DERRY – It pays homage to America’s first man in space who is deeply rooted in Derry.
New Hampshire officials gathered Friday to celebrate the completion of an Interstate 93 expansion project and rededicate the freeway in honor of Alan B. Shepard Jr.
The ceremony, held in a garage at the State Department of Transportation in Derry, brought together not only state and local officials, including Governor Chris Sununu, but members of the state’s U.S. Congress delegation.
Shepard family members also attended the ceremony where a new shield was unveiled in honor of Shepard.
Shepard was one of NASA’s seven original Mercury astronauts, the first American in space in 1961. In 1971 he set foot on the moon as part of the Apollo 14 mission and was best known for driving golf balls across the lunar surface.
In a 2013 Derry News column, historian Richard Holmes gave a glimpse into how the highway project began, in honor of the road’s 50th anniversary that year, and how Shepard became part of the highway’s history.
“When the project began, it was decided to name the Salem-Hooksett road the Alan B. Shepard Jr. Highway, a special honor for this son of Derry and America’s first man in space,” wrote Holmes. “In late June 1962, Shepard toured the project. In one place he drove a huge gravel spreader, in another he operated a huge crane. He later commented that the road construction equipment was more difficult to operate than a space capsule. “
Holmes went on to say that at a location just off Route 102, Shepard also pressed the plunger that triggered the first load of dynamite to begin construction on Exit 4A.
A year later, on June 28, 1963, the Alan B. Shepard Jr. Highway was completed and open to the public.
The 20 mile expansion project of I-93 created four lanes of travel in each direction, from the Massachusetts line to the division of I-293. State officials said the highway project will not only support better traffic flow and safety, it will also stimulate economic growth along this corridor and better access to land such as roadside systems.
At the ceremony, Victoria Sheehan, the commissioner for the Department of Transportation, said it was a day to celebrate.
“And it’s a fitting tribute to one of New Hampshire’s heroes,” she said.
Laura Shepard Churchley attended the ceremony with her sister Julie Shepard Jenkins and said she and all members of the Shepard family were honored to pay tribute to their father’s legacy.
“Daddy would be very, very happy,” Churchley said. “It was an honor for our family.”
She also showed a replica of the golf club her father took to the moon aboard Apollo 14 and how it was made and folded to make the flight. The club brought to the moon is on display in a golf museum in New Jersey.
Sununu said he grew up near Exit 3 in Salem and knowing that a true American hero like Shepard was from nearby Derry was always something he was proud of.
“Growing up with an American hero and icon from New Hampshire was very exciting,” said Sununu.
He added that I-93 is “not just a freeway” but an economic engine for the state and beyond.
“We did it and we did it right,” he said.
After the ceremony, a new sign was unveiled near the highway.