A look at Keene history

Keene History Weekend draws crowd, exhibit honors forest ranger and Keene Valley resident Robbi Mecus

Mary Lawrence, right, shows a historical photo to Tracy McClelland at the Keene History Weekend exhibit at Keene Arts on state Route 9N in Keene Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

KEENE — Keene Arts opened its doors this weekend for Keene History Weekend, a two-day exhibit organized by the Keene Historical Society. The multimedia exhibit featured photos, newspaper clippings, traditional furniture, a guide boat and other artifacts from Keene’s centuries-long history.

Turnout was steady throughout the weekend, and organizer Peter Slocum said he was “happily surprised.”

“(We had) about 70 yesterday and 20 already today,” Slocum said around 11:30 a.m. Sunday. “(It’s been) a combination of people who had memories that fit in with some of these exhibits and newer people who don’t know anything about it.”

The exhibit had three main areas, with displays mined from Keene residents’ attics and garages. One was dedicated to Hill Climb, a car race that used to happen on Hurricane Road, and was organized by Mike Hartson. Another displayed artifacts from the Great Depression-era Keene Valley Industries, a furniture company born of economic necessity, and was organized by Susan Doolitte.

“This was a project that came out of research at the Keene Valley archives at the library, and there’s all these photographs and write-ups and stories about this effort to create a little bit of a mini industry during the Depression to help people keep employed,” Slocum said.

The Keene History Weekend gallery featured display honoring Keene Valley resident Robbi Mecus, who recently died in a climbing accident in Alaska. Mecus was a beloved forest ranger, trans advocate and ice climbing enthusiast. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

The Keene Valley Industries exhibit was a real community effort — the furniture featured in the exhibit, all with the “Keene Valley Industries” name burned into their wood, was donated by locals for the weekend.

“People had furniture in their houses, which they donated to our exhibit,” Slocum said. “We put a note out on the local email server and people responded. … That was kind of fun.”

In the back of the space was a sprawling exhibit about Adirondack guides, organized by Mary Lawrence.

“The memories of the guides are obviously a very strong part of Keene’s history throughout a couple of centuries now,” Slocum said. “We were able to borrow this guideboat from (the Adirondack Mountain Reserve).”

Lawrence’s husband, Brett Lawrence, was a celebrated Adirondack guide before his death in 2016. The exhibit featured photos of Brett and his fellow guides, as well as some of his Adirondack memorabilia.

The centerpiece of Keene History Weekend was a guide boat on loan from the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, seen here at Keene Arts on state Route 9N on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

Near the Adirondack guide exhibit was an area dedicated to beloved Keene Valley resident, forest ranger with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and LGBTQ-plus advocate Robbi Mecus, who died at 52 last month in a climbing accident in Alaska.

The display featured photos of Mecus climbing and with her family, an April 30 resolution adopted by the Keene Town Council honoring Mecus and newspaper articles about some of her backcountry rescues available for guests to read. Slocum said that Mecus occasionally visited the Keene Valley archives — especially if she found an artifact while hiking.

“Since we were highlighting guides, that particularly made us think, ‘Well, we should somehow recognize Robbi’s contributions,'” Slocum said. “Then the outpouring of sympathy and support and everything for her and love for the community … I thought, ‘We really should do something.'”


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