State to honor Lafayette’s visits with a trail

Valley News
Published: 5/27/2019 7:04:42 PM

French General Marquis de Lafayette has gone down in American history as the man responsible for rallying France to the colonists’ cause and changing the trajectory of the Revolutionary War.

At 19, Lafayette was made a major general in the Continental Army and became a confidant of General George Washington.

What is lesser known about Lafayette is the return trip he made to the United States in 1824-1825, during a tumultuous time period for the still-young nation in which he reminded Americans that the cause that drew them together was stronger than the causes that threatened to tear them apart.

He visited hundreds of locations, including towns in New Hampshire and Vermont, and spoke to thousands of Americans who greeted him with open arms.

New Hampshire is honoring that moment in American history by officially establishing the Lafayette Trail — signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu last week — which allows for historical markers to be placed at the locations where Lafayette stopped, including spots in Newbury, Newport, Claremont and Cornish. The markers will be installed and maintained by nonprofit organizations, with approval from the Department of Transportation.

“It’s kind of a big deal because the state is behind the trail now,” said Julien Icher, founder of the Londonderry, N.H.-based nonprofit organization The Lafayette Trail Project, who is working on creating a trail of all the stops the general made during his visit that was billed as the “Farewell Tour.”

There are plans to put 17 markers up throughout the state. Icher has partnered with the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit organization that assists in installing historic roadside markers throughout the country. After the marker is installed, area historical societies and organizations will be asked to take care of its upkeep.

“They will basically host the marker,” Icher said.

Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, was the lead sponsor of the bill.

“I was very pleased to be able to sponsor the bill,” Ward said, adding that once the markers are installed they will provide another learning opportunity for children. “I think that kids in the schools in the towns that he went through can take a walk and go look at it as they’re learning about the early history of the U.S.”

The trail could also appeal to visitors of New Hampshire.

“I think maybe some tourists will be interested in taking a look at some parts in it when they’re going through the area,” Ward said. “I think it could easily be a tourist attraction if the different cities and towns advertise it and promote it.”

Lafayette made stops in 24 states and Icher has been busy making visits to build support for the project. Ideally, there will be markers installed at each location. There are legislative efforts underway in North Carolina and Massachusetts voted to expand the markers currently in place. The general also made stops in Vermont, including in Windsor, Hartland, Woodstock, Barnard, Royalton and Randolph Center.

“I’ve mapped out more than 800 events in 25 states and Washington, D.C.,” said Icher, a French citizen who became even more fascinated by Lafayette while studying at The College of William And Mary in Williamsburg, Va. “I did this by traveling more than 22,000 miles in my little New Hampshire car all the way to Louisiana.”

And the project has received widespread support from diplomats and local historical societies alike.

“We have our two countries coming together,” Icher said. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

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