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Aug. 14, 2013

Stone marks historic Manchester-Petersburg Turnpike

Workers install stone
Stone masons Tim Johnston (left) from Manassas Granite & Marble and David Via (right) install the historic road stone along Jefferson Davis Highway in Chesterfield County. VDOT Richmond District Environmental Manager Nick Froelich (center) supervises.

COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Long before there were road signs and GPS devices to guide Virginia travelers to their destination, road stones did the job.

Today, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) reinstalled an 1820s-era stone highway marker in its original location along Jefferson Davis Highway (U.S. 1) in Chesterfield County. This stone designates mile marker 6 along what previously was the Manchester-Petersburg Turnpike, one of the state’s earliest turnpike routes.

“This road stone is an important piece of Virginia history,” VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley said. “It tells the story of how people navigated throughout the commonwealth during a time when the usual modes of transportation were by foot, on horseback or by carriage. Today’s road-stone reinstallation is one example of how VDOT carefully manages historically significant structures and objects in the state’s right of way.”

Prior to today’s re-installation, stone masons fabricated a new stone foundation for the marker that was placed between the top and bottom sections of the stone. The sections of the stone were found separately by members of the community and presented to VDOT for repair and re-installation.

“Travelers during the 19th century relied on these markers to reach their destinations similar to the way we use highway and street signs to navigate roads today,” said Ann Miller, historian at the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research (VCTIR), VDOT’s research division.

Road stones are rare in Virginia and those in their original locations are considered eligible for the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Statewide, more than 20 early road stones have been identified in the state right of way. In many cases, the stones are stabilized, which involves improving drainage and setting the intact stone in a concrete base, plus other similar work. VDOT has documented early highway road stones in Bedford, Amherst, Halifax, Pittsylvania, Brunswick, Chesterfield, Powhatan, Spotsylvania, Fauquier, Fluvanna and Frederick counties and the city of Richmond.

“This once common but now rare stone is a reminder that transportation is an essential aspect of our history and culture rooted in our earliest days as this country was settled, expanded and thrived along an ever changing frontier,” the Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources Kathleen S. Kilpatrick said. “The restoration and placement of the historic way-finding stone along a legacy roadway is a demonstration of a commitment to honor our common heritage and make it available to visitors and travelers today. I applaud VDOT.”

A 1738 Virginia law required that all crossroads be marked by directional posts. Most of those signs were made of wood and have not survived. However, some roads in Virginia featured more permanent markers, including directional signs and mileposts made of stone. This practice continued until around the 1920s when standardized highway signs began to appear.

The earliest documented surviving stone highway marker in Virginia is located in Brunswick County and dates to 1794. These markers typically are irregular, roughly carved native stones. Between 18 inches to 4 feet of the marker is visible above ground. Usually a greater section of the stone is below ground to provide support to keep the object upright and to prevent it from being easily dislodged or pulled up. Misspelling or abbreviation of words is common, and after a century or two of exposure to the elements, the lettering may be worn or partly destroyed.

VDOT maintains and administers all stone highway markers within the state right of way. In most cases, stones are left in place unless their site is actively threatened. Moving them, if deemed necessary, is at VDOT’s discretion. “Moving a road stone, as with moving an historic house, should be undertaken only as a last resort when all other protection options have been unsuccessful,” said Miller.

Proper identification of these resources is vital so VDOT can effectively manage them and reduce personnel time and costs on transportation planning and projects. Anyone with knowledge of undocumented early highway road stones is encouraged to contact VDOT’s Customer Service Center at 800-FOR-ROAD (800-367-7623). Callers should be prepared to provide the location and condition of the stone.

For more information about road stones in Virginia, visit


Information in VDOT news releases was accurate at the time the release was published. For the most current information about projects or programs, please visit the project or program Web pages. You may find those by searching by keyword in the search Virginia DOT box above.

Page last modified: Aug. 27, 2013