Good thing we had a GPS. Otherwise, how else would we have found Old Town Road in the Wellesley Farms area? There were no street signs left, just metal stumps from the posts that used to be at intersections with Ox Bow Road on one end and Dean Road at the other.
Ever since Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” song exploded into our ears this past spring, Old Town Road street signs have become a hot item in Wellesley and elsewhere. (Walpole police say they haven’t heard about this being an issue in their town. We haven’t heard back from Holliston cops, though suspect this is an issue some communities would rather not call attention to).
(More: “How the Wellesley ‘Old Town Road’ street sign story went viral”)
Old Town Road signs have been swiped at least 3 times in Wellesley since spring at the start of what’s now an 18-week stretch of the Lil Nas X song being atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It looks like Wellesley is letting the chart-topping song cool off before replacing signs there now.
The Wellesley Department of Public Works has been busy this summer with a zillion projects focused on upkeep of roads, sidewalks and more. The last thing they need is people purposefully making new work for them, but that’s what whoever is knocking down or taking signs like these is creating. We saw the street sign for Intervale Road on the ground earlier this summer, and hear Ledyard Street and Greenlawn Avenue signs have been among victims, too. Other prized signs include those of streets with names of colleges like Colgate and Harvard.
According to the Wellesley DPW, the problem comes and goes, but there has been an increase this summer. “The behavior is likely the work of individuals playing pranks, but it costs the Town a lot of time and money to locate, repair — and where the signs and posts are damaged — replace, and reinstall the signs,” says Stephanie Hawkinson, the town’s communications and project manager.
Targeted signs have been discarded everywhere from residents’ yards to town parks to wooded areas to wetlands. The 12-foot-long posts are sometimes stolen along with the signs, though handier vandals have hacksawed off the signs.
A Costly Prank
Wellesley expects to lose a a few signs each winter as casualties of plows, and that’s built into the budget. It’s these additional sign thefts and damages that add strain, as replacement costs are significant.
The DPW provided these figures:
- Street Sign (x2 for view from both sides) = ~$50-75 ($100-150 total)
- Green (sometimes Black) Post (12’ galvanized square post with die-cut knockouts) = $50
- Galvanized Anchor with Hardware = $15
- Rain cap, mounting bracket, hardware kit = $6
Other signs that have been known to disappear:
- Stop Sign 30” = $75
- Deer Crossing Sign 30” = $90
- Do Not Enter 30” = $75
- One way Sign (two-sided) = $80
And don’t forget about the labor costs. The day rate (8 hours) for a skilled laborer plus equipment costs = $680. This could be broken down into an hourly rate but then other considerations have to be taken for preparation, ordering, mobilization, travel, etc. In general, ordering, assembly and installation of a complete post & sign (not the anchor) takes about 2 hours. If a new anchor needs to be installed, then a call to DigSafe must be made, and that includes marking the intended installation spot. After the 3-day wait, the anchor is installed, which could add up to an hour depending on the digging.
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(Wellesley could borrow a page from Sicamous, British Columbia, which has responded to a rash of Old Town Road sign thefts there by producing replicas of the signs and selling them for $25 apiece, according to DH News, Vancouver. Wellesley’s Highway Dept. notes that the town’s signs are purchased from a Taunton company and individuals could buy their own Old Town Road signs from the same source.)
Not to be overlooked, beyond the financial cost, is that first responders rely on street signs to get to emergencies. Sure, first responders have GPS, but if the signs are missing or moved, it can delay response times.
“[It] could mean life or death for someone in need,” Hawkinson says. “I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s a very real and frightening possibility.”
While Old Town Road continues to ride atop the music charts (“Ridin’ on a horse, ha, You can whip your Porsche…”), luckily for Wellesley we have no street signs in town bearing names of some of the other current hits like “Sucker” and “Ran$om.”
P.S. We knew this story would go viral, and we’d like to thank news outlets like Boston Magazine, the Boston Globe and NECN for giving us credit as the original source.
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Bonus: A little Old Town Road history lesson
We reached out to the Wellesley Historical Society to learn about Old Town Road’s past. Here’s what Taylor Kalloch, Archivist & Collections Manager, had to say:
We don’t have a ton of information regarding the history of Old Town Road. Below is what I was able to find.
The entry for Old Town Road from the Wellesley Historical Society Street Name Index, which explains the origin of over 500 street names in Wellesley reads:
“Old Town Road: Char. W Hubbard dev.
Named by Miss Marion Niles, probably as it was in area of town first developed
This road was part of original Glen Rd. present location on Glen was not the original location [?]
It was Rd to Weston.
Developer Charles W. Hubbard is mostly associated with development in Weston, MA. The Town of Weston website has two pages with some background information about Charles W. Hubbard and the Chiltern Hundreds Area. Links below:
Marion Niles of the Niles family is associated with the Hundreds or Wellesley Farms neighborhood of Wellesley centered around Hundreds Road and Hundreds Circle.
A report on the area available via the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) provides some background on the development of the area. (Note, the full report is available by clicking on the blue box labeled “INV” under the heading “Inventory No:”)
Boston Magazine published a piece presented by architect Patrick Ahearn which provides a more modern picture of the Wellesley Farms area in which Old Town Road sits.
Old Town Road is not directly mentioned in the descriptions of either Chiltern Hundreds or of the Hundreds Road/ Hundreds Circle area. However, as the road is situated against the line between the towns of Wellesley and Weston it is likely that the development of the road was influenced by and similar to the development taking place both in Wellesley and Weston during the first half of the 20th century.
A missing street sign is also dangerous in terms of a 911 public safety response. In an emergency seconds count and if the street is not marked , the street could be driven by – costing precious time for someone in need of 911.
S Hawkinson says
Always fun to collaborate with the Swellesley Report.
Kerry smith says
Maybe the town should take this time to consider renaming the street to honor someone instead of blaming. Or change spelling to Olde Town. People kept stealing a 420 mile marker so a public works dept. finally got creative and placed it at 419.99 or such to stymie the thefts.
S. T. says
The town should offer to sell the signs, as it may generate some revenue. My college campus did this when the local bus stop signs were popular with the students.
Exactly. Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territorues, has been selling Ragged Ass Road signs through local retailers for years, and for the same reason.