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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Decades of Change Part Four 1975-1979

September 25, 2013 Journal Opinion Development in the Lake Tarleton area blossomed with 3,700 new homes, a village of boutique shops, a new Robert Trent Jones 18-hole golf course and a regional airport. The new Parsons & Whittemore pulp and paper mill located on the Connecticut River near the Piermont-Haverhill line is in full operation. It provides employment to 1,500 and added $20 million to the local tax rolls. Taking advantage of its tax-free status, Piermont attracted 20 retail businesses to the new mall at the junction of River Road and Route 25. At some times of the year, Piermont’s population exceeds that of any other town in the region. New homes fill other Piermont neighborhoods as farms sell out and formerly abandoned areas are developed. Sections of routes 25 and 10 and River Road have been widened to handle daily and holiday traffic as well as the large trucks servicing the mill. The bridge across the Connecticut has been replaced. Town services have been expanded to meet the increased population including full-time police and fire departments, a water treatment plant and elementary school. A new regional high school to serve Piermont, Orford and Haverhill is being planned. It is 1979 in Piermont, NH. Oh wait, that’s not how events evolved in Piermont during the period from 1975-79. This column, the fourth in the series, deals with events in the region during those years. It deals with those changes that actually occurred and those that were proposed but never came to be. Information is drawn from The United Opinion and its successor, the Journal Opinion, local town histories and interviews. Boise Cascade’s proposed development at the 5,200-acre Lake Tarleton Club property could have had a profound impact on the local area. In the early 1970s, the company plans included 3,700 primary and secondary homes along with a new golf course and retail shops. In March 1977 the yet-to-be developed property was sold to a Belgian investor. Operating under the title Real Homes, the plans were downsized to 1,500 homes. There was considerable opposition to the project from both state and local sources. Two reasons for the resistence included poorly drawn plans and negative environmental impacts. These, plus declines in the economy, were the death knell for Real Homes, and, in 2000, a major portion of the property became part of the White Mountain National Forest. The second unrealized project that could have had a profound impact on the area was the proposed pulp mill. In early 1975 the New York-based Parsons & Whittemore Co. began to explore building a mammoth bleached kraft pulp and paper mill in New Hampshire. With the encouragement of Gov. Meldrim Thomson of Orford, the company held information meetings around the state, including in Haverhill and Piermont. Using water from the Connecticut River, the proposed plant was designed to process over 400,000 cords of wood annually. It was expected that 500 workers would be employed, with an additional 1,000 jobs created in related industries such as logging and trucking. One study suggested that it would bring 400 new families to the area. Some New Hampshire towns registered opposition to the mill. Faced with a depressed economy and high unemployment, voters in Haverhill overwhelmingly endorsed the location of the plant in their community. At the meeting in Piermont interest was expressed, but no record of an actual vote was found. The company also expressed interest in Orford and Lyme. As late as January 1976, Haverhill was apparently still a possible site for the mill. The selectmen, however, expressed “mixed emotions” about it being located in the town. The company indicated it had no desire to come to an area if it was not wanted. In the end, while still expressing interest in New Hampshire, the company decided to concentrate its search to Alabama. As for a mall in Piermont, only one store opened at the corner of Route 25 and River Road. In 1978, Russell and Shirley Gould opened the Gould’s Country Store and Smokehouse adjacent to the Piermont branch of the Woodsville Guaranty Savings Bank. Three years later the retail grocery portion was leased to Stop & Save. Plans to expand the store never materialized and it closed in 1995, later being destroyed by fire. The period from 1975 to 1979 did see other projects, some completed and others not. After decades of voting, the Village of Bradford finally decided to stop dumping untreated sewage into the Waits River. In May 1976, by a vote of 50-44 and with assurances of federal assistance, the Village began the lengthy process of building the water treatment plant. It was completed in 1978. Water pollution was still an issue in parts of Haverhill, Piermont, East Ryegate and Wells River and in Fairlee’s Lake Morey. Great disappointment characterized the restoration of the Bedell Bridge between South Newbury and Haverhill Corner. Built in 1866,the bridge had fallen into severe disrepair by the 1960s and was scheduled for demolition. Supporters formed the Bedell Bridge, Inc. and made plans for its restoration. Despite additional flood damage and problems with securing funds, the group worked diligently to achieve its goal. On July 22, 1979 the bridge and accompanying state park were dedicated with great fanfare. Less than two months later a windstorm destroyed the bridge. Projects in the area were encouraged by the influx of federal money, some of it in the form of revenue sharing funds. In 1976 Bradford Village received a grant to obtain and restore the vacant Low mansion and the adjacent Prichard house. These two historic structures overlooked the village center. Entitled “Village Renaissance,” one of the project’s major goals was to provide senior housing. But, with charges of mismanagement, the grant was withdrawn and the houses passed to private ownership. In 1981, fire destroyed the magnificent Low mansion, robbing Bradford of an impressive landmark. The Opera House on Central Street in Woodsville was also proposed as a senior housing project. In 1977 federal funds were received and, despite some delays, by 1979 the conversion had begun. A proposal to create senior housing on Route 10 north of Lyme was voted down over concerns that emergency services could not be adequately provided. Lyme voters did agree, however, to provide some tax relief to elder property owners. Federal and state environmental regulations continued to create pressures on local communities. Several towns continued to operate open dumps in violation of new regulations while others began to use the new landfill in Newbury. Though burning ceased at Bradford’s South Road location, the town felt it had to keep the dump open, in part, to prevent the dump’s rats from migrating elsewhere. Haverhill investigated solving its trash problems by burning it at an incinerator in Lisbon. In Piermont and Orford open dumps were given a reprieve by new state legislation exempting small towns. School controversies competed for newspaper space with positive articles describing school activities. School budgets, teacher grievances and negotiations, student discipline, teen pregnancies, bomb scares and the need to provide additional classroom space were the subject of regular coverage. There were vigorous discussions over setting aside time for prayer in Orford, open classrooms at Union 36, Oxbow’s roof problems, smoking policies for students and teachers, basic competencies and the state formula for financing local schools. In contrast, there were articles about the positive outcomes of academic programs, honors awarded individual students and teachers as well as athletic teams and individual coaches and athletes. Reviews of student productions were printed along side those of community theater groups such as the Bradford Repertory Theater, the Tabor Valley Players and the Parish Players. There was coverage of other controversies within and between local communities. Local environmental groups objected to erosion on the Connecticut River banks and the building of the Seabrook Nuclear Plant. They were relieved when a proposal to build twin nuclear reactors in North Monroe was scrapped because the site was found to be unsatisfactory. Local communities encouraged some new ventures and discouraged others. The proposal to rebuild the Bradford hydroelectric dam was supported, although the voters denied the owners a tax break for the improvements. The annual coverage of community fairs, bazaars and festivals continued during this period. The newspaper reported in depth on the events celebrating the nation’s bicentennial in 1976. Many towns, flying their official Bicentennial flag, made it a year-long celebration with activities centered in the week of the Fourth. This newspaper described Americans as “lovers of hoopla and ceremony” and declared that locals had “enjoyed every minute” of the celebration. Bradford, Newbury, Lyme and Orford used the occasion to nominate neighborhoods and significant buildings to the National Register of Historic Places. Five years of newspapers provide so much material for a short article that significant items must be left out. A longer article might have included information on any of the following news items from the period: transcendental meditation, Rex the Wonder Horse, perennial bad weather and floods, North Haverhill’s Ames Department Store, Bradford’s Channel Mills, land use planning and taxation as well as Fairlee’s railroad train explosion and the jet crash in Ryegate. Controversies over services at Haverhill’s Mountain Lakes, racing results at Bear Ridge, the tax status of the Boy Scouts property at Orford’s Indian Pond, a ban on nude swimming in Thetford and muddy water in Newbury’s water system got plenty of coverage, but not here. There was coverage of things that were new during the latter half of the 70s including a Catholic church in Orford, the Lafayette National Bank and People’s Market in Woodsville, the Colatina Bakery and Agway Fertilizer Plant in Bradford and a new industrial park in Newbury. New names to the area included T. Copeland and Sons, makers of cider presses in East Corinth and Drs. Mark Harris and Lance Osadchey. One might like to know more about the local sighting of UFO’s, the party responsible for hanging the anti-Thomson sign from the Orford-Fairlee bridge just before the ‘76 election or the rumors of uranium deposits in Corinth. On those deposits, selectman Jim Hood was quoted: “I wouldn’t get too excited.” With the completion of I-91, the expansion of newspaper coverage, the extension of cable television to several village areas and the new WYKR presenting “The World Within an Earshot,” area residents were increasingly aware of national and international events. The cultural lag that rural areas often experience decreased as fads, fashions and problems arrived more quickly. The nation’s gas and energy shortages, stagflation and unemployment brought hard times locally. Skyrocketing electric rates impacted both public buildings and private homeowners. Energy efficiency was encouraged, heating with wood increased and van pooling and gasohol were introduced. There was still the concern that growth needed to be carefully planned. Fairlee, Bradford, Lyme and Topsham discussed adopting zoning or amending existing regulations. Several towns realized the advantage of giving tax breaks to large landowners to discourage agricultural land being converted to housing. Over the years there have been conflicting opinions regarding life in small towns. Some see life in communities such as those found locally as being limiting, isolating, smothering and, populated by people who are characterized by small minds and small aspirations. Others celebrate the slower pace, the richness of local events and closeness of “one-horse” towns. An advantage of small town life is that a resident can have a significant impact on their community, a characteristic highlighted in the film It’s a Wonderful Life. Among those Bradford residents who passed away this year were five who represented the type of rural leadership that positively impacts small communities. Each had role in Bradford during the period of the 70s and devoted significant time to making the community a better place in which to live during that decade and beyond. They were Bradford Selectman Arthur Hyde, Bradford Village Trustees Bruce Stever and Gary Garone, Oxbow Board Member and Bradford Library Trustee Dorothy Cole and youth sports organizer Dr. Philip Munson. Every town in the area had such men and women during the period covered by this column. Hopefully they will continue to be an example as new leaders constantly need to step forward to fill the ranks of those who leave.