The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Gold-leafed signs beckon visitors to historic town
Part of purpose is to reinvigorate business, designer says
GUILFORD — Local folks are proud that their town is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, and they want every visitor and resident to know that.
Handsome welcome signs, prominently displayed on two grassy strips at Interstate-95 entrance ramps, boast this fact, and direct motorists to the town’s unique historic districts, visitor kiosk, Town Green, local businesses and the marina.
More signage is planned, but, for that to happen, more funds are needed.
Michael Meisel, chairman of the Joint Committee for Welcome Signs and a commissioner on the Economic Development Commission, talked about the importance of the signs to what is called “heritage tourism.”
“That is exposing visitors to a vast array of historical sites within Guilford,” he said, “everything from the house museums, including the [Henry Whitfield State Museum], which is the oldest stone house in New England, to the historic preservation districts, which are on the National Register.”
“We also felt that the purpose was to help regenerate business as we emerge from the pandemic,” he added.
First Selectman Matt Hoey
“Once we direct the traffic into town, we want to make sure they find it easy to make the turns necessary to take them right to the green, visitors center and all the attractions.”
Michael Meisel, Joint Committee for Welcome Signs
agreed, saying this educational and economic strategy has taken on more importance as local businesses are recovering from the pandemic. “This project fills the need to welcome travelers and introduce them to Guilford and its incredible array of historic places,” he said. “And it couldn’t happen at a better time.”
While there are only two signs currently completed and installed at exits 57 and 58 northbound, there are plans to install another at each of these exits southbound, and two at Exit 59 in both directions.
“Then we’re going to turn our attention to interior, or way signs,” Meisel said. “Once we direct the traffic into town, we want to make sure they find it easy to make the turns necessary to take them right to the green, visitors center and all the attractions.”
It is expected the entire project will be completed within the next year.
Reflecting the ‘feel’ of town
The signs are a joint effort between John Miller and Charlie Creller of Branford’s Signs by Autografix and committee member and graphic designer Mary Repetti.
Miller, who owns Autografix with his wife, Heidi Miller, talked about creating the signs, which are made of high-density urethane foam that looks just like wood.
“It’s made specifically for instances like this,” John Miller said. “It doesn’t absorb moisture, it doesn’t warp, it doesn’t crack, there’s no insect damage.”
The sign is made on a computerized machine that works similar to a wood router, Miller said. “We write a program and then send it to the machine and the machine carves it.”
The rest of the sign, sanding, priming and painting is all done by hand.
“Every sign has a life that it takes on as we work on it,” Miller said. “We think very, very carefully, and we work hard to get something that really is unique, distinctive and does its job also.”
The polo-green welcome signs are 40 inches tall and 60 inches wide, standing some 6 feet tall when mounted. These signs, as well any future signs throughout town, all share the same unique shape.
Miller wanted to create “a sign that reflected the feel of Guilford, an old colonial town,” he said. “If you look at the letter that says ‘Guilford,’ it’s a typeface that is referred to as ‘antique’ in that the edges of the letters are slightly rough. (It’s made) to look like the sign and lettering has been there forever, and it’s kind of weathered over time.”
The lettering is painted in 23-karat gold-leaf, applied in sheets of gold. The letters are coated with varnish, then “you wait until it has just the right tackiness, and then you lay these three-and-a-half-inch-square pieces of gold into the varnish because it’s still tacky.”
“It will stand up forever,” Miller said. “Gold will last longer than paint.”
An expensive endeavor The effort to design, install and pay for the signs has been undertaken by a joint committee of The Guilford Preservation Alliance, Shoreline Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission members.
Each sign carries a price tag of some $4,500, with additional costs to install them.
“Around the base of the sign is a 10-by-10 (inch) square and the reason for that is to keep the signs weed- and grass-free,” Meisel said, keeping them “basically maintenance-free.”
Funding for the project has come from individuals, local family foundations, Guilford Preservation Alliance, Guilford Foundation and Guilford Rotary Club, according to Meisel.
Shirley Girioni, president of the Guilford Preservation Alliance, hopes the signs will encourage people to take advantage of what the town has to offer.
“Guilford is special, and we have so many historic resources, national registered districts, unique roads, historic districts and a collection of architecturally significant homes,” she said.
Meisel talked about what he hopes people will take away from the project: “that Guilford has a really unique history, and that it’s a place that will be rewarding if you come to visit, beyond the shopping and the restaurants,” he said.
“There’s so much more with the historic districts,” he added. “You go down the list and there’s just an amazing array of interesting places to visit.”
Donations can be made by sending a check, payable to “GPA Welcome Signs” to Guilford Preservation Alliance, P.O. Box 199, Guilford CT 06437.