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ON THE SCENE: Keene honors those who served and came before us

November 17, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

On Saturday morning, Nov. 11, residents of Keene honored those who came before them in two ways.

First they installed a plaque on the Walton Bridge illustrating its history and the importance of the East Branch of the Ausable River to the development of the community. An hour and a half later, residents gathered for a Veterans Day ceremony to honor those who have served in the military since the Revolutionary War.

The day started bright, crisp and clear. The wind, rain and snow of the previous days had cleared out, leaving a light blanket of snow, icy patches on the road and several ponds frozen over heralding skating to come.

Article Photos

Citizens pose in front of the new interpretive sign placed on the Walton Bridge in Keene Saturday, Nov. 11. The sign was dedicated around 9:30 a.m., 90 minutes before the town held its annual Veterans Day ceremony at Memorial Park.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

About a dozen people came together at Walton, a steel bridge brought over from the town of Jay to replace an earlier span that had been torn away by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. That bridge itself had been a replacement of an earlier one; it, too, was assembled from a bridge that had been used elsewhere.

In the past, the Walton Bridge had been wide enough for traffic, but the new version had been narrowed, refocusing its purpose for pedestrians but leaving it wide enough for emergency pick-up-sized vehicles to cross. As of this date, the repairs to Keene roadways and bridges damaged or proved inadequate by the storm are still not complete, but the reopening of the Walton Bridge in November 2015 was an important step on that journey.

The bridge connects Hulls Falls Road, still closed for repairs, and Gristmill Lane, providing pedestrians a loop perfect for a daily walk on a road not heavily used by motorists as are routes 73 and 9N. The new sign, designed, constructed and paid for by the Lake Champlain Basin Program, uses photographs, text and maps to illustrate the history of the bridge and its importance to the growth of Keene.

"There was a lot of mining in Keene right from the start," said former town Historian Tony Goodwin. "There were small forges up Gulf Brook. There were big mine shafts just up from here. That's why there were charcoal kilns up Cascade Pass. As they slowly ran out of wood near here, they kept moving the kilns farther out. Eventually, they sent the ore to Placid as they were the only place with any wood left."

The idea for the sign was sparked by conversations that Betsy Serjak had with others on the day the bridge re-opened. Quickly a group of like-minded people came together to discuss what could be done to not only tell this history of the bridge but the river's importance to the community. Peter Slocum became the point person for the effort and others joining including Ann Hough, Anita Sayers, Pam Gothner, Jim Herman and Dave Mason, David and Richard Nye, Tony and Bunny Goodwin, Alana Both, Betsy Richert, and others living along the two roads.

"There is a whole collection of contributors to this sign that included town Historian Janet Hall, who found some old pictures for me, the late Nina Allen at Keene archives and Kathy LeClair, who took the picture of the river flooded by Irene just about to take out the old bridge," said Peter Slocum. "The two dams pictured are farther down river and were used for logging, a sawmill and processing iron ore, which came from Walton Brook up near here. Walton was an old farmer who lived in this area and built the first bridge across the river for his farm wagon."

An hour after this ceremony ended, townsfolk gathered over at the Memorial Park adjacent to Norton Cemetery to thank and honor the many veterans who have served be it in combat, stateside or elsewhere. The service was one of those that went perfectly. The weather remained clear and calm, the sun took a tinge off the cold, and the sound system enabled the speakers to be heard.

Memorial Day honors those who died in service to the United States, especially those who died during or as an outcome of combat; Veterans Day honors all who served in the military be it in peacetime or war. Its primary focus is to honor those still living. While Memorial Day's roots go back to the Civil War, Veterans Day, first celebrated as Armistice Day, was established to honor all who served in World War I. In 1954, following WWII, the name was changed to Veterans Day and its purpose was modified to honor all those who had served the country.

Tom Both, the commander of American Legion Marcy Post 1312, invited Beth Pelkey, who with her husband Greg has placed more than 400 flags on the graves of all who have served spread over seven cemeteries, to open the service by giving a brief history of Veterans Day.

"Three words came mind about Veterans Day, history, honor, service," said Beth. "Veterans Day means different things to different people. There are those who look at it as a day off and go to the mall to get the great Veterans Day deals. There are those who are veterans and their families for whom every day is Veterans Day. And there are all of you here and everyone taking time to commemorate this day and an honor our veterans. Veterans have given us the right to agree and disagree and then come together when times are hard."

Pelkey was followed by the James Sampson, pastor of the Keene Valley Congregational Church.

"On this Veterans Day, the anniversary of the end of the war that was supposed to end all wars, we gather together to acknowledge, remember, give and thanks," said Sampson. "We acknowledge and give thanks to the men and women who fought for and continues to fight for our United States of America and who defend the principles of life and justice, equality, and freedom around the world."

Sampson describes how the day for him brought mixed feelings of grief and mourning coupled with hope and gratitude, and brought together thoughts of peace and war and how they are linked to each other. It brought to him one of the Bible's most familiar passages from the book Ecclesiastes, which begins, "For everything, there is a season; and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to born and a time to die." He concluded that passage with his hope that there will be a time for no more war.

The ceremony concluded with Amy and Peter Nelson's rendition of "God Bless America," Lynn Dewalt and his son Brian playing the "Echo Taps," and a final rifle salute by the honor guard. Afterward, people went and stood by the memorials listing those who served in previous wars.

"We recognized some family names war after war ... going back to the Revolutionary War," said Aline Pepe, there with her daughter and several grandchildren.



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