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Friday, May 3, 2013

Decades of Change: Part Three 1970-1974

OXBOW GROUNDBREAKING: Raymond Green, chairman of the Oxbow School Board, uses a ceremonial shovel to break ground for the new union high school in March 1970. Joining him are other members of the board. (front left to right) Charles Smith, Jeanette Cobb and Dorothy Cole. (rear) Frank Coombs and Charles Bailey.

OWN A PIECE OF VERMONT: In May, 1972 a family could still purchase a nice local home for under $20,000. A growing demand kept local real estate agents busy and prices on the increase.

I CAN TELL YOU THIS!! Eighty-six year old Orford resident Andy Bedell shares his opinion with New Hampshire Governor Meldrim Thomson at the Orford School District Meeting in March, 1973. The main issue was the future of Orford High School.

DUMP WITH A VIEW!! PHEW!! Bradford was just one of several local towns under pressure to close its dump in 1971. The six-acre dump was located off South Road and users who looked up were treated to a view of the White Mountains to the east. It closed in May 1972.

LOCAL NEIGHBORS DISCUSS NATIONAL ISSUES IN 1974 . Vermont’s lone congressman Richard Mallary of Fairlee discusses the need for prudent economic restraints in the face of inflation with Arthur Burns, Chairman of the Federal Reserve System. Burns had a summer home in West Fairlee. About that time Chairman Burns spoke to my Voter Prep classes at Oxbow on the condition we would not notify the media or share his comments.

Journal Opinion
, May 1, 2013

“In the past two years, area towns have suddenly been faced with the growth of real estate development, new businesses and an influx of people on a scale undreamed of during the past two decades.” The United Opinion July 27, 1972

The first five years of the 70s were the years of anti-war protests, environmentalism, Richard Nixon and Watergate, stagflation, Roe v. Wade, the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, Kent State. the 18-year-old vote and the 1973 oil crisis. New were The Godfather and Star Wars, The Carpenters and the Jackson Five, Mary Tyler Moore and Monday Night Football, bell-bottoms, streaking, lava lamps, lasers, floppy disks and much much more.

This column deals with those tumultuous years as they played out locally. The material was retrieved from over 3,500 pages of local newspaper copy. Most closely read were the articles with the boldest headlines. Ignored were the submissions of local correspondents such as Robert Evans, Shirley Bolles, Margie Gray and Katherine King. The weakness of this approach is that hidden in less prominent articles are undoubtedly significant news items and profound thoughts.

This research started in the closing issues of The United Opinion, Bradford’s newspaper since 1881. In 1970, Powell Communication purchased it from John Drysdale who had owned it since 1947. It was combined with the Woodsville Journal and renamed The North Country Journal Opinion. In the five years covered by this article the newspaper expanded its coverage of events and format, reflecting fairly common staff changes.

Some of the profound challenges facing the area came as the interstate highway snaked up the valley. It opened at Fairlee in November 1971, Bradford in 1972 and Ryegate two years later. Thoughts about a new east-west highway raised the remote possibility of using Wells River as a junction with I-91 and a connector to the west. The interstate opened the area to an extent never before experienced. Some felt that the locally produced theatre production “The Blob That Ate Vermont” aptly described the impact.

One of the results of this improved connection was land development. The Lake Tarleton project anticipated building 3,700 second homes and a “village of boutique shops.” Mountain Lakes and Allagash Corporation planned building hundreds of homes in Haverhill. Piermont had Riverdale and Fox Run and Corinth had Meadow Brook Farm. Several apartment complexes were planned for Bradford’s Upper Plain.

Newbury and Haverhill joined Bradford in seeking new industry to provide employment, a stronger tax base and a replacement for older departing businesses. Population growth brought greater demands for housing and public services. Real estate dealers were kept busy as newcomers responded to the idea that “happiness is owning a place in Vermont.”A nice home could be purchased for under $20,000.

Many felt that planning was needed, that the Vermont theme “choosing our tomorrows” made sense. The devil was in the details however, as town commissions offered zoning proposals and subdivision regulations for voter approval. That raised the opposition among those who valued property-owners’ rights. Vermont’s passage of the Land Use Act 250 and the Water Quality Act 254 in 1970 riled these opponents even further. These acts were examples of an expanded role for state government.

The Village of Bradford had adopted zoning in the 1930s, but an attempt to expand this town wide brought opposition in the form of The Committee of Concerned Citizens. But in the end, most towns adopted some form of zoning during this period. After a six-year struggle, Thetford adopted zoning in 1972. Similar compromise and perseverance led to zoning in Newbury, Corinth and Fairlee that year. Bradford, Haverhill and Piermont used interim zoning extensions while plans were being developed.

There were other aspects of the environmental movement that impacted the area. In April 1970 hundreds turned out locally for Vermont’s first Green Up Day. New Hampshire held a similar effort in 1971. Sewage and dump issues plagued some local towns. Pollution of the Connecticut by sewage from Woodsville was called “a crime.” Both states passed laws against open dumps and towns sought alternate sites. It took Bradford three years to close its dump and find a suitable landfill in Newbury. Haverhill’s dump continued to burn until 1974.

Local groups sponsored recycling efforts to accompany Vermont’s new bottle law. Drives to eliminate junk cars garnered wide results. For Land’s Sake was a local group organized to draw attention to erosion along the banks of the Connecticut River.

Woodsville studied the possibility of an improved water source, including one that would be regional in scope. Fairlee met its water needs with a new system. Bradford expanded its water lines north and south of the Village.

Probably the most column inches were devoted to area schools. Blue Mountain opened in 1970, “the result of 20 years of effort.” It held its first graduation the following June at the same time that Bradford Academy and Newbury High held their last. Ground had been broken for Oxbow High in March 1970 and the new school with its vocational center opened in September 1971.

During that same period Corinth and Topsham voters created Union 36. All schools struggled with increased enrollment and attempts to find more effective teaching strategies. After much discussion, kindergarten classes were added in Newbury and Fairlee and planned in Topsham and Corinth.

Student activities played a significant part in school news coverage. Groton’s Gremlins became BMU’s Bucks, Newbury’s Thunderbolts and Rhubarbs and Bradford’s Admirals became Oxbow’s Olympians, whereas Orford’s Wildcats, Thetford’s Panthers and Woodsville’s Engineers retained their identities. Year after year these athletic teams decorated their gym walls with banners signifying state championships.

Individual athletes and coaches won statewide recognition. Attention was also given to calendar-filling activities such as dances, class trips, special projects and graduations. Annual school meetings brought varied responses to school budgets as costs increased.

As in the 60’s, the generation gap between youth and adults widened for many and was reflected in attitudes, dress and music. Drugs became a major issue in the communities.

In 1970 Woodsville held a three-day drug institute to deal with the “growing menace.” The Cohase Lions Club offered up to $2,500 in rewards in a Bust-A-Pusher program. The following year, Bradford and Fairlee held drug education programs attended by hundreds of residents of all ages. Several area youth centers were created including Bradford’s The Belly of the Whale and one at Wells River’s old railroad station.

In August 1972 officers discovered 600 marijuana plants growing in a remote section of Topsham. News items reported the apprehension of users and dealers.

On a number of occasions during this five-year period, communities suffered a rash of burglaries. Homes, camps and businesses were the targets. In some cases businesses such as the Super Duper in Bradford and Chapman’s in Fairlee were targeted repeatedly.

In 1970, McAllister’s in Woodsville was hit with a major jewelry heist. There were also more violent crimes including assaults and murders. Several incidents reflected changing attitudes. In 1971 a Wells River youth was fined for wearing an American flag on the seat of his pants. That same year police seized an X-rated film being shown at a drive-in theater in Woodsville.

The most common drug was alcohol and traffic fatalities reflected the problem of DWI. Almost weekly the front page of the newspaper featured photos of “the slaughter on the area’s highways,” some the result of drunken drivers. Cars were not as safe as today and without airbags and the wide use of seat belts, many were injured or killed.

During the period ambulance service was improved. Bradford and Fairlee joined the Hanover dispatch program, while Haverhill and Newbury created a service operating out of the Cottage Hospital.

New buildings raised the question of what to do with the old. West Newbury District School became the home of the Newbury Historical Society. The Cookeville School was converted to town offices. Bradford Academy became the Community Learning Center for several years, with a wide variety of programs. This was one example of a program that was established with federal funds only to be discontinued when the funds ran out. In 1974 Bradford Town Offices were relocated to the building, bumping the Senior Center from its first floor location.

Similar questions were raised concerning three other structures. The building of a new Grafton County Courthouse left the old one without a permanent occupant for several years. The Old Goshen Church underwent restoration and opened for summer worship.

Probably the most aggressive rehabilitation was for the Bedell Bridge. Faced with its demolition, a group formed to save the historic structure in an effort described by CBS News as “an extraordinary restoration adventure.”

The traditional shopping centers of the area continued to provide most of the needs of area consumers. Families could do holiday and back-to-school shopping in Bradford, Woodsville and at Forest Hills in North Haverhill. New businesses, including the Super Duper, the Shamrock Clothing Store, Patton’s Sporting Goods, Prescott Lumber Yard, and the Colatina Exit, were established.

The opening of the Interstate in Bradford brought Coutee’s Drive-In, the Bradford Minimart and a traffic light to the intersection of Routes 5 and 25. New industries included Channel Mills in Bradford and Cormier Hosiery in Haverhill.

“Having Sold Our Farm” was the headline in many auction notices as dairy farms continued their decline in what was described as a “disaster industry.” Vermont lost 505 dairy farms between 1970 and 1973. The July 1970 auction at Fairlee’s Mallary Farm drew a crowd of 2000 from all over the world. In 1974 the Bradford Creamery closed.

Accomplishments still drew honors for herds owned by such farm families as the Robies, Devins, Stoddards and Tylers. Future Farmers of America chapters and 4-H clubs for youngsters kept agricultural interests alive for some. Dairy production groups for farmers flourished for those still in business.

These were not the only economic problems facing area residents. In 1970 a decline in the stock market and a tight money market hurt the economy. In 1973 an oil embargo led to the worst recession in forty years. As unemployment rose so did prices in a condition called stagflation. Food prices had the largest increase in two decades.

The newspaper reported that ground beef that had sold for 60 cents a pound a year before was now $1.89.The bottom fell out of the second home market and several of the developments mentioned above were described as “defunct.”

There were things considered new that are now taken for granted including Midnight Madness, snowmobile clubs, Warren’s Redstone missile, the WIC program, cable television, computers, rock music, Vermont Yankee and summer theatre. Political leaders who achieved wide recognition include Meldrim Thomson, Richard Mallary, Patrick Leahy, Walter Peterson and Dean Davis.

In every time period there are projects that are considered but never come to be. These included the creation of a swimming pool at Oxbow, renewed copper mining in Corinth, Newbury’s purchase of Camp Farwell and the building of two nuclear power plants adjacent to the Comerford Dam in Monroe.

At that time there was a weekly column in the Journal Opinion written under the penname of the Old Fogie. Doing this series at 70 years of age makes me feel very much an old fogie. It brings back memories of events that affected my teaching at Bradford Academy and Oxbow High and my family living in Bradford village. It makes me wonder where the years went.

The Norwegian songwriter Dag Vognstolen wrote “Time is a robber that takes all your tomorrows and turns them into things of the past.” Doing a retrospective project such as this series reminds me that just as time turns our tomorrows into yesterdays, it dilutes our memories, makes the significant insignificant, and the seemly insignificant magnify into major change. It dulls enthusiasm and enhances appreciation. In the end, it is “the subtle thief” of our youth.

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