ORLEANS – The colonial settlement of the town and its post-Revolutionary War incorporation is detailed in three new historical markers unveiled last week outside Snow Library.
“There's an incredible, compelling story to tell,” said Ron Petersen, who co-chairs the Orleans Historic Markers Committee with Pat Perry.
The new panels speak of the town's connection to famed Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins, whose daughter Constance married Nicholas Snow. Snow's was one of seven families who came to live in Nauset, which became Eastham. Snow was the only one of the seven to live in the area that would be separated and incorporated many decades later as Orleans, in 1797.
Why a French name, when all the other Cape towns recall those in the old country of England? One of the new markers notes that in 1797, with pro-French sentiment running high, Isaac Snow, a veteran of the Revolutionary War who had escaped a British prison and visited France, proposed honoring the liberty-loving Louis Phillippe Joseph, duc d'Orleans.
Petersen mentioned another, as yet unconfirmed, link to France: Georges Clemenceau, the nation's leader during World War I, may have taught at Rock Harbor Academy, a private school once located diagonally across Route 28 from the library.
Sharing more of the history and beauty of Orleans is what motivates Petersen, a member of the historical commission, and Perry, president of the Orleans Improvement Association.
“I tell the story, and Pat makes it happen,” Petersen said. “Pat laid this stuff out, stories and images.”
“Our satisfaction,” Perry said, “is seeing someone standing here reading them.”
That includes Perry herself, who said some of the stories were “a major revelation” to her. “I was never that knowledgeable about the history of the town,” she said. “Working with Ron, I get a history lesson every time we're together.”
Petersen shared Perry's sense of revelation as he began to dig into local history after retiring here five years ago. “I was surprised at the richness of it,” he said, “the direct connection to the Plymouth Colony, the battle in town during the War of 1812, the shelling by a German U-boat in World War I.”
More historical markers are planned, including another set of panels that will detail the town's rich history of rescues at sea.
“We want to share the story of Orleans with everybody who lives here and visits,” said Petersen. That's a goal shared by Perry and his fellow committee members Joanna Keeley, Kathleen McNeil, Steve Bornemeier, and Gail Colglazier, as well as Judy Brainerd, who serves as project monitor for the town's community preservation committee. A CPC grant funds the project, and the town's DPW prepares the sites and installs the markers.
In addition to the panels at Snow Library, historic markers may be found at the sites of Rock Harbor Academy/Old Snow Library, the Old Firehouse, the Old Methodist Burial Ground/Old Post Office, and the Old Railroad Depot. All are within walking distance of the library.