Daughters of the American Revolution in the marker project.
In Texas, aluminum alloy historical markers, which are about 9 feet tall, commemorate diverse topics in Texas history, including the history and architecture of houses, commercial and public buildings, religious congregations and military sites that changed the course of local and state history, according to the commission.
Over time, the aluminum oxidizes and turns gray. The raised letters and emblems on the sign also fade and flake, making them difficult to read. And, every marker seems to attract birds that leave a little reminder of their stay drizzled down the front.
“Some of these are really a mess,” Langdale said, noting it takes about eight hours to complete each project.
The first step is to get permission to clean the marker. Then the work begins. Langdale and Hatch use an 80-grit sandpaper to sand away the debris, pits and imperfections on the surface. The salty air is a catalyst for oxidation and hastens the disintegration of the sign.
Once they have cleaned the surface, they go over it with a 220-grit paper to smooth it. They wash it with soap and water and allow it to dry. Then they tape the squared-off frame to preserve the silver color border and cover the state seal before spray painting the entire marker with two coats of black lacquer paint. Once it’s dry, they use a clean cotton rag dampened with lacquer thinner and remove the paint from the surface of the letters. They apply two more coats of clear lacquer and the sign looks new again.
“It is so dramatic once the letters reappear,” Langdale said. “But they look so good when we are finished.”
Langdale and Hatch are both members of the George Washington Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the oldest group in Texas. Hatch, who has been in the organization for six years, said she plans to undertake the four markers she located in Hitchcock.
“This is a perfect service project to do during the pandemic,” Langdale said. “We work outside, we are social distancing and we are improving the look of the city — one marker at a time.”