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Cornish to Open 250th Anniversary Celebration With Winter Carnival

Colleen O’Neill and Diane Liggett stand in front of the Cornish-Windsor Bridge in Cornish on Thursday. The bridge, which was constructed in 1866, is the centerpiece of new commemorative license plates being issued by the town to mark its 250th anniversary. O’Neill and Liggett are co-chairs of the Cornish 250th celebration. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Colleen O’Neill and Diane Liggett stand in front of the Cornish-Windsor Bridge in Cornish on Thursday. The bridge, which was constructed in 1866, is the centerpiece of new commemorative license plates being issued by the town to mark its 250th anniversary. O’Neill and Liggett are co-chairs of the Cornish 250th celebration. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

Cornish — While 12 Upper Valley towns made it onto the map in 1761, others, including Cornish, wouldn’t be created until a few years later.

Colleen O’Neill and Diane Liggett are among the organizers who have been working since last fall to plan the town’s celebrations.

“People come together and bring all their ideas and resources,” said O’Neill, who is leading the efforts along with fellow Cornish resident Karen Gilloch. “Wonderful things happen in these small towns.”

The town, founded on June 21, 1763, will kick off its 250th celebrations with a winter carnival on Friday at 5 p.m. at Town Hall, the Cornish Recreation Area and the Cornish Fairgrounds. (See schedule, page B5.)

A community contradance is set for March, and other 250th events are planned for the weekend of June 21-23. The summer events will include a re-enactment of the charter signing, tree planting, a concert at St. Gaudens National Historic Site and a picnic, followed by a communitywide photograph. The events are free and open to town residents and their guests.

Baseball caps and T-shirts commemorating the founding will be available later this year, and organizers are taking orders for a 250th license plate and a book chronicling the past 50 years in Cornish.

Historians, writers and teachers are all working on the book, said Liggett, co-chairwoman of the book committee. Democratic National Committee member Peter Hoe Burling, of Cornish, is writing the introduction. The hardbound book with color photographs is expected to be available in June. The cost is $25, or $20 if ordered in advance. Proceeds will benefit the Cornish Meeting House.

Liggett and her husband, Jim, the owners of J.R. Liggett’s soap products, have lived in their historic Cornish farmhouse since 1985. O’Neill, the widow of writer J.D. Salinger, has lived in the town since 1988.

“I’m planted in Cornish,” the Maryland native said. “I plan to stay.”

O’Neill and Liggett talked with the Valley News last week about the 250th plans. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

Valley News: Is the ice skating rink a new creation, or does the town build it every year?

Colleen O’Neill: The town used to do it, and we haven’t done it in a long time, so it’s kind of a new creation this year that may continue in the future. But you know, the winters have not been so great. Everyone is so excited because they have missed the skating rink in town. Hockey is a religion up here.

VN: Will people be able to rent skates, or should they bring their own?

CO: They should bring their own skates.

VN: The celebrations have been in the works since last year. Have there been any surprise discoveries along the way?

CO: Well, we found some wonderful photographs. John Dryfhout (former superintendent of St. Gaudens Historical Site) and Diane are co-chairs of the historical book group.

Diane Liggett: He’s an amazing historian.

CO: Yes, he’s a historical scholar, so he has been digging around. In terms of treasures he’s found, he keeps finding things. He found some wonderful photographs recently. I think he’s going to include those in the book. But it’s not a super-historical book in that we’re going back to 1763.

DL: That’s been done.

CO: They will have a little chapter about the history back that far, but it’s really to look at the past 50 years. We built a school addition. A lot of things happen in 50 years.

VN: What aspect of the town’s history interests you the most?

CO: The whole book is also focusing on the volunteer spirit of the town though community organizations like the grange, the Neighbor-to-Neighbor group, the Cornish Fair Association, a quilting group, we have a garden club. We’ve got a lot of things going on.

VN: Neighbor-to-Neighbor, is that like a Chore Corps?

CO: It’s a little bit like that, yes. It’s volunteers that help people stack wood, change light bulbs, help keep people in their homes, and they meet once a month, so that will be one of the local organizations highlighted in the book.

VN: I’m wondering about the book and the artwork that will be in it.

DL: There will be photography, drawings ...

CO: And they’ve also (scanned programs from previous events)

DL: A lot of artists contributed to a lot of the publications, like the yearly town report. We’ve had newspapers in our town, and some of the covers from that will be represented as well, all done by local artists in the town. Corey Fitch, who is a designer, his family has lived here for (nine) generations. ... He is a designer for Simon Pearce, and he is doing the designing and putting the book together for us.

VN: Where did they find all of this information? Was it at the historical society?

DL: Everybody in Cornish has been contributing information and photographs and illustrations.

CO: John Dryfhout went to the (Cornish) Historical Society, and I think he went though every document there.

We also happen to have a woman in town named Judy Rook who is one of those newspaper clippers, so he spent hours and hours with her. And in the Historical Society, there is a big file that was done by Virginia Colby, who has died, but she wrote a book about Cornish and St. Gaudens, and she was also a newspaper clipper. So we have two sets of newspaper clippings, and John went through that page by page. After doing that, he decided that community and volunteer spirit would be the focus of the (book) plus these wonderful treasures, the artists, all the talent within the community.

VN: Speaking of talent, could you talk about the design on the license plates?

CO: Yes, that’s a wonderful story. We have the Cornish 250th Committee, and one of the first things we decided we needed to do was to design a logo, so we put it out on Connect Cornish (listserve) as a contest. We picked this image and worked with Barbara Jones, of Lebanon, to refine the design so that it could be put onto a license plate ...

VN : It says, “Walk your horses or pay two dollars fine.” Is that on the bridge?

CO: Yes. They had the covered bridge design without that little sign there, and it just didn’t look right. It looked like any other covered bridge. Once they put that sign, “Walk your horses or pay two dollars fine,” it was like , “Oh, that’s it!”

Once they put it on, it spoke Cornish, it really did. We’re very proud of that covered bridge. The license plates are available, and we’re starting to see them on the cars. It shows our Cornish spirit.

VN : Are you looking for volunteers? What can people do to help?

CO: We need volunteers. We put the word out on Connect Cornish and let people know in town.

A perfect example is we needed people to help with refreshments and candles for the kickoff, and to help make the toboggan shoot, and people came forward. That’s what this town does. We’re always looking for volunteers. I will never say no to a volunteer.

Editor’s note: For more information or to volunteer, call 603-675-2030. To order a copy of Cornish, New Hampshire 1763-2013, email Cornish250Book@aol.com or call 603-675-2030. Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.