Artist Suzanne Cox hand paints a concrete street sign obelisk in Hernando.

The historic concrete street obelisks in Hernando will soon be getting a fresh coat of white paint and new hand painted lettering.

The city is partnering with the DeSoto Arts Council to refurbish the relics from the past to their former glory.

“We have been working on our street signs throughout the entire city,” Mayor Chip Johnson said. “The Young Women’s Club replaced quite a few of the wrought iron ones in the historic district last year. So we are just slowly going through and really trying to update and refurbish our street signs.”

DeSoto County Museum Curator Rob Long said the concrete obelisks date back to the 1940s. Concrete obelisks were the standard street sign in many communities like Hernando up until the mid-1950s, when the use of concrete obelisks fell out of favor and were replaced with metal blade street signs. 

“J.B. Bell, who was mayor of Hernando, popularized the use of concrete obelisks back in the 1940s and 1950s,” Long said. “Then over the years as a cost saving measure they began replacing them. But they have really become something of an institution in Hernando. People really enjoy seeing them.”

Johnson said the ones that are chamfered at the top with symmetrical sloping edges were donated to the city by the Lions Club, although he doesn’t know the exact year. Many of the original signs were run over or damaged over the years or replaced with wooden signs, but today are a defining historic feature in some of the city’s neighborhoods.

The city has 60 of the concrete obelisks remaining.

“They have been here with us for a long time,” Johnson said. “So the ones that we have, we want to preserve and keep them.”

Johnson said the signs have to be repainted and then hand lettered.

“It takes an artist,” Johnson said. “You can’t use a stencil. It looks terrible. So you literally have to hand paint those letters.”

In the past, the city used to pay a woman who owned a business called The Lady Sign Painter to repaint the obelisks, but Johnson said they don’t know what happened to her.

He said Alderman Natalie Lynch suggested the city ask the Arts Council if they knew any artists who could do the job.

“We’ve been trying to figure out what to do,” Johnson said. “They just slowly get worse year after year.”

Randy Martin, president of the Arts Council, said the organization was glad to help out. They looked at the obelisks over the winter to get an idea of the scope of the job and enlisted the service of local painter Suzanne Cox to do the lettering. The city is paying $25 per sign.

“We’re always looking for ways to help out and bring more awareness to the Arts Council,” Martin said. 

The obelisks are currently being cleaned and painted white to get them ready for Cox to put the letters on them. Cox painted the first obelisk on Wednesday at the corner of North Parkway Street and Tara Drive. 

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Cox said. “The posts are about four-and-a-half inches wide so the letters need to be about two-and-a-half inches wide.”

Cox said she took a class on calligraphy about a year ago which she is applying to the project. 

“It’s sort of similar,” Cox said. “These should last another 20 years.”

Martin said he is excited to see how the obelisks turnout when they are completed, and that the public will notice a big difference. Hernando is unique in that it still has many of these obelisks remaining.

“Lots of people see these obelisks and don’t pay much attention to them and what they are, where they come from, and what they represent,” Martin said. “It’s nice that they have lasted as long as they have and can last as long as we would like them to last.”


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