Still Waters Run Deep: Marking A N.H. Town's Connection To Navy Warship 'Kearsarge'
Earlier this month, eight crew members from the U.S.S. Mt. Kearsage visited Warner, New Hampshire to meet with residents and talk about the historic connection between their ship and the actual Mount Kearsage that is - at least partially - located here. (Wilmot shares the mountain with Warner.)
The shipmates also came to commemorate the unveiling of the state’s newest historic marker. Located just off Main Street, it’s dedicated to the original U.S.S. Kearsage, a Civil War sloop-of-war that played a prominent role in the Union victory. The ship was built from wood harvested from Mount Kearsage.
It’s the first historic marker in Warner, and the first in the state devoted to a ship, according to a local history buff who instituted the recognition.
“It’s funny, when you think about the fact that the state seal has a ship on it,” said Warner resident Hastings Rigollet. He added that ship is the Raleigh, which was the first vessel to carry the United States flag into a navel battle, he noted.
Rigolett, a Vietnam veteran and motorcyclist, has ridden his bike all over the state shooting photographs of each of New Hampshire’s historic markers. He keeps a personal photo book of his subjects, with notes about each one.
“There are about 238 of them,” he said, adding that while the NH Division of Historical Resources maintains a list, it doesn't contain all the markers in the state.
“For one thing, it takes a while for them to get listed. And then some of them are ‘lost’, under vegetation and things like that."
“Sometimes they’re stolen,” Rigollet said, noting that state officials confirmed that’s likely what happened after he called in about the historic marker that went missing from Wallis Sands State Beach in Rye.
Rigollet began focusing in getting a marker in Warner after he noticed a discrepancy between communities that had them and those that did not.
“It seemed like everybody had at least one,” he said. “Concord has eleven. Fremont – little Fremont – has five! But not us! I thought, 'it’s not fair!'”
So Rigollet began talking with his friends and other members of his town’s American Legion Post 39. At their urging he spoke with state officials and, last summer, made a formal application for a historical marker honoring the original U.S.S. Kearsage.
The marker was approved earlier this year and went up in the spring. It was first unveiled on the Fourth of July, but the official dedication took place when crew members of the current Kearsage made their visit.
That eclectic group, representing the amphibious assault ship based in Norfolk, Va., comprised sailors recently promoted to the rank of chief petty officers and included Mary Joan Castillo, an 11-year veteran who was born in the Philippines, and Kevin Anthony Paris, who now hails from Brooklyn but was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago.
Command Master Chief David C. Twiford, a Norfolk resident who led the group, said everyone on today’s Kearsage is very much aware of Warner's mountain and its historic link to their vessel.
“There are pictures of the mountain all around the ship that they see everyday,” he said. “In fact, on my door is a painting one sailor did of the ship with the mountain in the background.”
The story of Warner’s link with the current U.S.S. Kearsagegoes back about fifteen years. That’s when the town received an email from an officer aboard the ship who wanted to build a scale model of the original Kearsage. Since that vessel was built with wood from the mountain, he wondered if it would be possible to get a small amount of similar wood from the community’s residents to use for his replica.
“He is hoping to build the model using many different materials from the ship’s ports they will visit and other sources that have meaning to the ship and her crew,” wrote then-town webmaster Dick Cutting in 2004. “He stated that he could think of no better place to start gathering materials than from the mountain that gave this great ship her name.”
According to Twiford, the town’s response was roughly equivalent to, “Hey, Navy! We have you been?” Several town residents – all veterans and members of the American Legion post – joined forces to collect the specific wood requested.
When word got back to the ship, Cutting said, he learned there was “great interest among crew members of the ship to get onboard’ with this (model ship) project."
“There was also a great desire to continue and strengthen the ties between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the Town of Warner, New Hampshire.”
According to CMC Twiford, that desire to make connections also extends to the military.
“The Navy encourages us to build partnerships with the namesakes of our ships, whether they be places – like Mount Kearsage – or families,” he said.
Not long after the town sent the wood for the model, several Warner area veterans were invited to board the ship and take a short trip from New Jersey, where it was temporarily docked, up to Boston. Several days later, six sailors from the Kearsage came to Warner, climbed to the top of Mt. Kearsage, and visited the town’s two wooden covered bridges and its historic Waterloo neighborhood.
Since that time, the connection between the town and the ship has only grown stronger.
According to former town selectman J.D. Colcord, the relationships residents have built with Kearsarge sailors have served to strengthen their regard for members of the military.
As for CMC Twiford, he said his shipmates are always honored by Warner's hospitality.
Ray Carbone is a longtime New Hampshire writer and editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org