It would not be original to say that the only constant during the period from 1960 to the present was change. In many ways the 1960-64 period were the calm before the changes that would alter the area in remarkable ways. The majority of area residents cannot remember the period. While many are just too young, others moved here later. Those who do remember are encouraged to share those memories with those who don’t.
In several months I will write an article on the period 1965-1969. I am seeking volunteers to contribute to that and other future articles with stories and photographs. Contact me if you have things to share. In researching this article, I took over 20 pages of single-spaced notes. In writing it, I may have left out or misinterpreted things that others consider significant. Corrections and additions may be sent to email@example.com.
Sources for this series include The United Opinion, and its successor the Journal Opinion, local history books and residents’ recollections. History does not fall conveniently into neat five-year blocks. The events and trends that are covered sometimes occur quickly and sometimes develop over decades. While the articles will draw from events in all area towns, this effort may result in an updated history of Bradford.
Established in 1881, The United Opinion was the local weekly. It featured Bradford news along with columns and news items from other area towns. In 1947 Randolph’s John Drysdale began publishing it in conjunction with his White River Valley Herald. Local staff and community columnists reported the news, supplemented by guest editorials from around Vermont.
That news reflected the normal activities of this area. Seasonal news, with variations, repeated year after year. Regular articles included school openings and deer hunting in the autumn, skiing and basketball in the winter, sugaring and graduation in the spring followed by golf, baseball and vacation news in the summer. Local columns were gossipy, informing folks of local events as well as neighbors’ trips, visitors, illnesses and home improvements.
Shopping small and shopping local were more practice than slogan in the early 1960s. Bradford was a main shopping center, and one could find almost everything needed in its stores. Route 5 was the main route and brought shoppers and tourists to town. Every Friday night was as active as Midnight Madness later became.
During this period Bradford boasted three major grocery stores and several smaller ones. There were two appliance stores, a furniture store, several clothing stores, four new car dealers, a bank, three hardware stores, two dentists and two doctors along with insurance agencies, filling stations, lawyers, oil and gas dealers, a slaughter house, two grain stores, a pharmacy, several gift stores, two railroad stations, salons and a barber, restaurants and lodging establishments. The Woodsville and Wells River commercial districts combined to offer similar services.
While the area was not as wealthy as some other areas of the state, it was recovering from the recession of 1958 and new businesses were common. Established businesses often relocated within the same community with enlarged facilities.
In 1960, the Bradford National Bank moved to its new building on the site of the demolished Bradford Hotel. In 1962, the Red and White Store moved from Main Street to Barton Street adjacent to the A & P grocery store. It opened as the 5,000 square feet Super-Duper, with such modern features as “music to shop by.” By comparison, the new Hannaford store will be 36,000 square feet.
In 1963, Perry’s Oil moved to its present location replacing Hale’s furniture store which relocated across the street. Perry’s shared the building with the Central Vermont Public Service appliance store. That company, which also used the brick mill as a local operations center, forecast the increase use of electricity with “flameless” appliances and “all electric” heating for homes.
Forward thinking business leaders urged local towns to encourage planned growth. In 1963-64 the Bradford Area Development Committee brought leaders of local towns together to encourage industrial growth. In 1963, a major industry targeted Bradford for a possible relocation. Local supporters raised $26,700 in pledges to help with the project. As with the 1962 proposal to build the Sunday Mountain Ski Area in Orford, this one never came to be.
In other towns, the Gould family retook ownership of its Piermont store and Wing’ Market took over the First National Store in Fairlee’s Colby Block. Across the street, the Bradford National Bank opened a branch in the former Fairlee post office. Fairlee acquired a new post office building as did Orford while the post offices in Newbury and East Corinth had new locations.
The new Carriage Stop Restaurant in Fairlee joined established ones in the area including the Kettledrum, the Chimes, Bill’s, the Happy Hour and the Fairlee Diner. Lake Morey Inn added a new convention center and served tourists along with Bonnie Oakes and the Rutledge Inn.
Agriculture was a major economic pursuit in the area. Fluid milk flowed to markets in southern New England. But a “creeping disaster was stalking the small Vermont dairy farm.” The combination of new regulations, irregular prices, uncertain weather and increased competition from other states, caused many farmers to auction off their family farms.
“1962 was a year of sharp adjustments for many farm families who were faced with the choice of going out of farming or investing heavily in equipment to meet new marketing requirements.”
New barns and milk houses with bulk tanks were increasingly required. The Bradford Creamery, which served farmers who shipped in cans, closed in January 1962. Through local efforts it was reopened and continued to serve farmers who used either cans or bulk tanks. Bradford’s Whiting Creamery also went through a period of bankruptcy and reopening. Farm organizations, such as the Farm Bureau, the Grange, 4-H and the Corinth Dairy Herd Improvement Association, assisted farm families in their efforts to keep farm traditions alive and growing.
School news was prominent in the weekly papers with in-depth reports of teams, clubs and events. Graduations were celebrated. All area towns struggled to provide education for an expanding student population. Communities spent local resources to improve programs including new courses and facilities. New courses, such as physical education and new math, were introduced. Proposed changes in state aid caused joy in only some towns. The 1962 U. S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting prayer in public schools raised concerns if not always immediate compliance.
Just prior to this time, Lyme and Haverhill consolidated their elementary schools. In April 1962 the new Thetford Elementary School opened, consolidating five village schools. After at least three failing votes, Bradford added three rooms to its elementary school. Area special needs students were served by The Valley School in North Thetford.
There was considerable discussion regarding the creation of regional high schools. At this time Orford, Woodsville and Haverhill voters decided to keep their high schools. There was pressure from the Vermont State Board of Education to reduce the number of school districts and area towns responded with study after study. In November 1964, Wells River, Groton and Ryegate voted to form a union school district.
Town and village voters regularly considered special projects. Bradford voters bought a new grader, fire truck and thought about a new fire house. East Corinth bought a new truck and built a new fire station. Piermont proposed to outfit its new fire department with a truck and fire station. In 1964 Lyme undertook a study that led to improved fire protection. Despite these improvements, some area buildings still disappeared in flames.
Some towns took seriously the advice: “You must consider the type of development you want before other kinds of development swoop down on you.” When in 1963 Thetford conducted a planning survey, it drew the attention of national media.
The United Opinion supported the idea that, “A small community needs to plan more carefully than a big city. A small town cannot afford to make mistakes.” Many feared government intrusion on private property rights while others saw zoning as a way of protecting property values and encouraging growth. Bradford voted down zoning at least three times and other communities never broached the subject.
Dumps and pollution were regular topics of discussion. Newbury bought land for a new dump and Fairlee studied how to prevent further pollution of the Connecticut River by moving its dump to a new site. The Village of Bradford solved the sewage disposal issue by dumping raw sewage into the Waits River. Two attempts in 1962-63 failed to gain voters’ support for a disposal plant.
Transportation issues often dominated local discussions. As railroad traffic declined, concerns over the future of local stations were voiced. Automobile dealers’ offerings were of high interest to the public and a major source of revenue for the paper. In 1962 Blake’s Chevrolet unveiled its new models at the Bradford Armory before a crowd of 1000 residents.
“The birth pains of a new superhighway through scenic Vermont towns and countryside.” were a constant source of news. As plans for the I-91 route were announced, some towns reacted with concerns. Fairlee fought to save both its village and Lake Morey by unsuccessfully suggesting several more westerly routes than the one proposed.
In Bradford, one route would have built the interstate on the meadows east of Memorial Field. That was discarded in favor of one over the Waits River intervale. The proposal to have the highway reduced to two lanes north of the Bradford interchange was eventually discarded as well.
Church activities were also reported in detail. Church attendance for all ages was common. Churches held regular and special services, served suppers and had holiday sales and bazaars year round. There was a new St. Martin’s Chapel in Fairlee and a Roman Catholic chapel in Orford. In 1962 Woodsville’s Calvary Baptists relocated to the former Universalist church. Other churches in the area consolidated or closed when membership declined.
The interfaith services held following President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, seemed to break the ice in favor of ecumenical activities. In June 1964 the graduating class held Bradford Academy’s first interfaith Baccalaureate service in the school’s auditorium.
Not all activities were so serious. Golfing news was reported in depth as were results of ball games. During the school year, school sports were followed closely. Adult basketball teams included the Black Guards and the Hard Line Loggers. “There was nothing like baseball” reported the newspaper as it covered Little and Babe Ruth Leagues and the adult Bradford Bombers. There were also rifle clubs and skiing at the Northeast Ski Slopes as well as swimming at Bradford’s Baldwin Bridge, Fairlee’s Community Beach and Newbury’s Halls Pond.
Drive-in theaters in the area offered summer time viewing of blockbusters such as The Alamo and Ben-Hur along with films by Walt Disney. There were bowling leagues in Woodsville, record hops, Sadie Hawkins Day dances, Junior Proms, and card parties. Clubs included scouts, 4-H, church groups, the fraternal Odd Fellows and Masons, veterans organizations, Grange, Lions Clubs, women’s clubs and active PTAs. Libraries listed new acquisitions, activities and physical improvements. Art shows, strawberry festivals and concerts along with Fairlee’s Itty Bitty Bazaar and Newbury’s Cracker Barrel Bazaar, were annual events.
No activity dominated fall editions more than hunting. The area boasted “some of the best deer hunting in the country.” The names of successful hunters were printed along with those who were successful trappers. Anglers who were extra lucky were pictured with proof of their fish stories.
The Bradford Wild Game Supper was prepared by the Bradford Congregational church. Some men also attended Richard Shearer’s annual men’s beaver supper.
This was bicentennial time for area towns. Considerable planning went into elaborate programs and parades. Historical societies were active. Celebrations were held as follows: Fairlee, Lyme and Thetford in 1961, Haverhill, Newbury and Topsham “had fun” in 1963 and Piermont and Corinth partied in 1964. By the end of this period Bradford was well into planning its 1965 celebration.
I close this first article of the series with things common to this period: The Rare Bird and Animal Farm in Fairlee, Granddad’s Toys in Thetford, polio clinics, the bookmobile, Princess phones, Top Value stamps, overseers of the poor, turning on your headlights during holiday weekend, caddying, five-cent ice cream cones, Bradford’s Hilltop Dairy, Rockdale’s in Lebanon and the Saturday noon whistle. These, along with some very fine local folks, exist now still in the pages of The United Opinion and in the memories of some.
(Editor’s note: Consider giving the author’s book In Times Past: Essays From the Upper Valley Book Two as a gift this holiday. It is available at local outlets and benefits the Bradford Public Library.)
Vermont Babe Ruth League Champions
The Bradford area All Star team became Vermont Babe Ruth champions in August 1962. First row, left to right: Bill Cronin, Kingswood; Mike Whalen, Woodsville; Mike Martin, Bradford; Allen Reed, Fairlee( actually from Orford) ; Bob Turner, Bradford; Billy Hill, Woodsville; Gary Eggleston, W. Topsham; Bob Munson, Bradford, Second row: George Huntington, Jr., coach; Mike Maxwell, Bradford; Dave Chase, Woodsville; Steve Munson, Bradford; David Paronto, Woodsville; Phil Fillian, Fairlee; Paul Choate, Woodsville; Steve Johnson, W. Topsham; and Harry McLam, coach, Bradford.
These local women weekly reported the news of their town and neighborhood. It kept local readers informed of the comings and goings of the local residents. It might be noted that in the early 60s married women were generally listed by their husband’s name.)
Bradford Doctor and His Babies. Dr. Franklin Dwinell practice family medicine in the local area for 44 years, retiring in 1964. This 1962 photo show the doctor seated before his office wall covered with pictures of some of the over l100 babies he delivered.