WEST GARDINER — Sometime around the start of December, vandals stole three of West Gardiner’s welcome signs and damaged a fourth, leaving it lying by the side of the road.

While the crime puzzles town officials, they are more focused on raising the money to replace the handmade signs, which cost $450 apiece.

“It’s too bad that happened,” longtime Selectman Mert Hickey said. “A lot of people put a lot of effort into those signs.”

About five years ago, after a fundraising campaign in the town — no government money was used — the welcome signs were created and posted at the entrances to West Gardiner. Each sign, painted dark green with white lettering, is supported by two posts set into the ground with concrete.

Margaret Peacock, who started the project, said the signs represent community pride and West Gardiner’s welcoming spirit. Donations, many anonymous, paid for the signs, and volunteers installed them. Since then, residents have taken care of them, adding plantings or cleaning up around them.

Signs are missing from Bog Hill Road, Neck Road and Route 126. The Hallowell-Litchfield Road sign was damaged.

Tammy Hickey, who has volunteered to collect the latest round of donations, said that last sign might be able to used again.

“We’re assuming whoever did it was interrupted,” she said.

So far, she said, enough donations have rolled in to pay for 1 1/2 signs, and she’s hoping for more donations.

The signs originally were made by Diane’s Signs, of West Gardiner. Diane Markham said she and her husband, Leland, will make replacement signs when the money is raised, and they are likely to be installed in the spring.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll raise the money,” Markham said.

While no one yet knows the motive, they do know pulling the signs out took some effort and time.

“You can see someone hooked a chain around them and ripped them down,” Hickey said.

Whoever did it must have been bored or had something against the town, he said.

Markham said the posts that hold up the signs are sunk at least 2 feet into the ground and are set in concrete. Although she didn’t know offhand how much the signs weigh, she said carrying them would require two people.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard about it,” she said. “I’m hoping they can find who did it.”

Town Clerk Angela Phillis said the town filed a report with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ