Silver Lake Protector
Wally Francis was a force of nature, when it came to protecting the shoreline and water quality of Silver Lake in Nelson and Harrisville. He was also a loyal supporter of the Harris Center’s land conservation work along Lead Mine Road in Nelson several decades ago. Why did Wally work so hard to protect the land and lake? Wally’s son Jeff said:
“He did it all because of my mother! She loved the place.”
It’s safe to say that Wally loved it too. Year-round residents of Maryland, Wally and his wife Mary — affectionately known as Mamie — would spend three weeks of every summer at their Nelson home with their five children, along with Mamie’s two sisters and their families. The 300-year-old rambling farmhouse, which was in Mamie’s family since 1890, used to be the town poor house in the 1850s. Jeff reminisced:
“There’d be 15 or 16 cousins to run around with. We’d climb the mountain, pick blueberries, play hide-n-seek. There used to be a 1941 red Ford convertible with a wooden steering wheel and running board up at the house and my father would spend a week getting it to run. Then he’d take it down to the lake with a dozen or so of us piled on, hanging onto the running board!”
A Force for Conservation
A graduate of Swarthmore College, Wally served in the U.S. Navy as Ensign, then earned a graduate degree from Columbia University before embarking on a long career at the U.S. State Department as head of the Information Systems Office. Jeff remarked that, as a government employee, Wally had a larger-than-usual tolerance for red tape and details, which made him ideally suited to working through the necessary paperwork for land protection projects surrounding Silver Lake.
Wally and Meade Cadot worked together to put easements on the Francis properties, for a total of 260 acres — including Loon Island, enjoyed by many on the lake. But Wally’s involvement stretched way beyond his own property. For example, he was part of the effort to revitalize the boat ramp at the other side of the lake, in order to make it more environmentally friendly. Wally and Mamie wanted to preserve the land and protect the water, for the love of nature and to keep the lake healthy for generations to come. Their daughter Lynn recounted:
“It was my mother’s inspiration to urge landowners along Lead Mine Road to put their properties under easement, creating a ‘greenway’ of preserved land. My parents worked closely with one another on this project for a number of years, gathering families together and explaining the benefits of conservation easements. Even while being treated for advanced liver cancer, my mother consulted with my father on email exchanges with the far-flung members of the White family to put together an agreement on an easement that would become the White Trust property.”
Inspiration, Moving Brightly
When Mamie passed away in 2003, Wally continued to live part-time at the Nelson home. His list of accomplishments included being instrumental in securing easements on the Brantwood Camp and Seaver properties on the shoreline of Silver Lake. He headed the East Shore Road storm run-off project (to protect Silver Lake’s water quality), and also served as the President of the Silver Lake Land Trust. And ever steadfast, Wally was a Red Oak Leadership Society supporter of the Harris Center. Besides all that, he was a formidable competitor! Meade recalled:
“I drove by one day and noticed a ping pong table on the lawn. I hopped out, and that started a tradition of playing games together. The thing about Wally that was really amazing is that he was in his 80s, and I couldn’t beat him!”
There is a place on the Francis property that is known as “Inspiration Point” or “Inspiration Rock.” The next generation of Francis children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren still run around and play on the land, and locals enjoy the beautiful view, thanks to Wally’s hard work and Mamie’s inspiration. Wally passed away in September 2019 in the midst of doing what he had grown to love, per Lynn:
“. . . working on a grant application for the town of Nelson and painting the house — things he loved doing in the place he loved most. We will all miss him but it was exactly how he wanted to go.”
Lynn and Jeff are now maintaining the property. Jeff said:
“He left big shoes to step into.”
May Wally rest in peace, with thanks from all of us for preserving a piece of this beautiful earth so well.
Francis summer home in Nelson, circa 1996.
Francis family boathouse on Silver Lake, circa 2003.
For more information on the Harris Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations, please contact Lisa Murray at (603) 525-3394 or by email.