WATERVILLE — A bronze plaque that disappeared many years ago from the Gilman Street bridge over Messalonskee Stream and was returned to the city earlier this year will be rededicated next month in a ceremony hosted by city officials.

The following week, the plaque will be returned to its home on the bridge.

The ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, will honor former Mayor Lorenzo Eugene Thayer, who died Sept. 3, 1934, at 51. Thayer is the only Waterville mayor who died while in office.

The plaque, imprinted with “Thayer Memorial Bridge” and placed on the bridge after Thayer’s death, disappeared in the late 1960s or early 1970s and was not seen again until Benton businessman Jim Goodwin returned it to the city this spring.

Public Works Director Mark Turner, who led the charge to research the plaque’s history and discovered it once was attached to the bridge, said he hopes a lot of people turn out for the rededication ceremony, which also is expected to draw Thayer’s few remaining relatives, including his grandson, Whitcomb Rummel Jr., of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.; and great-nephew Henry Dillenbeck, of Winslow.

Thayer was a hardworking mayor during the Great Depression and was successful in re-establishing the city’s damaged credit after banks had closed, according to Turner. A graduate of both Waterville High School and Colby College, Thayer served in many public service roles for the city, not only as mayor, but also as city auditor, tax collector, treasurer and a member of the city’s Common Council. He also headed the local federal Relief Administration, helping the needy and unemployed.

Turner said the Sept. 12 ceremony will be an important day the city’s history.

“It’s just nice to connect back to a particular time when the city was emerging from an economic crisis — the Great Depression, the Wall Street crash — an economic crisis this country has never seen before or since,” Turner said. “Mayor Thayer helped the city through that entire period and was instrumental in preserving the city’s financial interest and financial health of all its citizens and taxpayers.”

Goodwin’s crew cleaned out a house in Waterville about 10 years ago and found the 2-by-3-foot, 50-pound plaque in the basement under a pile of metal and other debris. They put the plaque in Goodwin’s Benton garage, where it lay under a pile of plywood until the garage was cleaned out this spring and Goodwin rediscovered it and brought it to the Waterville Public Works complex on Wentworth Court.

Turner said that the plaque will be put back on the bridge the week after the rededication because the bridge has been the target of graffiti lately, and he is afraid that if the plaque were in place beforehand, it would be targeted again and ruin the event.

At the ceremony, Turner plans to talk about the plaque’s history and how it was returned to the city. Mayor Nick Isgro also plans to speak.

“I think these are the kinds of things the city can really rally around, because it reminds us of our history; and to me, history is something that belongs to everybody and it’s something we can all identify with and it reminds us of the richness of our local culture,” Isgro said Tuesday.

At a City Council meeting Aug. 18, Isgro read aloud a mayoral proclamation saying that to honor Thayer, the city will rededicate the bridge formally as Thayer Memorial Bridge, 81 years after its original dedication.

On Sept. 5, 1934, the City Council voted to change the name of the then-Gilman Street Bridge to Thayer Memorial Bridge in recognition of Thayer’s tireless devotion to his civic duties and his sincere concern for his fellow man, the proclamation says.

Isgro said he would love to have Thayer’s relatives on hand for the ceremony to share in the plaque’s intriguing story and re-dedication.

“It makes you wonder, how did we lose track of this?” Isgro said. “How did we forget that this bridge was named for him? It’s always exciting to recover something like that.”

Probably no one was more pleased to hear about the plaque story than Thayer’s grandson, Merrill Thayer Rummel, who died in May at 71, according to his brother, Whitcomb Rummel Jr.

Whitcomb Rummel Jr. said in a telephone interview Tuesday that his brother was on hospice care when the stories about the plaque were published in the Morning Sentinel. When he was nearing death, the Sentinel sent the stories overnight to Merrill Rummel’s wife, Evelyn “Sam” Rummel, who read them aloud to her husband, a history buff who was particularly interested in family history. Whitcomb Rummel Jr. said his brother had a large smile on his face, hearing her read the stories.

“It wasn’t a sad thing; it was a good thing,” he said. “Seeing him perk up at the end after hearing the stories read to him gave him a high note to go out on.”

Whitcomb Rummel, 68, a screenwriter, said he visits Maine every three summers or so with his son, also Whitcomb, and they stay at Dillenbeck’s camp on China Lake. He said he takes his son to City Hall to show him his great-grandfather’s portrait on the mayoral wall and then to the Opera House, where he shows his son the seat he used to sit in during matinees as a child.

Whitcomb Rummel Jr. said he loves Waterville and is proud to tell people who ask where he is from that he is from the city.

“I feel such a connection to Waterville,” he said. “Our roots there are deep. I don’t want to lose those roots, and hopefully, my son will continue the tradition of coming up in the summer.”

Whitcomb and Merrill Rummel’s mother was Ann Rummel, Thayer’s daughter, who was married to Whitcomb Rummel Sr., The couple owned Rummel’s Ice Cream and the Silent Woman Restaurant in Waterville and lived with their two boys on Silver Street in front of the ice cream shop, which is now Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream.

A Democrat, Thayer ran for mayor in 1933 and won and then ran for re-election in 1934, winning by what was then the largest majority in the city’s history. In 1933, the aviator Amelia Earhart, flew Thayer to Boston from Waterville’s airport and back. Four years later, Earhart disappeared in an attempted flight around the world.

Thayer is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery on Grove Street in the city’s South End.

City Manager Michael Roy said Tuesday that he credits Turner, the city’s public works director, for bringing the story of the plaque to light. Roy also praised public works mechanic Cary Collamore for restoring the plaque.

“If it hadn’t been for Mark, who was willing to follow this through and find out what the story was behind the plaque, I don’t think we’d have had the opportunity to honor one of Waterville’s greatest mayors,” Roy said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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