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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Decades of Change 1965-69

Ground Breaking at Pierson Industrial Park, June 1968
Pictured Mike Ricker on dozer, Bradford businessman Graham Blake
 and contractor Bill Martin of Corinth.

Newbury 4-H plants flowering trees on Main Street

                                           Additional photos follow article

Journal Opinion, February 13, 2013

The last editions of Bradford’s The United Opinion for 1968 clearly listed some of the harbingers of change that faced area residents. They voted for bonds for two union schools while still celebrating student activities in existing schools.

Doe Brothers, which had sold dry goods on Bradford’s Main Street for 83 years closed while Rich’s Department Store became one of the first to open in the new shopping area on West Lebanon’s 12A. The interstate highway snaked its way up the valley.

Statewide personal income was up, but rural poverty was common. Many residents feared losing local control to larger entities. Change was constant and brought with it new opportunities and new uncertainties.

This column is the second in a series examining events and changes that occurred locally since 1960. A major source of information is The United Opinion. That newspaper covered the news of most towns in the area with gossip-laden local columns as well as the activities of schools, organizations and local governments.

It had a bias toward Bradford, not only because that is where its office was located, but also because Bradford was a major source of its advertising income. The winter carnival for Bradford Academy got front-page coverage with photos while a similar activity for Haverhill Academy was often found inside as a single column.

Of all the elements of change during the second half of the 1960s, local education ranked highest in column inches. Pressure from state initiatives, increased school populations and expenses and aging facilities made unification of local districts an imperative.

The proposals were like educational shape shifters, with districts studied, formed and broken apart only to reform in a different pattern. As quickly as proposals gained voter approval there were petitions for re-votes by disgruntled minorities, sometimes fueled by “petty jealousies, local prides and fears.”

Wells River, Groton and Ryegate formed Union 21 in 1962 and proceeded to break ground for a K-12 school on Route 302. Bradford, Corinth, Fairlee and Newbury Town School District formed Union 30, but before a bond vote could be held, Corinth and Fairlee withdrew. Hoping to draw tuition students, the two remaining towns voted a $1.9 million bond and, in 1969, broke ground on Route 5 north of Bradford Village. The State Department of Education designated the school as the location for a regional vocational center.

Across the river, residents of Haverhill voted to consolidate Haverhill Academy and Woodsville High School as they had their elementary schools. Orford voters were in a quandary as they considered options including closing their small high school or merging across state lines. It would be many years before any change was made. No change was made in Thetford, as the venerable and private academy continued, with enlarged facilities, into its 150th year of operation.

Elementary schools in the area experienced record enrollments. Thetford and Bradford added to that number by offering public kindergarten for the first time and Newbury planned one for 1970. Several towns used neighboring buildings to house the overload and approached voters for bonds to expand facilities. Fairlee’s attempts to fund additional space were brought before the voters several times before a final decision was made. Thetford considered a union elementary school with West Fairlee and Vershire as did Topsham and Corinth.

During the 60’s, Vermont’s population grew by 14%. That growth was reflected in area towns closest to the economic engines of the college and hospital in Hanover. Fearful of the transformations that change would bring, the state moved to protect its natural resources and manage the modifications. The state prohibited open dump burning and mandated sewage treatment to protect the state’s waterways. Both of these impacted local communities. Bradford Village finally, after much discussion, began to plan a sewage treatment plant.

In response to the fear that Vermont would “become an asphalt jungle,” local zoning was encouraged and town selectboards were allowed to implement interim plans for up to two years in the face of growth. During this time interim zoning was adopted in Fairlee, Newbury and Thetford. In Bradford the 1932 village zoning was upgraded and the town adopted interim zoning in 1969.

Vermont was very much “the beckoning country” during this period. Tourists streamed to and through the area, often stopping at Bradford’s Information Booth staffed by Mabel Humphrey. While deer hunters, summer campers and foliage seekers were regulars, those attending the 1967 World Fair in Montreal added to the throngs. Many considered more permanent relocation to the area and bought existing homes or built new ones.

Events from afar had an impact locally. America’s role in Vietnam drew many locals into the service. Service assignments, promotions, honors, letters and casualties were regularly reported by the Opinion. Efforts of the home front to support the troops were also reported. There was growing opposition to the nation’s increased involvement and the draft. Residents lined up on both sides of those issues, with debates taking place in schools and other settings. Some of that was reflected in October, 1969 when the national Moratorium Day was observed locally.

This was not the only issue debated in local high schools. Old standards of dress and behavior chafed young people. While many students wore clothing and hairstyles acceptable to their parents and school officials, others rebelled. Some of those dissenters spoke eloquently about freedom of expression. Parent-Teacher groups struggled with issues of behavior and drugs in area schools.

Many who went to school in that period remember vividly the split between those they called straights and hippies. They also remember the changes in music as various forms of rock became more popular. Two local students who attended the Woodstock Festival came back to declare it “crazy but wonderful.”

Urban refugees, described as hippies, appeared in small settlements around the area. They were often young people who were disenchanted with their possession-centered upbringing. Accused of nudity, lack of cleanliness and being advocates of free love and drugs, they shocked many locals. Like many prejudices, these accusations were sometimes exaggerations.

There were others who came to the area seeking a back-to-the-land lifestyle. While some failed and left, others stayed and added significantly to the area’s culture.

Prejudice against alternative lifestyles was not the only intolerance that rose to the surface. Vermonters’ faces were white. Despite ongoing Fresh Air programs, there was opposition to Governor’ Hoff’s proposal to bring black children to Vermont for the summer.

Gunshots fired at the home of an African-American minister in Irasburg was one end of a spectrum of racial prejudice that included local minstrel shows and “Kake Walks.” Many discussions of racial integration ended with the strong bias against interracial marriage. One African-American professional stated he left the area to return to the South because there he knew clearly how people felt about his race.

On the other hand, locals rallied to support minorities. The Civil Rights movement had its participants and supporters. One young man with local ties was wounded in Georgia and another killed in Alabama. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., locals struggled to understand the plight of many African Americans.

Funds were raised locally to purchase school materials so that students might become aware of “negro history.” For the first time, history textbooks included brief references to the specific contributions of minorities and women.

Economically the nation was in the midst of one of the longest periods of prosperity in its history. For many in Vermont this meant steady employment, rising wages and inflation. In hopes of taking advantage of industrial growth, the Bradford Development Corporation was formed and began to create Pierson Industrial Park. Northlands, a manufacturer of modular homes, located there in 1969.

Area wide some businesses closed and others opened. In Bradford village that included The Shamrock opened replacing Erskine’s clothing store, Gove and Bancroft Pharmacy got a new owner while Gove and Morrill Hardware enlarged into the old Doe Brothers store. A Sears store opened and the Western Auto enlarged. The First National store closed and the Super Duper began building a new grocery store on the Lower Plain.

McLam’s hardware store and Wing’s grocery store in Fairlee both enlarged their facilities. T. Borden Walker, “Furniture King of the Valley”, had two stores in Woodsville. On the other hand, the bobbin mill in East Corinth burned in 1967 and was never rebuilt. Wells River declined as Clark’s Grocery and the 5 & 10 closed.

Farmers continued to decline in number as milk prices often fell below subsistence level. Fluid milk was still a major export from the area with local creameries becoming part of regional ones. During this time, Some local milk was made into cheese in creameries in both Wells River and Bradford. Farms such as the Mallary Farm in Fairlee and the Tyler Farm in West Newbury led in production and awards.

Change meant the introduction of new things. In 1965 one area bank introduced a computer, calling it a “wonder machine.” Area banks introduced the Americard, the first credit card most residents ever had.

White kitchen appliances were replaced by coppertone, avocado and harvest gold in quick succession. In 1965 local stores announced that production could not keep up with the demand for new color televisions and the new The Sound of Music was released.

Not all new things were greeted with universal enthusiasm. While many enjoyed the new Bear Ridge Speedway, others objected. The new 3% sales tax put local Vermont businesses at a disadvantage. The proposal to introduce nuclear power in Vermont brought both the promise of cheaper electric energy and opposition to potential dangers.

Several of the new projects that were proposed during this five-year period came to be eventually. Despite the prediction that “second homes would become as common as second cars,” local projects did not always materialize. Those included proposals at Orford’s Sunday Mountain for vacation homes and year-round skiing on mineral snow and a proposal to build a pond and 100 vacation homes in Newbury.

In 1969, Lake Tarleton Club was sold to Boise-Cascade who had plans to build 3,000 vacation homes there. The proposed National Connecticut River Park never got beyond the planning stage.

Civic involvement reached a high level at this time. Older organizations and clubs such as the Lions, 4-H, women’s clubs, community improvement groups and church societies flourished, adding significantly to the annual schedule of local events. The Jaycees were established in Bradford in 1965. This group of young men immediately became a major force for community improvement, contributing to everything from a Memorial Day field day to raising funds for a new local Orange County Mental Health office to a Jr. Miss pageant. Volunteer firefighters fought fires, held variety shows and, in the case of Bradford, refurbished their new station on South Main Street.

Many readers will not remember the five years covered by this column. Only by talking with elders will they understand the following: Miller Formula, each town having a member of the Vermont House, Republican majorities, digging for bottles, the bicentennial in Bradford and Orford, Overseers of the Poor, the Hard Line Loggers, Lake Morey Stables and Top Value stamps.

They will never know librarian Laura Dickey, Judge Frank Brock, pharmacists Lee Chapman and James Thomas, civic leaders Maurice Roberts, Bert Holland and Morris Perry, teacher Paul Kimball, Dr. William Putnam, environmentalist Lucy Bugbee or the scores of others who were the backbone of local communities in this period.

Beyond their experiences are July urban riots, the Great Society, barn dances, the Kettledrum Restaurant, paper drives, the 1965 blackout, 4 cent postage stamps, a 31 cent gallon of gas and ice cream for 69 cents per half gallon, Forest Hills store in Haverhill, introduction of zip codes and direct long-distance dialing, proposals for a Bradford swimming pool or the Fairlee train wreck.

Gone are the times when the local hearse doubled as an ambulance, Newbury had no dial telephone, Hales gave out small Lane hope chests to female graduates, there were poll taxes and 18 to 20 year old men could be sent to Vietnam but not vote for the President who sent them.

Those who were young then may sometimes think back to that time with fond memories. But they may also recall the personal and societal traumas that filled those 10 years with anguish. With those in mind, one might also recall that on New Years Eve, 1969 many wished a hearty farewell to the decade of the 60s and were happy to see it end.
 Blue Mountain School Takes Shape

Super Duper--Big store of the 60's