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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Decades of Change-1995-2000

 WORLD WAR II REMEMBRANCE.  On April27, 1995, Oxbow High students met with more
that 50 local residents whose lives had been touch by World War II.  Pictured is former Marine Bob Ames (left) describing fighting at Iwo Jima.  joining him on the panel is Walter Hicks.
 OUTSTANDING SOCCER COACH.  Members of the 1995 Woodsville Engineer soccer team swarm around their coach, Mike Ackerman, congratulating him on his 200th victory in Sept., 1995.  Ackerman has continued these accomplishments, having now coached for 437 victories going into the 2014 season.
 THAT YEAR'S BEST.  Students from the Piermont Village School assemble around the banner declaring their school as the top elementary school in the State of New Hampshire for 1995-1996.

 THE END OF THE LINE.  During 1996-1997, workers removed the rails from the 100-year old Boston and Maine tracks that once serviced Woodsville and Wells River.  When their work was completed, the railroad from Woodsville to Littleton was only a memory.

A MAN WITH A MISSION. Former U. S. Surgeon General C. Edward Koop spoke to the student body at Oxbow in January 1999 about the dangers and difficulties of using and withdrawing from tobacco. Pictured with Koop are students (from left) Dan Gale, Heather St. Martin, David Keck, Melissa Gove and Ashley Emerson. 


     “We Cover the Home Front.” That was the Journal Opinion’s motto during the period from 1995 to 2000.  Reviewing six years of homefront coverage during this busy and beautiful summer was a challenge.  Despite the extra month granted me by the editors, I was tempted to just use the six “Year in Review” columns.  But I didn’t.

     By not taking that short cut, I was treated to the promised coverage of the homefront. There was a chance to read selections from Talk of the Town with its neighborhood columns. Other locally produced columns included reports on the Sunshine Bowling League, Bruce Bishop’ s “Racing Circuit,” Vid Roe’s “Between the Stripes” sports reports, Nessa Flax’s “Rambling Reflection” and Charles Glazer’s “News You Can’t Use.” 

     I would have missed advertisements, wedding and blood drive announcements and in-depth articles describing local individuals and businesses. I would not have noticed changes in the newspaper’s format, staff and office location or splashes of color.

     Also missed would have been the letters to the editor.

      “Oh Those Letters” was the subject of one 1995 editorial as letters were often hostile and divisive. One writer decried, “the same verbose song and dance week after week” with frequent writers battling one another’s arguments and counter arguments. Finally the editors began to limit the length to 400 words. The letters spoke to many of the issues mentioned below.

     In 1996, Willem Lange gave a local presentation entitled “What Makes A Yankee Grumpy.” Government issues raised the irritability level for many. In Bradford, it was the proposal to merge the village and town, a proposal voted down in 1993 and 1998.  Sewage sludge issues plagued Bradford Village and Haverhill.  Property taxes put an “increasing squeeze on the property-rich and the cash-poor.”

     Neighborhood issues like the noise of Bear Ridge Speedway and a junkyard on Orford’s Main Street raised concerns. Zoning was a recurring issue in many towns.

      Dog control and teen control were issues in Haverhill and Bradford. Curfews were considered to discourage young people from hanging around the business district.   One prominent Woodsville businessman described the vagrant youth as “ignorant twerps.” Bradford’s situation resulted in an uncomplimentary article about the village in the Boston Globe. That article was somewhat balanced when Travel & Leisure Magazine named Bradford’s Main Street as one of the best in the nation, saying that it was “so ordinary, its extraordinary.”  

     Vermont’s acceptance of civil unions in 2000 raised the hackles of many conservative Vermonters. Town clerks in Topsham and Corinth refused to issue licenses to same sex couples. Signs proclaiming “Take Back Vermont” or “Keep Vermont Civil” battled each other along roadsides and numerous letters to the editor reflected the deep division within the area. One local legislator lost the next election because of his support for the legislation. 

     As always, school news featured significantly in the newspaper’s coverage of local events.  Many major articles dealt with the creation of the new Rivendell Interstate School District. Beginning with discussions in 1965, voters in Orford, Fairlee, West Fairlee and Vershire gave their “overwhelming mandate to the creation of the new k-12 district in 1998.  Despite birthing pains over costs, curriculum and staffing, voters continued to support Rivendell’s building projects and operating budgets. 

     Piermont Village School was designated as New Hampshire’s Elementary School of the Year in 1998, the same year that Oxbow’s Bob Jones was selected as Vermont’s Secondary Principal of the Year. Other articles dealt with innovations in area schools, including block scheduling, higher order thinking, proficiency levels and BEST Teams. Some staff members complained publically about “too many initiatives.”

     Honor rolls, graduation ceremonies, performances and special programs informed the public of the accomplishments of students and staff. Oxbow’s 1995 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II garnered five separate articles in the same edition. 

     In addition to these complimentary features,  there were articles about student discipline, staff negotiations and performance and school bond issues. School budgets in the millions of dollars rose steadily year after year. A decision by the Vermont Supreme Court and the resulting Act 60 pitted “gold” towns against those with a small per student tax base.

     It was not uncommon for school boards to have to present new budgets repeatedly in order to get taxpayer approval.  One year it took one local district seven votes before final passage. Debate over the use of the Australian ballot was an annual one.

     As in every decade, high school sports were an important part of the social life of any community. During the period from 1995 through 2000 there were a significant number of outstanding athletes and teams.  The full impact of Title IX and the influence of coaches such as Mona Garone were evident in girls’ accomplishments.

     Thetford’s Amanda Waterbury and Jolene Thurston reached the 1,000th point level in 1995. Oxbow’s girls’ basketball teams won state championships twice during the period and Jasmyn Huntington exceeded her 2,000th point record and became Vermont’s Player of the Year in 1996. The Oxbow softball team also won the state championship in 1996. BMU’s Katie Nelson achieved the 1,000th point level in 2000 and Woodsville’s Sarah Lyon reached the 100th score in soccer in 1997. 

     While play downs were not always kind to area teams, boys’ teams, coaches and players brought home many victories. The Thetford Panthers were soccer champions in 1996 and player David Scott reached 1,000th basketball points in 1997.

     Woodsville’s Mike Ackerman coached his soccer team to his 200th win in 1995 and his son Ryan achieved his 100th soccer point and 1,000th basketball point in 1998. Oxbow’s Olympians won back-to- back baseball championships in1996 and 1997. Not to be outdone, the Blue Mountain Bucks achieved the baseball championship in 1998 and baseball championships in 1998 and 1999. BMU’s Jim Nelson sunk his 1,000th point in 1996. 

     Advances in telecommunication and the World Wide Web brought both advantages and challenges to the residents of the area. The newspaper ran a series entitled “The New Frontier” to introduce its readers to cyberspace and in 1999 went on line itself. By the end of the decade most area schools were online, with the accompanying problem of students searching undesirable sites.

     In Orford, Haverhill and Fairlee the issue of proposed telecommunication towers was a concern with both opponents and supporters voicing their opinions. Cable television service continued to be expanded in the region.

     It was announced in 1998 that the Topsham-Corinth area would finally get 4 new public pay phones. Upon the death of its local owner Frank Sahlman in 1999, the Topsham Telephone Company was sold to the New York-based Citizens Telephone Co.

     Bridges old and new were featured in the news of the period. The 170-year old Haverhill-Bath covered bridge was featured in an NBC news program as “the oldest covered bridge in America.” It was restored for pedestrian traffic and replaced by the new Raymond S. Burton Bridge. The nearby Woodsville-Wells River steel stringer bridge was considered for replacement, but instead was rehabilitated in 2001-2003.

     The Samuel Morey Memorial Bridge between Orford and Fairlee was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 and a major rehabilitation of this 1937 bridge was begun in 2000. The 1928 Bradford-Piermont Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. East Haverhill residents had a prolonged struggle with the NH Department of Transportation over proposed bridge construction on Rte 25 in their village. 

     Every community had a group of citizens who were willing to spend time improving the life of those who live in their town.  During this period some of those good people passed away. They included Laura Dickey, Camilla Low, Pearl Dimick, Charles Brainerd, Frank Stiegler, Freda Williams, Ed Wendell,Sr, Dick Fischer, Mervil Bruleigh, Katrina Munn, Gilbert Cole, Jim Perry, Richard Kinder, Isabel Whitney, Alice Hodgson and Mona Garone.  

     In addition to significant wedding anniversaries and birthdays, there was a number of community anniversaries observed.  West Fairlee celebrated its 200th year in 1997. One hundred and fiftieth year milestones were attained by the Lyme Town Band and the Corinth Academy in 1996 and Bradford’s Grace United Methodist Church in 1999.  The century mark was reached in 1996 by Woodsville’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, followed by Fairlee Public Library in 1998 and Orford Social Library in 2000.

     Each of the previous seven chapters in this series has listed changes in the area’s business community. This period had a full share of closings and openings, with many businesses lasting only a short time.  Piermont’s only large grocery store was destroyed by fire. Closed or replaced were Woodsville’s Hovey’s Department Store, Haverhill’s Grossman’s, Bradford’s Purple Plum and Figaro’s Restaurants and Fairlee’s Bonnie Oaks and Rutledge Inn.

     Wing’s Grocery Store in Fairlee and Aldrich’s in North Haverhill both moved to new larger facilities and Bradford’s Grand Union became the P & C. Wells River Savings Bank built a new branch office in Fairlee.  Copeland Furniture opened a factory outlet in Bradford Village. Bradford’s loss of Pratt’s Propane and Upper Valley Press was Haverhill’s gain. Kinney Drugs opened a new facility on Bradford’s Lower Plain.

     The Bradford Historical Society acquired a new museum room in the newly retrofitted Bradford Academy Building and Haverhill’s Ladd Street School and Alumni Hall underwent renovations. The Corinth Historical Society opened its new Agricultural and Trade Museum. Both North Haverhill’s and Newbury’s libraries added additions.

     Other building projects that were completed included the Haverhill’s Horse Meadow Senior Center, the Wells River Welcome Center, a new Bradford Fire Station, the Woodsville Emergency Service Building and the Bradford Village Apartments. Cottage Hospital built an outpatient center in honor of Dr. Muffin Lyons and Corinth’s Valley Health Center was renovated. Bradford Elementary School got a new “front yard” and Blue Mountain got a makeover.  A new park was proposed adjacent to the Bradford falls at the same time that a new state park was created in the Lake Tarleton area and both Woodsville and E. Ryegate got new playgrounds.    

     Additionally, the new north-bound I-91 Welcome Center was opened, Dean Memorial Airport was enhanced, Newbury got its long-anticipated Veterans War Memorial Park at Halls Lake and improvements were made to several municipal water and sewer systems. In Woodsville and Wells River, downtown revitalization projects were undertaken.  Two banks opened offices in Lyme.

     Agricultural issues were not as frequently mentioned.  Under the title “Not just cows anymore,” were articles about the raising of llamas and fallow deer.  There were still occasional farm auctions.  The “Dairy of Distinction” award was given to a number of family farms in the area. The Gladstone Family Farm of Fairlee, with its large milking herd, presented a look at the future of dairy farming. 

     My notes on the newspaper’s coverage always contain a number of items that might be described as miscellaneous, the unusual or bizarre.  Each one might be worthy of a paragraph or two, but a listing will have to suffice here. They include Gene Puffer’s nomination to the Vermont Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1998 and South Ryegate’s Hannah Nelson’s selection as Miss Vermont in 2000.

    The includes the lost Learjet that was finally found in Dorchester.  In East Orange, the auction of $800,000 in gold bullion and a stable of vintage automobiles gained national attention.  The Y2K Millennium Bug that threatened to upset our way of life never materialized.  Fred Tuttle, “the man with a plan,” created a sensation in his race against incumbent Senator Patrick Leahy.

     Standing back from the local events covered by this series helps one to see the patterns in local affairs. It may seem as though the repetitiveness in those patterns give the impression that we are stuck in place.

     Each new decade, however, brings new characters, characteristics and outcomes along with a generous sprinkling of the unusual just to keep things interesting.  Problems that seem heated, chaotic and insurmountable are just as often dealt with through meaningful application of democratic principles.  And that’s the way it should be.



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