By Bob Blake

40_Blue Star picture GastoniaWhile riding through America this summer, look for a special marker that designates the road as a Blue Star Highway. These roadways are a designated “thank-you” to our Armed Forces.

The idea began in 1944 when the New Jersey State Council of Garden Clubs planted some 8,000 dogwood trees along a 5 1/2 mile roadway as a living memorial to their state’s Armed Forces. The name “Blue Star” came from the service flag parents proudly displayed in their windows to honor their sons and daughters serving during World War II. The New Jersey highway was originally named the Blue Star Drive.

The idea quickly spread across America as local and state garden clubs wished to honor their service personnel. In 1947, Mrs. Frederic Kellogg, the founder of the National Council of Garden Clubs, designed a uniform marker for the roadways.

The Blue Star program was expanded in 1951 to include all United States military men and women – past, present and future. Some garden clubs wanted to designate a beauty spot or a small garden rather than a roadway and the smaller By-Way Marker was adapted. A third change happened in 1996 when the project included the National Cemetery and Veteran’s Administration buildings. These sites simply removed the word “Highway” from the plaque.

In 2014, the United States had over 70,000 miles of Blue star Highways. Each marker is hand-made and stands 7 1/2 feet tall. The star is a three dimensional prismatic blue emblem. The body of the plaque is copper colored with olive drab accent shading. The lettering is in gold leaf. The plaques cost around $1400 and are funded by the local garden clubs. Some of the signs have stood over 70 years and remain in excellent condition!

North Carolina has over thirty Blue Star Highways and numerous smaller By-Way markers in picturesque garden spots. In the Asheville region, on I-26 near Milepost 41, there is a marker at the westbound Buncombe/Henderson County Rest Area (dedicated July 18, 2008). The most recent plaque was erected a month ago by the Gastonia Council of Garden Clubs along Franklin Blvd.

As we past these beautiful markers it is important to thank the garden club ladies of America for this tribute to our service men and women. Their eyes saw the beauty of color…the fragrance of flowers… and the softness of leaves. They visualized this living memorial to our service men and women.