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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Decades of Change: 1985-1989

Journal Opinion, January 29, 2014

     “Today’s news is tomorrow’s history.”
This statement was part of a Journal-Opinion promotion during the last half of the 1980s. The staff probably did not anticipate that someone would re-read the major articles years later and write a series on the history contained in their regional coverage. But I have, and this is the sixth chapter in a series that began with the events of 1960 and continues in five-year increments. The first five chapters can be found at “Decades of Change” at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.  As the coverage get closer to the 21st century, more and more of the readers will recall the events and people described. I encourage them to share those memories with those who do not.

     Vermont and New Hampshire experienced double-digit population growth every decade from 1960 to 1990. Grafton and Orange counties shared in the growth that impacted local communities in various ways and to varied degrees. The area continued to be largely rural, a characteristic that was treasured by residents, old and new. 

     One of the most significant impacts of the growth was an increased student population. During the period from 1985 to 1989, many communities in the region struggled with the pressure for additional space to accommodate the new students.  Bradford, West Fairlee and Union 36 remodeled their elementary schools and Haverhill bought a modular classroom. Orford built a new elementary school. Fairlee, Warren, Thetford and Lyme had proposals rejected, but later reconsidered.

     Teaching techniques, state and federal standards, teacher contractual issues and staff changes featured significantly in the news. Teachers at Oxbow and Haverhill Co-operative flirted with strikes in response to stalled negotiations. The membership and administration of supervisory unions were constant issues.  School districts without high schools wondered where to send their older students, but no major changes were implemented. 

     It was not uncommon for there to be double-digit increases in school and town budgets. Many cried “our taxes are too high.” Those increases were sometimes accepted and just as often reduced. The use of the Australian ballot for budgets was implemented by Oxbow voters.

      Student activities were given considerable newspaper space. In 1988, the Woodsville girls’ varsity cross-country team became the first girls’ team to win a state championship in the school’s history. Thetford Academy’s baseball team won their first state championship. The BMU boys won basketball state championships in 1985 and 1986.  The female athletes at Oxbow were consistently outstanding.  Their field hockey teams won championships three years in a row and the girls’ basketball teams coached by Mona Garone won 74 consecutive games and three state championships. 

     Milestones were achieved by individuals. In basketball, Orford’s Adam Dyke, Woodsville’s Jamie Walker and Oxbow’s Betsy Burnham all reached 1,000 points whereas Orford’s Cynthia Thomson achieved 1,500 and Oxbow’s Jade Huntington excelled at 2,000.  BMU’s Ron Brown coached his 300th basketball victory.
     Student athletes were not the only ones who excelled. Jasper and Jean Putnam of Piermont and Orman and Isabelle Thayer of North Haverhill won NH Dairyman of the Year in 1985 and 1986 respectfully. In 1988 Dr. Harry Rowe of Wells River was Vermont’s Family Doctor of the Year and Joel Moore of Bradford was Vermont’s Outstanding Vocational Educator.

     Communities honored those who observed significant birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other milestones. With sadness they observed the passing of many including four important area businessmen and civic leaders: T. Borden Walker and Charles Butson of Woodsville and John Gibbs and Morris Perry of Bradford.

     In the business community there were comings and goings. While Gove and Morrill Hardware of Bradford, Colby’s Department Store of Fairlee and Brundy’s Manufacturing of North Haverhill closed, there were a number of new or significantly remodeled facilities. 

      Those included Groton’s Marrow Research, Fairlee’s Cumberland Farms and Conval Home Building Center; Bradford’s Brookside Nursing Home, Wells River Savings Bank Branch, Valley Floors, Gove and Bancroft Pharmacy, the Mills Restaurant, Oakes Bros., and Stephens Precision; Woodsville’s Railyard Health Club and Ames department store; and  the Dodge’s Falls dam and Decker’s wood-burning energy plant in Ryegate.

     That plant, the subject of considerable discussion in Ryegate, was just one of the environmental issues facing area residents during the late 1980s. In 1987, Vermont’s new “trash tax” caused considerable argument. With increased dumping costs and landfill regulations, towns on both sides of the Connecticut had to find new arrangements to answer the question “Where will the garbage go?”  

     Composting and recycling became more popular. Some chose rural roadsides for illegal dumping. The most egregious example of illegal dumping was the discovery in 1989 that debris was being trucked in from out of state to a secret dump at Stonecliff Farm in Bradford.   

      Realizing that their environment made the area a “rural paradise,” residents were quick to protest the “radioactive horror” suggested by the federal authorities suggestion that Groton’s Knox Mountain might be designated as a nuclear dump site. “We will resist” was the response. The proposal went away.

    Protests against the building of a 121-mile high voltage line from Quebec to Massachusetts that would run through area towns were less successful.  The line was built.

      Jenny Nelson of Ryegate initiated a successful nation-wide boycott against the candy maker Hershey for its efforts to keep milk prices low.  Hershey’s actions were not the only threat to area farmers. Lower milk prices brought on by over production caused local farmers to dump milk in a staged protest in 1986. That same year the Federal government implemented a whole herd buy-out program that some farmers accepted.

       Farmers were driven to even consider collective bargaining, a course that ran contrary to traditional independence. Exceptionally dry weather in 1989 only added to farmers’ plight and farm auctions were common.

     State and Federal regulations also had an impact on town governments. Vermont’s passage of Act 200 with its regional planning heightened the fear that local control was being lost. Many opposition meetings were held. Some suggested that northern Vermont should secede and join New Hampshire where “local integrity” was honored. Opposition to town zoning was still strong and efforts to implement or alter existing plans received mixed responses.

      Other Vermont state actions that prompted local debate were a mandatory seatbelt law, smoking regulations, a state Equal Right Amendment and new state regulations on the appraisal of private property. That caused a small-scale revolt as town reappraisals were undertaken. At one point landowners around Lake Groton threatened to secede from Groton.

     Another issue was the raising of the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, done at the insistence of the federal government. In Vermont it was adopted in 1986, but with a grandfather clause that staggered its implementation. The use of alcohol continued to be a problem, especially when coupled with driving, and changing the age made little difference. Local high schools had active SADD groups and Project Graduations and worked to reduce students’ use of alcohol.

   The region was “a garden spot for marijuana cultivation.”  Local and state police in both states made major seizures of large-scale pot operations in almost every local town and burned the seized harvest.    Other drugs filtered into the area and led to several deaths and a rash of burglaries in homes and businesses.

      At one point there were a series of break-ins that occurred when residents in my neighborhood were asleep. Fearful, several of them bought barking dogs. Those thieves were soon caught but the neighborhood was filled with barking dogs for the next decade. In 1989, Haverhill police reported that the crime statistics for Haverhill were “scary.” Neighborhood watch programs were explored and implemented in several communities.

     Residents banding together to deal with a problem was not limited to dealing with crime. Towns had a heritage of community and individual generosity. Carole and Walter Young of Haverhill donated a new firehouse in Haverhill Corner and a scholarship program for local students.

      Residents supported replacing budget cuts to student activities in Woodsville, the creation of Lebanon’s David’s House, the building of Memorial Park in Bradford and the purchase of Nautilus equipment for Oxbow. At least three seriously ill youngsters were the center of efforts to raise funds and donate blood.

     When Bradford’s young Elizabeth Claflin died, a children’s park was suggested as a fitting memorial. In a two-year effort, involving hundreds of volunteers and capped by a five-day intense building project, Elizabeth’s Park was created. At first Bradford voters refused to make it a municipal facility to facilitate grant applications. A $50,000 private donation made the playground a reality. 

      The area drew the attention of the national media. Groton State Forest was so “natural and wholesome” a Grape-Nuts commercial was filmed there. Corinth was the location for a Quaker Oats commercial and the filming of Beetlejuice, a box office smash. Locals filled in as extras in this film as well as the horror film Return To Salem’s Lot that used Newbury’s common for its filming.

       CBS’s 60 Minutes filmed Bernie Sanders on a tour of the area. In 1987 Orford was hit by “Magnum mania” as rumors spread that Tom Selleck was purchasing property locally. He did not, but television personality Jameson Parker did.

     So did numerous “newcomers.” Frank Bryan spoke the fear of many that the area was becoming “too gentrified.” These “strangers” brought new ideas and needs and challenged traditional leaders and ways of doing things. The conflict of philosophies rubbed some “natives” raw and led to an unusual amount of friction.   

    In Corinth this sparring often took place at Selectboard meetings where even the contents of meeting minutes led to personal clashes. In Thetford the strong differences of opinion over the creation of a veterans memorial was just one example of community rankling.  As a result of changing voting patterns, candidates from the Democratic Party were more commonly elected.

     The Journal Opinion reported on all of the events mentioned above. It also featured lengthy “Town Topics” describing neighborhood activities and community social events. Bruce Bishop’s “Racing Currents”, Gary Moore’s “Thoughts on the Out of Doors” and Vid Roe’s “Between the Stripes” sports column were weekly regulars. The newspaper also ran a high school equivalency series, hosted homemaking expositions and, in response to higher food prices, created a budget recipe contest.    

    The more than 4500 pages of the newspaper printed in this five-year period described numerous other events and happenings not mentioned above. These included two plane crashes, several murders, numerous automobile mishaps, fires and floods.  Local issues included stray dogs, sewage pollution, the increased number of mobile homes, plantings on Newbury’s common, early discussion of the merger of Bradford town and village and the expansion of Woodsville Fire District.

     It chronicled the closing of the East Topsham Post Office, the razing of Bradford’s stately Low Mansion, the expansion of several area churches and the introduction of satellite and cable television, automobile leasing and round hay bales. It reported on the building of a new wing at Cottage Hospital and the Newbury Elderly Housing project, the refurbishing of several neighborhoods using federal grants, the establishment of Upper Valley Services serving handicapped adults and the need for a new regional ambulance service. Orange Arts programs, regional fairs and festivals and the productions of the new Old Church Theatre were described in detail. 

     Stories and advertisements informed readers about the awards won by super Electrolux salesman Joe DePalo, fair contestants and lottery winners. One ad was a memorial to Jiggs, a beloved Lab from Woodsville. There were articles about a rare document found at the Bradford Public Library and a strange tunnel found on the lawn of a Newbury village home. Initial mentions of AIDS brought letters of concern for individual safety.  A two-part article about Solomon “Lucky” Kubheka, a visiting student from South Africa, made area residents more aware of apartheid. “Wacky” weather was frequently described. The paper devoted space to those who wrote letters about the issues the writers felt were important.

     If today is the tomorrow the newspaper referred to in its 1980s promotion, than it is also true that “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” Younger or newer residents who read the history of this period should realize that many of the problems facing the area today are not new.

     Writer John T. Tindsley’s complete thought is “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday, and all is well.” While it would be dreaming to say that “all is well” in our neighborhoods today, it is safe to conclude that many of the problems that did materialize in the past have been solved by thoughtful actions by local residents. Because of these efforts, much is better.

School overcrowding faced every town in the region. Bradford, West Fairlee and Union 36 remodeled their elementary schools and Orford built a new one.
The federal proposal to consider Groton's Knox Mountain as a possible site
 for a nuclear dump brought a strong reaction from residents.
 In 1985 the gutted ruins of the once beautiful Low Mansion overlooking the
village of Bradford were removed. 
Arguments were not limited to just fishing.
 In the summer of 1986, a young cousin from California (l) join Melissa Munson,
 Nichole Marsh and Jennifer Munson to sell the blueberries they picked. The fruit of
their labors was a quick sell.  
Beetlejuice, filmed in East Corinth in June, 1987 was just one of several movies,
 television segments and commercials created using local residents and sites. 
 Executive Councilor Raymond Burton at just one of the hundreds of visits
to events he made during his long career. Here he presents a New Hampshire flag to the new Haverhill Corner Fire Station, donated by Walter and Carole Young of the community. Receiving the
flag is Fire Chief Michael Lavoie.
After two years of planning and a five-day building project, Elizabeth's Park in Bradford
 opened in the fall of 1988 as a memorial to Elizabeth Claflin. 
 In October, 1986 police officers burned pot plants seized in Corinth Corner.  This was just one of a number of large seizures in the area aka "a garden spot for marijuana cultivation."
On May 19, 1989 two planes collided over Bradford village.  Dozen of spectators
rushed to aid those trapped in a submerged plane in the Waits River.