Peter Putnam stands on a lift with Dustin Cooper and Mark Billetdeaux of GPI Construc­tion, as the trio afixes the new River Garden sign, Monday afternoon.
Peter Putnam stands on a lift with Dustin Cooper and Mark Billetdeaux of GPI Construc­tion, as the trio afixes the new River Garden sign, Monday afternoon. (Bob Audette/Reformer)
Tuesday November 6, 2012

BRATTLEBORO - It used to bug Peter Putnam every time he walked by the Robert H. Gibson River Garden in downtown Brattleboro.

The steel sign above the entrance was an eyesore, Putnam thought, and as an important introduction to the downtown, and something that visitors would first see as they drove down High Street, Putnam thought the sign should be something the town could be proud of.

So this summer he talked to Building a Better Brattleboro officials about upgrading the sign and Monday, after spending dozens of hours and almost $1,000 of his own money, Putnam helped raise the newly refurbished steel sign.

"It was one of those things where you think you're the only one who has an issue with something," Putnam said Monday before he put the sign back up. "Then you find out you're not the only one."

Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jerry Goldberg said he also used to walk past the sign and wish it had a little more pizzazz.

"It has become harder to read over the years," Goldberg said. "It's such a focal point for our downtown. It is something that should be attractive and appealing and apparent to people who come to visit."

Goldberg heard about what Putnam was doing and he said the fact that here was a Brattleboro resident who was willing to donate his time and supplies to improve the image said more about the town than anything else the chamber could to promote it.

"It's wonderful that someone who lives here cares that much about the town," Goldberg said. "As a chamber it makes what we say about this town very real. It can't get any greater than that. This community is special because of the people who live here and who are willing to step up."

Putnam took the 300-pound Cor-ten steel sign down in July and brought it over to his autobody repair shop on Frost Street.

He got help from Art Greenbaum at GPI Construction and from Mike Renaud of Renaud Brothers.

Once Putnam got the sign, which is made up of three pieces, back to his shop he sandblasted it, applied a few coats of marine grade epoxy primer and polyurethane and then put on gold leaf.

He knew there was not any money from the town or from Building a Better Brattleboro to complete the work so he sold some equipment that was laying around his shop and used the money to purchase the gold leaf.

"Body shops always have a collection of usable parts so we sold some of them on eBay and moved the money into a PayPal account to pay for the materials," said Putnam.

Putnam said he did not know what the original plan was for the sign.

The steel arch sign was supposed to weather and rust, Putnam assumes, but as it darkened it became harder to read.

Putnam says the new sign should last 20 or 30 years, and the green paint and gold leaf should be a much more welcome sign to tourists who see it as they come into town, as well as residents who walk beneath it every day.

"We get thousands of people every year who visit, and they don't drive all of those miles to get into town and look at something like this," Putnam said. "Obviously nothing was going to get done unless I did it myself. It may have been a good idea at the time, but it just didn't work out well."