Love of the past, nudge from wife inspire North Country man to author definitive guide to NH's roadside historical markers

Union Leader Correspondent
August 24. 2018 2:38PM
Author Michael Bruno holds a copy of his book, “Cruising New Hampshire History: A Guide to New Hampshire's Roadside Historical Markers,” while standing in front of Marker No. 219, The Weeks Act of 1911, which commemorates the contributions of seasonal Lancaster resident John Wingate Weeks, known as the “Father of the Eastern National Forests.” (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

"Cruising New Hampshire History" by Michael Bruno has been in print since May.

LANCASTER — Thanks to a lifelong love of history and a nudge from his wife, Michael Bruno has written a detailed guide to the state’s roadside historical markers.

Jointly managed by the state’s Division of Historical Resources and Department of Transportation, the historic marker program began in 1958 with the installation of four markers, the first in Pittsburg, commemorating the Republic of Indian Stream.

Sixty years later, 257 markers have been installed the length and breadth of the Granite State, covering nearly 400 years of history, from the first settlement in 1623 at Odiorne’s Point in Rye to the present day.

Last month, following a petition drive that arose out of researching his book, Bruno oversaw the unveiling of the newest historical marker, at The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, where Frances Glessner Lee created miniature dioramas of real crimes that were (and still are) used as a training tool for detectives.

For her accomplishments, Glessner Lee is remembered on the marker as the “mother of forensic science.”

During an interview on Aug. 15, Bruno said his book and the Glessner Lee marker both trace their roots to a conversation he had some three years ago with his wife, Kristin, about the lack of detail about the stories on the markers.

Marker No. 1 in the State of New Hampshire's Historical Highway Marker Program is located in Pittsburg Village and celebrates the fact that for a short time, this largest and northernmost town in the state, while being claimed by both Canada and the U.S., was its own country: the Republic of Indian Stream. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

Bruno recalled that the first marker he encountered, while he was a middle-school student traveling around the state with his father, John, was the one in Bow at the intersection of Route 3A and Interstate 89 commemorating an 1833 visit by President Andrew Jackson.

As a teenager, Bruno and his friends would ride their motorcycles all over New Hampshire, often stopping to read historic markers. In 2015, after his wife got her motorcycle license and they went out riding, Bruno’s interest in the markers was rekindled, but when he went to the state’s website, he found only the barest of information about them.

“I couldn’t believe that the state only had a PDF file,” Bruno said, “and my wife made the mistake of saying ‘Why don’t you write a book?’” So he did, starting in October 2015 and completing it in April.

The 564-page paperback, “Cruising New Hampshire History: A Guide to New Hampshire’s Roadside Historical Markers” was released on May 15 and is available for purchase online through multiple resellers, including Amazon, as well as at independent bookstores, such as Gibson’s in Concord.

In writing the book, Bruno had some very specific goals: to tell the story behind each marker; to not lose money in the process; to deliver lectures in his hometowns of Tilton and Bethlehem; and to support, through sales, charities in both communities as well as the Class of 2019 at White Mountains Regional High School in Whitefield, where he is a JROTC Army instructor.

Long before the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Betty and Barney Hill, as NH Historical Highway Marker No. 224 says, experienced what was the first reported UFO abduction in the U.S. while they were travelling on Route 3 in North Lincoln on the night of Sept. 19-20, 1961. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

Born and raised in Tilton, Bruno, 53, graduated from Winnisquam Regional High School and served in the Army for 23 years, retiring with the rank of sergeant major. He and his wife, who have three adult children, returned to New Hampshire and settled in Bethlehem. There, Bruno is a member of the town’s Planning Board and volunteer fire department and is a former trustee of the Bethlehem Public Library. Bruno is also a member of Granite State Ambassadors, a program that trains volunteers to serve as tourism information sources.

Thrilled by the positive reception to his book, Bruno joked that it may be not only his first, but also “my last book because it was just so time intensive.”

Bruno said he spent “many hours” at local historical societies and libraries and at the markers themselves. He also used the “Roadside History” articles that appeared in the New Hampshire Sunday News for several years as a model, as confirmation that he was on the right track, and as another guide to original source material.

Bruno said he was struck by the history that sometimes connects the markers.

For example, Moody Bedell built the bridge over the Connecticut River in Haverhill (Marker No. 136) that bore his name until it was destroyed by a windstorm in 1979. Bedell was also one of the first surveyors and title bearers for the land that in 1832 became the Republic of Indian Stream and later part of Pittsburg.

Bruno hopes that people buy his book, but he also hopes it inspires people to just “stop and read the markers.”

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