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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Local Newspapers & Soldiers in America's Conflicts

This article appeared in the Journal Opinion’s 150th anniversary edition, Dec. 31, 2014

 “We hope there will be no war, yet every generation of this country has had a chance to fight.”  This sentiment was published in The United Opinion in December 1895 in a column signed “Vermonter.”

Every generation of local residents since European settlement have experienced war and since the 19th century local newspapers have included articles about those wars and those soldiers.

The earliest Europeans to visit the area were usually soldiers as part of the ongoing wars between English settlers to the south and French and natives to the north. When those wars ended in 1763 the Coos region opened to settlement. Many of the leaders in the new communities were soldiers and every able-bodied man was expected to be part of the continuing protection of the area.

Local newspapers before the mid-19th century were scattered and usually short-lived. Soldiers from the area were involved in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War and residents had opinions about those wars. In the first two there was real concern that the local area was in danger of invasion. Some newspapers from outside the area arrived locally weeks after publication and were handed from reader to reader giving them information about national and state events. 

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Aurora of the Valley, published for a time in Bradford, kept readers aware of the course of the war. The most prominent column was entitled “The War for the Union.”  With hundreds of local men involved in Vermont and New Hampshire regiments, those at home were hungry for news and this newspaper met that need with correspondents’ reports and letters to the editor. Its coverage included descriptions of battles and camp conditions among Union forces as well as denigrating reports on the rebellious South.   

Almost weekly this newspaper published lists of Vermont men who were casualties of the war. In the July 11, 1863 edition its headline was “The Three Days’ Battles” and its description of the battle at Gettysburg began with the word “Victory!”     

During the period between 1865 and 1898, the Bradford’s successive newspapers, National Opinion, the Bradford Opinion and The United Opinion kept readers familiar with national reconstruction efforts as well as Union veterans’ activities. These included numerous memoirs of military experiences and reunions.  One of the most extensive memoirs was the lengthy series written by 10th Vermont’s Lt. Thomas H. White of Topsham.   

The newspaper coverage of local militia activities included extensive coverage of statewide musters held in Bradford in 1879 and 1890. In 1895 a special muster edition celebrated the event when it was held in Fairlee.  

From the earliest arrival of European settlers until the early 20th century there were continuing battles to wrestle control of the land from the native population.  In the period after the Civil War, the local newspaper had frequent articles on those battles as America expanded westward. In July 1876, the Bradford Opinion’s front page described the massacre of Lt. Col. Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn in Montana.

In 1898 the United States became involved in a “splendid little war” with Spain, a largely one-sided confrontation. Local men, members of Co. G, 1st Regiment Vermont Volunteers, prepared for war.  The closest they came to battle, however, was being stationed at Camp Thomas in Chickamauga Park, GA for the summer. Their greatest enemies were disease, bad food, high humidity and boredom.  The United Opinion published regular reports of their experiences.

It also covered the naval victory at Cuba’s Santiago Bay, the hero of which was Bradford’s Capt. Charles E. Clark of the battleship Oregon and the victory at Manila Bay in the Philippines at which Vermonter Comm. George E. Dewey led the American naval forces.

Some local men went on to serve in the 1899-1902 war against the natives of the newly-acquired territory of the Philippines. These included Edward Bayley and George Wright of Newbury.

In April 1917 the United States became embroiled in the Great War that was devastating Europe.  When local company of the Vermont Guard was called into active service in August 1917, The United Opinion reported “The spirit shown by the men is such that it shows they mean business.”  Many local men were in the American Expeditionary Force in France and saw frontline action. Because of military censorship, news was only officially released news was reported.

The newspaper played a significant role in mobilizing the war effort on the local home front.  Men away in the service, shortages of food and fuel, an epidemic of influenza and a period of exceptionally cold winters gave Editor Harry E. Parker cause to write “We are facing conditions which are unique for this generation in these days of war.”   

The newspaper played a similar, but enhanced, role during World War II.  It described the struggles in both Europe and Asia and America’s mobilization in the period before Pearl Harbor. One editorial called for the nation to do more than just talk “if we are prepared to defend liberties we have left.”

Once the war began the newspaper joined newsreels and radio and magazine coverage in keeping spirits focused on the war effort. It asked for a measure of civilian commitment mirroring that of the members of the armed services. Weekly the readers were informed of scrap, stamp and blood drives, wartime recipes such as “Victory Casserole,” and delayed and censored news of the war.  It recognized the difficulty, if not impossibility, for a weekly to “keep abreast with the war news.” 

It did carry news of the hundreds of area service personnel, one example being the rescue of Sgt Kenneth Stockman of Bradford, a veteran of 20 bombing missions who was shot down over Germany in 1944.  While it sought news from readers, it admonished them not to reveal “the location and strength of military units.”

After the war came to an end, issues around the world required that the United States maintain a large standing military force numbering in the millions in active and reserved service. This was a sharp departure from the long-standing aversion Americans had to a large permanent military.  Many local men and women joined the military during those Cold War years and the newspaper reported news of their military induction, training, promotion, furloughs and stationing.

Between 1950 and 1953 American forces fought on the peninsula of Korea on behalf of the United Nations. Unlike the two previous wars, this conflict did not have a profound impact on the home front. Weekly, The United Opinion included major articles and guest editorials on the course of the war.  Local residents were encouraged to contribute to a column entitled “News of Local Boys in Service.”

In February 1951 it reported that 88 Vermonters had been casualties in Korea.  One commentator wrote: “It is a cruel and bitter thing that so many men from peaceful Vermont should have to give their lives fighting an outlandish foe in a far off corner of the world.”

The newspaper reported local casualties including the following wounded: Pfc Irving Paronto of Corinth, Pfc George Clogston of Bradford and Sgt Harold Fay of Orford.  In March 1953 it reported that Cp1 Clayton Huckins of Orford was killed in action. His funeral was held in May in the church in Orfordville near his boyhood home.   

By the 1960s the newspaper had reduced its national news coverage considerably, but did editorially express opinions on events beyond the local area. It kept up with the assignments of local military personnel stationed domestically and abroad. It also ran articles dealing with the danger of nuclear war and the need for civil defense awareness.

 When America first became involved in the conflict in Vietnam, The United Opinion expressed reserve and questioned the justification. In August 1964 the first news of area servicemen in Vietnam appeared, a practice that continued until the end of the war.  In 1966 the death in Vietnam of Sp4 Barry R. Wood of Bradford received front page coverage.  The newspaper also covered gift drives for the troops.  Letters for and against the war were common, a practice unheard of before.    

From the end of the war in Vietnam until Operation Desert Storm the most common military news in the Journal Opinion was in news of individual personnel, veterans’ obituaries, activities of veterans’ organizations and area town meeting’s debates over a nuclear weapon freeze.

In 1990 the Gulf War was initiated in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The war put local National Guard units on standby. The newspaper featured a series of articles about the war include a compelling article entitled “G. I. Joe” about an unnamed Bradford man involved in Desert Storm. Demonstrators gathered in downtown Bradford to oppose the war. They were met by others who expressed support for the troops. Similar diversity of opinion filled the letters to the editor.

Between 2001 and the present, the Journal Opinion kept its readers aware of the role of local service personnel as the United States conducted war in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.  These were operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

In 2004 and again in 2009 local units of the Vermont and New Hampshire Guard were activated for duty in the Middle East. The newspaper covered their deployment with articles, photographs and columns. The weekly column “My Soldier” by Ryegate’s Carole Welch kept readers in touch with her son SSgt Roy Welch and his unit of Green Mountain Boys at a supply base in Kuwait.

The October 20, 2004 edition’s front page is an example of this coverage. It described the ceremony held in Woodsville for returning SSgt Scott Robbins who had been wounded in Iraq. Another article told the battle death of Woodsville-based guardsman Spc Alan Burgess, the second North Country soldier in less than a week in die in Iraq.   

Articles also described school, business and community’s responses in support of the deployed Guards and their families.  When units returned, the coverage included numerous photographs as families were reunited. 

This article was begun on Veterans’ Day 2014 as many paused to express their gratitude to the men and women who have served. Colin Powell led the day’s ceremony at Norwich University in Northfield.  His gratitude is reflected in this quote: “Our nation has been blessed with patriots in every generation, who have been willing to place their sacred honor in the service of their fellow citizens, and give their all for freedom. You often hear about the greatest generation.  The truth is there is greatness in every generation.” 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cedar Creek: A Valley Victory

October, 2014

“Don’t Run, Men, Till the Vermonters Do.”
Capt. Windsor B. French, 77th New York Regiment,
October 19, 1864 

 LOCAL MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT: Gen. Stephen Thomas of West Fairlee was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic leadership during the Battle of Cedar Creek. His command included the 8th Vermont Regiment which included a number of other local men. (West Fairlee Historical Society) 
SHERIDAN'S FAMOUS RIDE: Gen. Philip Sheridan was depicted on the cover of Harper's Illustrated Weekly riding to rally his routed army at Cedar Creek near Middletown, Virginia.  Returning from Washington, the general ad rested overnight at Winchester and awoke to the news of battle.
VERMONT AT CEDAR CREEK DISPLAYED:  The actions of the Vermont Brigade are commemorated in the wall-size painting of the battle by Vermont artist Julian Scott. It was purchased by the State in 1874 and now is displayed in the Cedar Creek Room in the Vermont State House.
This battle was chosen by Vermont Civil War veterans because more Vermonters were involved in this battle than in any other Civil War battle. The faces of many actual participants are depicted in Scott's masterpiece.  (Courtesy Vermont State House Curator's Office)

In this detail from The Battle of Cedar Creek, Capt. Thomas Kennedy is carried from the battlefield after being wounded.  (Courtesy Vermont State Curator's Office)

 VERMONT'S ROLE AT BATTLE RECOGNIZED ANEW:  Sen. Joe Benning (Caledonia-Orange) and Vermont Civil War Historian Howard Coffin are spearheading an effort to erect a highway sign at Cedar Creek Battlefield during the 150th anniversary observances this October. The sign, describing the role of Vermont soldiers, is show being unveiled in the Cedar Creek Room in the Vermont State House by House Speaker Shap Smith (left) and Howard Coffin. (Courtesy photo by Joe Benning)

Joe Benning, Howard Coffin and Vermont group with the new Vermont highway sign and display at the 150th Anniversary observances at Cedar Creek Battlefield, October 19, 2014. (courtesy Joe Benning)

     Men from the area participated in both major battles and minor skirmishes of the American Civil War. Since the 150th anniversary observances began, this column has covered the significant engagements at Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg and the Wilderness. This article describes the role of Union forces, including local Vermont and New Hampshire men, at the Battle of Cedar Creek.
     Fought on October 19, 1864, it was the culminating battle for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. More Vermonters fought in this battle than in any other battle of the war and more than 500 were killed, wounded, or missing. 
     In addition to regimental histories and internet sources, Howard Coffin’s Full Duty, Vermonters in the Civil War and Jonathan A. Noyalias’ The Battle of Cedar Creek: Victory From the Jaws of Defeat provided complete details on the battle. State Senator Joe Benning and the West Fairlee Historical Society also provided valuable information. 
     The fertile Shenandoah Valley, running north and south in western Virginia, was one of the important theatres of the Civil War in 1864.  The Union strategy was to gain control of the valley and prevent its abundant harvest from being used by the Confederacy. It was also to prevent the valley from being used as an “avenue of invasion” against the North.
     For the previous three years, Northern forces had suffered a series of defeats in the Valley, leading one Vermont soldier to refer to it as the “valley of humiliation.” In the summer of 1864 the Union forces there were reorganized under the command of Gen. Philip Sheridan who was charged with the task of wrestling the valley from the Confederates’ grasp. The Union army of 31,000 was opposed by a Confederate force of 20,000 under the command of Gen. Jubal Early.  
     After a series of victories in September and early October, Union forces embarked on a campaign to destroy the valley’s resources. Known as “The Burning,” it involved the destruction of hundreds of barns and mills with their contents of grain and the seizing of 11,000 head of cattle.
     Northern morale, both in the army and at home, soared with these victories. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee knew, even with these setbacks, that this campaign tied up Union forces that would otherwise be used in the Union attempt to capture the southern capital at Richmond.
     By the second week of October, during a respite from hostilities, the Union force was encamped along Cedar Creek near Middletown, VA.  There was no feeling of impending action and the soldiers rested. One Vermonter wrote “absolute security prevailed.”  Sheridan travelled to Washington, leaving Gen. Horace Wright in command.    
     The Confederate’s Jubal Early was faced with the choice of retreating to replenish his forces or attacking, using surprise as a tactical advantage.  He chose the latter. His reconnaissance suggested that the Union left flank was vulnerable. 
Gen. Stephen Thomas of West Fairlee was officer-of-day and he was concerned. On the afternoon of Oct. 18, he had noticed a group of men in civilian clothes observing the Union lines. He reported his concerns to his superiors, but to no avail.  During the night he rode beyond his picket lines and found himself confronted by enemy soldiers.  He narrowly escaped capture. 
The soldiers he met were the beginning of the major advance against the Union left.  Thomas’s brigade was ordered to hold the line. That 800-man brigade included men from the Vermont 8th as well as regiments from several other states.
  Many men from the local area were in companies C and D of the 8 thInfantry. Capt. Alfred Getchell of Bradford was the commander of Co. D. He was joined by 2nd Lt. Horace Emerson of Corinth and a number of noncommissioned officers and privates.
      While many in the Union camp were caught asleep or only partially dressed, this brigade fought hand to hand until ordered to fall back. The 8th Vermont lost many of its members in fierce fighting against an overwhelming force. Their gallant stand delayed the enemy advance enough to allow others to withdraw to safety.
      Among the casualties of the 8th‘s battle that day were John Waldron and George Bean of Newbury, William Bliss of Bradford, Henry Richardson of Topsham, Joseph Rollins of Thetford and Samuel Scott of Ryegate, all wounded during that day.  Sgt. Benjamin Waldron of Newbury was taken prisoner and confined in Libby Prison.  He died three days after being exchanged in April 1865. Franklin Russell of West Fairlee was killed.
     In addition to those of the 8th Vermont, others casualties included James Greig of Newbury, 3rd VT who was killed. Alfred Clark of Topsham and Charles Porter of Thetford, both members of the 10th Vermont, were wounded during the action. In the 6th Vermont, Charles Stratton of Thetford and John Doyle of Bradford were both taken prisoner.
     Many Union soldiers retreated in unorganized alarm, leaving supplies behind. As the Confederates followed through the deserted Union encampment, the abandoned rations, boots and blankets were too much of a temptation and some stopped to plunder. Considering their deplorable state this was not unexpected.
     Driven back several miles, the Union forces made a stand on a ridge near Middletown.  The Vermont Brigade lay there awaiting the Confederate charge and then answered it with a “staggering volley.”
     Some units began to waiver in the face of the deadly rebel onslaught. It was then that Capt. French, in command of a brigade of New York troops, shouted his famous order to his men: “Don’t run, men, till the Vermonters do.”  Neither Vermonters nor New Yorkers ran away and did not withdraw until ordered to do so.
     All of this time, the Union army was without its commander.  Sheridan, returning from his Washington trip, had rested overnight twelve miles away in Winchester. Riding in haste toward Middletown, he came upon retreating soldiers.  .
     Sheridan rode among the Union forces, his presence instilling confidence among the soldiers. The Burlington Free Press reporter described his appearance: “It was at this crisis that General Sheridan arrived upon the field. He rode rapidly down the pike…and reined up in front of the Brigade and inquired ‘What troops are these?’  ‘The Sixth Corps, the Vermont Brigade’ was shouted almost simultaneously from the ranks. ‘Then we are all right!’ exclaimed the general, and swinging his hat over his head, he rapidly rode to the right amid the exultant shouts of the men.” 
     The Confederates heard these cheers and assumed Union reinforcements had arrived. As the Confederates ranks thinned, the charge lost it momentous. In consideration of the danger of the Union cavalry, Gen. Early ordered the advance halted. It had been successful to this point with his forces capturing numerous prisoners and armaments. 
     This “fatal halt” was considered one of the war’s greatest blunders.  Sheridan forged a plan to reorganize his army north of Middletown and counterattack. Sheridan strengthened the Union line with the Vermont Brigade and the 14th New Hampshire in the middle and what remained of the Vermont 8th on the right along with Gen. George Custer’s cavalry. This cavalry included both the 1st Vermont and 1st New Hampshire Cavalry regiments.
     About 4 pm the Union line moved forward and immediately came under a “furious fire of musketry.”    At this point Stephen Thomas’ horse Pete was shot. The West Fairlee officer,  temporarily on foot, advanced with his men.  For his heroic actions throughout the battle, Thomas was awarded the Medal of Honor.
     The 8th Vermont became the first Union regiment to break the enemy line.  The 14th New Hampshire lost more men killed during this charge than any other unit in the 19th Corps.
     Significant in the Union advance was the charge of 3,000 cavalrymen. Even as the Union infantry lost thrust, the cavalry continued to advance,  driving  the enemy before it “with great slaughter,” and taking many prisoners.
     Lt. Col. John W. Bennett of Newbury, in command of the 1st Vermont Cavalry, wrote: “My men rushed upon them as though they were the appointed avengers of their comrades slain.”
     By 5:30 pm the Confederate line had been penetrated.  At this point the Confederate commander realized he had more to lose than gain by continuing the fighting. What had been a Union “skedaddle” in the morning became a Confederate rout in the afternoon.
      Their retreat was complicated by the collapse of a narrow bridge on the Valley Pike.  It had to abandon the captured guns and wagons as well as most of their own. 
     Despite more than twice the number of casualties as the enemy, the Union army seized “victory from the jaws of defeat.”  The South was never again able to mount an invasion of the North through the valley.  The destruction to the valley denied valuable resources to the Confederate cause. 
     The victory had a positive impact on the reelection of President Lincoln and his plan to only end the war with the reunification of the Union.  For Philip Sheridan, the victory at Cedar Creek helped to insure his place among America’s greatest war heroes.
     The Vermont Brigade’s actions in the Battle of Cedar Creek are commemorated in a wall-size painting in what became known as the Cedar Creek Room in the Vermont State House.  It is by Vermont painter and Civil War veteran Julian Scott, himself a Medal of Honor recipient. 
     Scott included in this, his most famous Civil War painting, many of the faces of those who actually participated in the battle.  For example, the painting includes among its many features, Capt. Thomas Kennedy  of the 6th Vermont being carried from the field  after suffering wounds. 
     It may only be coincidental that Kennedy is portrayed.  Or itt may be that at the time Scott was being commissioned to paint the picture, Kennedy was a member of the Legislature and in a position to influence both this and future commissions by the artist.
     Next week will be the 150th anniversary of this battle in which many local men participated.  The Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation plans to commemorate and re-enact the battle. It is one of the few re-enactments that take place on an actual battlefield.  The Foundation expects more than 5,000 re-enactors to attend.  
     During a recent visit to the Cedar Creek Battlefield, Caledonia-Orange Senator Joe Benning) noticed the lack of recognition of Vermont’s role.  In collaboration  with Howard Coffin, Benning obtained the approval of the Senate Institutions Committee, of which he is a member, to create a Vermont roadside historical marker to be placed on the battlefield during the 150th anniversary ceremony. 
     The monument will be unveiled in the middle of the battle re-enactment.  Bennings indicated in a recent news release that “the commander of the Union forces is assembling a formal march-by and battalion salute when the monument is unveiled.”  Benning and Coffin will present the monument and the accompanying display.  That display will include a reproduction of the Julian Scott painting.    
     Among those who cared for the wounded at Cedar Creek were Heman Gillett of Corinth, Samuel Currier of West Fairlee, Cyrus Allen of Thetford and William H. Haskins of Bradford.  Haskins wote a letter to his wife the day on the day before the battle. He wrote of earlier skirmishes, the two encamped armies and the need to be paid.  His family home was in a house that still stands across the street from mine. 
     He also wrote: “You say that you can hardly realize in the quiet of Bradford that there is a war raging in the land. I am aware that people in Vermont know nothing of war comparatively, but if they were in the army an hour or two some days they would have a realizing sense of war that they would never forget.”
     Those who did experience that sense of war, gained through battles such as those mentioned in this and previous articles, never forgot.  My plan is to write one additional article in this Civil War commemoration series.  That will deal with the lives these veterans led after the war’s end in April, 1865. 
     For many their battle experiences shaped the remainder of their lives. We know all too well that this is true of combatants of every war before and after this one.  

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.



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Banking On That

 July 8, 2014   Journal-Opinion

     “Coos Bank was indicative of the enterprise not only of the men of Grafton County…but also the growing wealth and importance of the Connecticut Valley….also the importance of Haverhill as a business center.”  This is Haverhill historian William Whitcher’s description of the first bank in the region. The Coos Bank was established in 1803 in Haverhill Corner. 

     This column describes the history of banking in the area following the chartering of the Coos Bank. Information was gathered from local histories, interviews, Internet sources and Arthur Stone’s The Vermont of Today. 

     During the 40 years after settlement in the 1760s there were no banks in the area. Local residents joined the rest of the nation in having a strong aversion to banks as they identified them with moneyed interests, speculation and debt. Supposing that banks were not in the interest of the general population, it was generally believed that banks “put into circulation notes, which gradually become worthless, and which father all manner of evils.”  

     With little currency available, locals relied on coins, either foreign or domestic, and bartering. During the period after independence, the Continental Congress issued paper money that immediately lost so much value that the slogan “Not worth a Continental” became synonymous with worthless.  Locally it was said that it took a barrel full of this currency to buy a barrel full of flour. 

     In 1791, at the encouragement of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, the First Bank of the United States was created. The first bank in Vermont was established and owned by the State in 1806.  The law creating this bank outlawed the circulation of private bank notes. Within five years this bank closed and in 1811 the First Bank’s charter was also not renewed.

     Trade and industry were severely hampered by the lack of banks and the losses from bad paper money. The Coos Bank was the only local bank within 100 miles of Haverhill during this period.  But by 1820 it had issued bank notes in amounts beyond the limits of its charter and it suffered financial failure.  

     Two years later the Grafton Bank opened in Haverhill.  Its operation was the subject of considerable partisan wrangling, with local Democrats charging that “it was in the control of a junta of aristocratic old time Federalists and Whigs.” This bank survived until 1849.  While these banks struggled to endure, anks some merchants offered their own script notes, honored locally. 

     Counterfeiting of local bank notes added to the currency mistrust. Counterfeiters not only printed fake notes but also altered real bills to manipulate face values. It was difficult for the average person to distinguish between the real and the bogus.   

     While some counterfeiters escaped punishment, others did not. In 1795, Vermonter Seba Beebe had his right ear cut off and his forehead branded with a “C” after being convicted of counterfeiting.   

     Two other notorious counterfeiters operated locally. The first, Stephen Burroughs, was described as a “most shrewd and accomplished villain.” In 1806, Orange County’s Sheriff Micah Barron of Bradford, underwritten by the Coos Bank among others, travelled to Lower Canada and apprehended Burroughs.  In 1849, renowned counterfeiter William Warburton, nicknamed “Bristol Bill,” operated with his gang out of a home in Groton. Recognition of a gang member by a local bank employee led to the arrest of the entire band and confiscation of their printing press and copper plates. 

     The first bank in this part of Vermont was the Bank of Newbury, chartered in 1831.  It was established by major businessmen from five area towns. Its location was the subject of controversy when Wells River rather than the village of Newbury was chosen. This slight was the cause of “consternation” within the town for years. 

     Nationally, this was a period of “free banking,” especially after the demise of the Second Bank of the United States in 1836. Locally, several other banks were chartered, but either never opened or operated for only a brief time. These included the Amonoosuc Bank of Bath, the Grafton Bank of Haverhill and the Grafton County Bank, also in Haverhill. 

     In 1854, The Bradford Bank opened for business. It was an example of savings banks being opened across the nation “to encourage economy and frugality” among the people. The Bradford Bank as part of its operation, issued paper money that was “excellently engraved, well printed and attractively designed.”  But local currencies of this type were not popular nationally, especially with the outbreak of the Civil War. 

      In 1863 the federal government passed legislation that created nationally chartered banks with currency backed by U.S. Government securities. Officials of The Bradford Bank objected to this national interference and, in 1864, closed the bank. In contrast, the Bank of Newbury became the National Bank of Newbury.

     It was not uncommon for the nation to enter a period of economic depression. These “panics” where often characterized by bank failures. Depositors would demand their savings, a demand that banks could not always meet. One example of this was the Bradford Savings Bank and Trust Company established in 1870.  In 1892 this bank occupied a new brick building on Main Street.

     But this bank became too leveraged in the failing Ely copper mines and during the panic of 1897 the bank went into receivership and never recovered. The West Fairlee Savings Bank and Trust Co., established in 1871, suffered the same fate, closing around 1890. That depression was the worse the nation had experienced with 500 banks and 15,000 companies failing. 

     Woodsville had several banks established at this time. The Woodsville Guaranty Saving Bank was chartered in 1889 and soon after opening it moved to the new Opera Block on Central Street. In 1891 the Woodsville Loan and Banking Association opened and in 1897 became the Woodsville National Bank.

     The national bank and the saving bank operated out of the same location in Woodsville. This was because national banks were at that time limited to checking accounts and commercial loans. Savings banks could offer savings accounts and residential mortgages. 

     This same paired arrangement was found in neighboring Wells River. In 1892 the Wells River Savings Bank was chartered to complement the National Bank of Newbury. They operated with the same board of directors from the same location on the east side of Main Street.

     In 1904 the Bradford National Bank was chartered and occupied the vacated savings and trust bank building.  Reform was needed in the national banking system especially after the panic of 1907. Solutions were often the victim of partisan politics. However, in 1913 Congress established the Federal Reserve System, a decentralized central banking agency. Its purpose was to maintain a “safer, more flexible and more stable monetary and financial system.”    

     While bank failures were common, local banks survived. Thrifty locals who had money saved it and it was reinvested in local communities. “During the period from 1908-1928 only one Vermont bank has closed its doors, and that one has since paid it creditors the full principal amount.” When Arthur Stone made this observation in 1929, the nation was on the brink of the Great Depression. 

     At that time, depositors had little recourse if banks were unable to return their savings. As the nation went into an economic tailspin in late 1929, panic spread. In many areas across the nation, lines formed in front of banks as depositors demanded savings that were unavailable. That year, 659 banks failed followed by 5102 the following year.

     By March 1933, 10,000 banks had failed nationally, but not one locally. On March 6, 1933 newly-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a bank holiday in an effort to reestablish confidence in the nation’s banking system. New legislation created a federally-backed depositors’ insurance and federal examiners reviewed bank records for solvency. On March 13, local banks joined others in reopening. Panic was stemmed and nationally many customers returned the savings they had hastily withdrawn.  Others who lost their deposits did not return and remained suspicious of banks for a long time.

     Banking during these years was very much a local activity.  Highly respected citizens, primarily men, cautious in their approach, held the executive and director positions. Tellers and loan officers were local residents. Generally, citizens banked locally where they knew the bank and the bank knew them. Some residents and businesses, either in an effort for privacy or because their activities were beyond the scope of local banks, used larger institutions elsewhere.   

     Raymond Green came to Bradford in 1963 with plans to purchase  Green Mountain Explosives and relocate it from Barre. His initial request for a loan at the Bradford National Bank was denied. After all, he appeared to the bank as an untried newcomer. Green told me that he dropped by the rear of the Gove and Morrill Hardware store where Bernard Crafts had his unofficial “office.”  Crafts was the bank’s president, a town selectman and the “Mayor” of Bradford. Green made his appeal. Crafts gave sage advice that Green followed. The loan was granted. 

      Over the past 18 months I have been writing articles on the area changes from 1960 to 1994. The following is some of the banking news mentioned in this newspaper and gathered from local interviews. The news was of expansion, mergers, modernization and failures.

     The Bradford National Bank relocated to a new building on the east side of Main Street in 1961. As was the case with many banks during this period this bank opened small branch banks, in Fairlee in 1964 and Thetford in 1974.  The bank prospered, enlarged their main building, and added new features such as computers, credit cards and drive-up windows. However, during the recession of the early 1990’s, the BNB became distressed and in January 1993 was taken over by federal officials.         

     The Merchants Bank took over the operation of the defunct bank. Organized in Burlington in 1849, Merchants was chartered as a national bank in 1865 and then converted to a state-chartered bank in 1974. It currently operates branches in Bradford and East Thetford.

     Another bank that closed during this period was the Hanover Bank and Trust Co. It opened a branch in Orford in 1979 in the Old Elm House and later relocated it to the corner of Bridge and Main Streets. It was taken over by BankEast in 1991, a bank that was one of the six major New Hampshire banks that failed in the recession of the early 1990s.   

      Dartmouth National Bank opened the first bank in Lyme in 1975 in the Nichols Hardware Building where it operated until 1986. That year it was acquired by Indian Head Bank for two years and then by Fleet Bank. Without a renewal of its lease the bank branch closed in 1994.  In 1994, Mascoma Savings Bank opened a Lyme branch office and the following year Ledyard National Bank did also.  Both still operated.       

     Changes in banking practices caused the formerly complementary National Bank of Newbury and Wells River Savings Bank to offer duplicate services and a degree of competition. Therefore, in 1981, they merged. In 1988 the bank built a new building on Bradford’s Main Street followed by branches in buildings old and new in Fairlee, Newbury and East Thetford.

     The Woodsville Guaranty Saving Bank also continued to prosper and in 1973 opened a branch office in Piermont, followed by branches in other Northern New Hampshire locations. By 1974 the Woodsville National Bank was operating from a new building on Central Street. Over the next two decades it was part of several mergers, first with Littleton’s Lafayette National Bank and then with Fleet Bank.  In 1999, it was acquired by the Laconia Savings Bank, a bank established in 1831. In 2013, it was renamed The Bank of New Hampshire.    

     In earlier times, bankers were among the most distrusted of occupations. Banks have a mixed history in the area, some lasting for many decades, others for short periods of time. Most officials were honest and competent, but a few were found lacking.

     Standing in the lobby of any area bank one can see that these institutions serve a cross-section of the community with politeness and skill and reinvest local funds in local projects. Attempt to raise funds for a community activity and one finds banks most generous. Hoping to see local communities prosper one will find bank officials in the vanguard of those efforts.  You can bank on it.