February 20, 2013WHITEFIELD — The steel-and-concrete span over the Johns River south of King's Square is slated to be named the Burns Bridge, thanks to an effort being mounted by freshman Senator Jeff Woodburn of Dalton, a Whitefield native.
The previously unnamed bridge that carries Route 3 and Route 116 into the downtown area, including King's Square, will bear the name of one of Whitefield's pioneer families, whose descendants are still active in town.
The bill to name the bridge — SB 115 — zipped through the state Senate on a unanimous 24-0 vote on Valentine's Day, with all members on hand. The House is expected to take up the matter within days.
According to the "History of Coös County" published in 1888, Major John Burns was "one of the original organizers and most active among the pioneers of the town."
He was born in New Boston on August 17, 1755.
Burns enlisted on May 4, 1775, in Col. John Stark's regiment, which "was on active duty around Boston, Mass., for three months, and the story of the Battle of Bunker Hill is part of the illustrious record of that service."
He also served in the Benedict Arnold expedition against Quebec and in another one from which he was discharged on Oct. 26, 1776 due to illness at (Fort) Ticonderoga.
Burns was also a soldier in the War of 1812.
"The Major's military title, which clung to him familiarly to the end of his life, was acquired in the early militia service of the state," the county history states. "A humble monument in the little burying ground near his old home recites that 'Maj. John Burns died May 6, 1852, aged 96 years and 9 months.'"
The town's first town meeting on March 12, 1805, was held in the "little log house of Major Burns, situated near the present Burns homestead," reads the History of Coös County.
Today that homestead is occupied by 86-year-old former House Speaker Harold Burns, who was born on Dec. 4, 1926, and represents the sixth generation of the Burns family in Whitefield.
The ell of the house referred to as the "Burns homestead," was built in 1824, and the "new section" in 1849, according to Speaker Burns' daughter-in-law Katie Burns.
Speaker Burns operates the Burns Insurance Agency along with Katie and his son, Scott — the seventh-generation Burns who lives in town.
Scott, an only child himself, and Katie have a daughter, Jenny, a junior at WMRHS who represents the eighth generation Burns family member in Whitefield.
Speaker Burns earned his diploma in 1945 from Whitefield High School, but he was not on hand to receive it. After earning enough credits to graduate, he enlisted in the Army and served for two years.
Speaker Burns, a Republican, was elected to 14 two-year terms in the state's 400-member House of Representatives.
After serving twice as Deputy Speaker, Burns held the prestigious post of Speaker for three terms: 1991-1996.
After he stepped down, Burns served a single term as District I state Senator, but apparently that position didn't draw upon his highly developed skills as a mediator, negotiator, and moderator, which made serving far less fun.
"Dad always enjoyed working on both sides of the aisle," Scott Burns said proudly in a brief Sunday afternoon interview. "His door was always open to anyone who wanted to talk with him."
The former speaker now serves as town moderator.