June 4, 2014
This is the seventh column in my series on the decades of change from 1960 to the present as reported by Bradford’s local weekly newspaper. In retrospect I could have entitled the series Decades of Decision, Decades of challenges, indecision, controversy, anxiety, uncertainty, continuity or growth and decline. All of those terms could characterize the events described in the previous columns and in the five-year period from 1990 to 1994. Those other Decades of change can be found at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.
The early 90s included several momentous events for me and my family. I was teaching social studies at Oxbow High School. I was active in a number of community affairs and turned the milestone age 50. My wife Carolyn worked in the family practice of Dr. Lance Osadchey. One daughter graduated from college, the other was married and we became “empty nesters.”
My mother died as the result of an automobile accident in Piermont, my mother in law died of a heart attack, my father moved to a rest home in Chelsea and my brother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. I am sure that readers who lived locally during the period will bring their own perspective to the events described below.
While the Journal Opinion ran fewer articles on agriculture and almost no ads for grocery stores during the period, it continued to devoted significant space to school and town government affairs, weddings and anniversaries, political campaigns, business openings and closing, local neighborhood columns, business ads and letters to the editor.
A 1990 editorial on those letters celebrated this important “forum to reach people with divergent points of view,” but went on to say that some writers suffered from “logorrhea” or excessive wordiness. In 1993, it published 331 letters. Regular letter writers included Dick Fischer, Dick Monroe, Donald Valentine, Winnie Pino, Robert Fillion, Clayton Placey and Marilyn Hatch-Ruiter. The number, length and tone of those classified as “verbal darts” led one contributor to write “Have mercy on us, please!”
Many of those letters addressed local schools. The reliance of schools on local property taxes and poor economic times caused school budgets to be defeated often, sometimes repeatedly in a single year. This was especially true of union schools that lacked community identity.
The replacement of traditional school meeting approach with the Australian ballot allowed more voters to participate, but reduced open discussion of alternatives. School Boards often got conflicting messages from voters. Hire good teachers, cut salaries. Enhance programs, cut teachers. Adopt budgets one year, defeat the next.
Escalating school costs and teacher negotiations presented problems for school districts. It was not uncommon for teachers and boards to undergo impasse, fact-finding and/or mediation. In 1993, teachers in several districts considered striking to force a resolution. In March of that year, teachers at Oxbow went on strike. Schools were also criticized for every aspect of their normal operation from administration and classroom techniques to sports.
Overcrowded and outdated facilities created problems. Elementary schools in Newbury, Warren, Bradford and Piermont built additions and Haverhill built a new elementary school. New equipment including computers was purchased. Union 36 was renamed the Waits River Valley School.. New school and community playgrounds were built in Ryegate, Wells River, Piermont and Bradford.
Next to the articles describing problems were those that celebrated accomplishments of students and staff. Regular reports covered student projects, academic awards and performances. Outstanding athletic accomplishments included at least eight basketball, baseball, softball or soccer championships between the teams of Blue Mountain Union, Thetford Academy and Woodsville, Orford and Oxbow high schools. Milestones for individual athletes and coaches received special coverage.
No less problematic were the issues confronting local town and village governments. Zoning and solid waste management continued to confront elected leaders. There were landfill issues in Boltonville, Corinth and Post Mills. In a period when Woodsville Fire District expanded, voters in Bradford refused to merge their village and town, but did initiate cooperate in local services and regulation. Police and fire protection, dog control issues, personnel issues and the increased cost of local services were regular items on local agendas. Newbury discussed hiring a town manager, but didn’t. Haverhill did.
Locals gathered to express strong concerns about Vermont’s Act 200 planning and development law with most local towns voting their solid opposition. There was concern about industrial contamination in Bradford and Pike, low-level flights by the Vermont Air National Guard and milfoil in local lakes. Fears of a nuclear waste site led to overwhelming votes against the suggestons in Corinth and Newbury in 1992.
Residents in Corinth opposed a proposed subdivision at Goose Green in what they called “a struggle for the soul of rural New England.” Similar opposition was expressed against Reality Resources’ plan for low-income housing on Bradford’s Upper Plain as well as the Stone Mountain development in East Orford, a 24-unit low income development in Newbury and a 15-unit housing project in Piermont.
On the other hand, the building of the Spear elderly housing complex in Wells River was welcomed. Similar proposals for elderly housing for Fairlee and Bradford village never evolved beyond the planning stage.
There were other short-lived controversies including a tree house in Newbury village, the placement of the memorial flagpole on Newbury’s Common, the teaching of creationism at Blue Mountain Union School, exotic dancers in Woodsville, Sunday races at Bear Ridge Speedway and a proposed curfew for Bradford village as a partial solution to the problem of vagrant youth.
The 1991 Gulf War placed the local National Guard units on standby. Marcia Tomlinson wrote a compelling article entitled “G. I. Joe” about an unnamed Bradford man involved in Desert Storm. Demonstrators gather in downtown Bradford to oppose the war. They were met by others who expressed support for the troops.
Around the region, old structures took on new life. Plans were advanced for retrofitting the Bradford Academy Building . The proposal to remove the gym and auditorium was defeated and an architect was hired to present a plan to meet disabled access regulations. Closed elementary schools in Orfordville’s and North Haverhill became the locations for town offices. The Methodist Church on Newbury’s Common was restored and, after some delays, the Haverhill Academy complex was sold to Haverhill Heritage
The bridge over the Connecticut River between Bradford and Piermont and the Route 5 bridge in Bradford were both closed for a time while they underwent major repairs. It became obvious that the Woodville-Bath Covered Bridge no longer met modern demands and that the Woodsville-Wells River Bridge needed repairs or replacement.
New projects resulted in the Woodsville Water Treatment Plant and Fairlee’s Fire and Ambulance Station. Restaurants came and went as restaurants do, but fast food came to stay with the opening of Subway and McDonald’s in Woodsville. Wells River Bank constructed a new building in that village, Fogg’s Hardware in Fairlee moved to a new location and Ames moved from North Haverhill to a new building in Woodsville. J&M Landscaping moved from Piermont to a renovated barn in Bradford. Warren Village Market opened a new facility.
All of the following businesses closed: Butterworth Publishers in Orford, Gove and Bancroft Pharmacy, Hale’s Furniture and the Agway Plant in Bradford and Woodsville’s 111 Club. All of the following businesses operated for a time, but have since disappeared: The Purple Plum, The Great Wok, Cheap Thrills, Buck’s Worth Store and Figaro’s. Both Warren’s Morse Museum and Orford’s Catholic Chapel closed permanently.
Another closing with wide-ranging implications came in 1993 when the FDIC seized the Independent Bankgroup including the former Bradford National Bank. Local residents were shocked by the action, the charges brought against local officials, loss of investments and the implications for the local economy. The Bradford bank was purchased by Merchants Bank. Lyme got a bank with the opening of a branch of the Mascoma Savings Bank.
Residents became more conscious of recycling, energy conservation, solar power and land preservation. Large pieces of farmland in many towns were placed under conservation easements to protect against development. Recycling centers opened in several towns. The Bradford Conservation Commission was established and led the successful effort to portions of Wright’s Mountain. An especially cold winter and major blizzard in 1993 led to the first mention of global warming, albeit as “the new ecological bogeyman.”
In Ryegate the new woodchip power plant went on line in 1993. A new hydroelectric dam on the Connecticut was completed between East Ryegate and Bath and the CVPS dam on the Waits River in Bradford was rebuilt. In response to local opposition, the proposed dam on the Ottauquechee in Thetford Center was shelved.
Dairy farming played a smaller but still important role in the local economy. Several local farms received state and national recognition for outstanding and innovative practices. Lower milk prices caused a number of local farmers to take “desperate measures” and join a milk strike in 1991. Bovine growth hormone became an issue in 1993. Poor weather only added to farmers’ woes.
As many as 12 obituaries appeared in the Journal Opinion on a weekly basis, each with its own short headline listing a significant characteristic of the departed. While each of the deceased played an important role in the lives of their families and friends, some played a more significant part in their community. These include Julius Tueckhardt, Vincent Polli, James Hood, Henry McGreevy, Dr. James Keating, Dorothy Dooley, Ezra Mann, Lena Mason, Horace Palmer, Graham Blake, Bill Godfrey, Bradford Farr, R. DeWitt Mallary, Judge Karl Bruckner, Robert Roberge, Freddie Miller, George McLure, K. Donald Welch and Dr. Laurel Lyons. Centenarians Alice Taplin Hood and Charles Haskins died after full lives, but life was tragically cut for a number of young people struck down by disease or accident.
Several murders, increased acts of violence, frequent break-ins, arson and illegal drug operations caused local towns to bolster police protection. Neighborhood Watches were introduced. There was just enough bad press to encourage several letter writers to praise their hometowns as “the best place to live.”
For many it was. For others, more government programs offered increased assistance to make life better. Volunteers also worked to improve the lot of the homeless and poor. In fact, much of what stood out as positive during the five-year period was the result of voluntary efforts by local individuals, churches, organizations and businesses. Volunteers fought fires, assisted with libraries, worked with youth groups, distributed food baskets, meals and holiday gifts, raised money for needed operations, preserved historic artifacts and buildings and improved natural sites.
Local annual festivals, fairs and parades were the result of volunteer labor. In 1991 Vermont communities celebrated the bicentennial of Vermont’s statehood with parades, balls and displays. Local schools joined in the celebration. Newbury and Bradford both built new bandstands and Fairlee was “captured” by the British in a reenactors encampment.
The period can also be remembered for enhanced cable service with the choice of up to 13 channels, WYKR broadcasting in FM, the Clean Air Act, the Census, the death of Governor Richard Snelling, the election of President Bill Clinton, the discovery of “Aunt Sally” at the bottom of Lake Morey, Lucky Kubheka’s short-lived return from South Africa, Dad’s Peanut Brittle, the death of Rex the Wonder Horse, the return of falcons to Fairlee, Blue Mountain Union’s “Chocolate War,” I-91 rock slides, AIDS, SADD, DARE and yellow ribbons.
Looking back from the present to the events of this five-year period one can see how locals reacted to change, the results of the changes that took place then and the groundwork that led to later changes. Some residents embraced the changes and others resisted. Some were successful in their resistance, others not.
But times passed. As I reviewed my notes from the Journal Opinion and thinking of what happened to my family and community, I found myself humming the Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics from Fiddler on the Roof: “Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset. Swiftly flow the years. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”