Early into the project, it was decided to name the road from Salem to Hooksett as the Alan B. Shepard Jr. Highway, a singular honor for this son of Derry and America’s first man in space. In late June 1962, Shepard took a tour of the project. At one site, he drove a huge gravel spreader and at another he operated a massive crane. He commented later that the road building equipment was more difficult to operate then a space capsule.
At a location just off Route 102, he pushed the plunger that set off the first dynamite charge to begin construction of Exit 4. For his labor, as a temporary member of the construction union, Shepard was given a check, which, as I best remember, was around $7. I’m told it was never cashed.
A year later, on June 28, 1963, the Alan B. Shepard Jr. Highway was completed and ready to be opened to the public. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in the northbound lane in Londonderry near the Prowse Bridge. At the ceremony, attended by Gov. John King, state highway commissioner John Morton said, “This new highway should bring great prosperity to this area and, we hope, will inaugurate this summer the greatest tourist season New Hampshire has ever known.”
A telegram was read from Alan Shepard and shortly after 2 p.m., the ribbon was cut by the astronaut’s mother, Renza Shepard of East Derry. Later in 1963, the road was voted one of America’s most scenic highways. A couple more miles of the road, closer to Manchester, were opened later in the year. More northerly sections were added in the decades to come. In time, I-93 would extend 131 miles from Salem to Littleton.
The first accident on I-93 occurred the very day it opened when Thomas Doran of Derry was rear-ended by a Massachusetts driver. The first fatal accident was in July 1964, when a 74-year-old Manchester man was killed in a single-car accident. The largest accident was on Jan. 11, 2009, when a sudden winter’s freeze turned the area around Exit 4 into a skating rink and caused a 59-car pileup. A 12-car accident in the same stretch occurred a few days later.