Once upon a Berlin Time
Hello fellow Berlinites. I started writing about this year about ten years ago, but never did do it justice, so here is the rest of the story. It certainly must have been different living here during the last year of the 1800's. The city of Berlin was just two years old with a population of about 9,000 citizens and already the paper industry was starting to come on in a strong way. A new century was going to start and this city's growth would take off.
By 1899, some of the mills that were operating were the Riverside Mill, the Berlin Mills Company Sawmill, the Burgess Sulphite Fiber Company, the International Paper Mills and other small industries that were helping this new city develop.
Events were a little more difficult to find back then even though we had two newspapers in operation that each published once a week. These papers were the Berlin Reporter and the Berlin Independent. A lot of the news that was taking place around the city could be found in the local gossip columns.
Major events did make the headlines and one of these was the death of Rev. Narcisse Cournoyer, the first pastor of St. Anne's Parish, who died on January 23, 1899. Father Cournoyer was 44 years old.
This priest came here in 1885, as a successor to Father Walsh who was then stationed in Gorham, with Berlin as a mission. He was not a strong man and the arduous duties of this rapidly growing parish were more than his delicate health could stand. He was ambitious, earnest, conscientious, kindhearted, compassionate, a friend to the needy and a strong advocate of his religion.
When Father Cournoyer first came to Berlin, he enlarged the church edifice, purchased land and built the rectory. Afterwards, he bought the property known as the Cascade House and established the parochial school eventually known as St. Regis.
His remains were taken to this old wooden church on January 23, 1899 where they laid in state until his funeral on January 25. The memorial service for this famous local celebrant was considered one of the largest in the state and careful estimates placed the total number present to exceed 5,000 people.
One of the largest processions ever witnessed in Northern New Hampshire, followed his remains to St. Anne's cemetery on the East side of the river where this founding priest was interred.
No time was wasted in finding another priest to succeed Father Cournoyer in this growing parish, as Father Louis LaPlante arrived in Berlin on Monday evening February 6, 1899. Father LaPlante came here from Rochester, New Hampshire where he was given a grand sendoff by all of his old community members.
On Tuesday evening, February 7, the members of St. Anne's Church assembled in large numbers at a place called Forester's Hall and presented their new pastor with a grand welcome ceremony. Father LaPlante went on to build the brick St. Anne's Church, the brick St. Regis Academy and established the St. Louis Hospital, which was named after him. Father Laplante spent eighteen years here before passing away in 1917.
One of Berlin's top lawyers, who later became one of this city's famous mayor's, Mr. D.J. Daley Esquire, had a thrilling experience in the line of railroading during the beginning of February. It was something he said that would never be forgotten.
He left Berlin on Monday morning, going by the Grand Trunk Railroad to Stratford, New Hampshire where he had some business, finishing just in time to connect with the evening train coming east. This train was due in town about 9:30 p.m. and was assured by the conductor that they would be in Berlin as scheduled.
All of this fell apart when they reached Stark, New Hampshire though. The snow and wind began to retard their progress, as they pushed on, reaching Copperville (several miles above Berlin) somewhat late. They also were told to go to a siding, as another train was coming by. This is when the trouble began.
The train pulled onto a siding about one quarter of a mile from the station in Copperville to wait as ordered and then the storm increased in fury. This left the train unable to move either way.
Adding to the dilemma was that the water in the engine gave out and the boiler fire was soon extinguished. This left them with no power or heat. So, Mr. Daley decided that he would walk to the station. He found the snow drifts so high that this was out of the question, causing him to return to the safety of the train.
When morning arrived Mr. Daley made it to the station after quite an effort, but was unable to reach Berlin until the afternoon express was successful in getting through. No food and no heat for about 24 hours was quite a harrowing experience for this young Berlin attorney.
I have mentioned many times about the great number of accidents that took the limbs and lives of our busy mill workers of the past. I really haven't mentioned many, as these accidents were a routine happening.
On Tuesday morning February 8, 1899, at 7:30 a.m., as six of the employees of the Burgess Sulphite Fiber Company were being carried to the upper part of the mill, the elevator that was transporting them broke and sent the men with great force to the cement floor 30 feet below.
This accident quickly called other employees of the mill to their aid and the injured men were rendered every bit of help that was possible. Teams were secured and they conveyed the badly injured men to their homes or the hospital on First Avenue as their needs required.
John McDonald sustained the most severe injuries, having an ankle so badly crushed, as to render amputation necessary. He was thus taken to the Androscoggin Hospital where the operation was successfully performed. Charles Mitchell also received bad bruises about the limbs and back while Oscar Beland, Ed Fortier, Joe Morrisette and Fred Morrisette were all more or less bruised and shaken up, but recovered quickly.
There was no cause given for the accident, as the elevator was found to be okay upon examination. George McCarty, another employee had been up and down in the elevator a few moments before. Machines and apparatus caused hundreds of injuries and deaths in those days. If this elevator would have been much further up, all of these men might have died. OSHA would have had a field day during these years, but many lives would also have been saved.
In February of 1899, the Burgess Sulphite Fiber Company closed negotiations for the property that had once been called the Forest Fiber Company. This area, which was on the opposite side of the Androscoggin River, had an excellent site and water privilege that was second to none in this section.
It was hoped that the new owners would develop it into a further enlarged industry which would make their own as well as Berlin's future more prosperous.
I will continue with the year 1899 in my next writing.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 October 2014 12:52
A parent has a right to brag about his or her child or children. Right? Of course, right!
Be forewarned then. What follows is a parent bragging about one of his offspring.
Some of you may know him. His name is Rik (Erik). He graduated with honors from Berlin High School, in June of 1983. Rik played trombone in the band and usually had a camera at hand, taking pictures and developing them himself at home.
But his real interest was in all things space. Little wonder, then, that 31 years later, Dr. Erik Meade Conway is now the historian for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California. Having earned his PhD in The History of Science and Technology from the University of Minnesota, Dr. Conway spent some time in residence at the National Air and Space Administration Museum, in Washington, D. C. He was then hired as a contract writer for NASA at their Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Virginia. He now enjoys a full time writing position at JPL
His early published books (four of them, including such titles as "Blind Landings" and "High Speed Dreams") were written largely for the academic community,. Even so, they make for highly interesting reading about how government plays such a prominent role in the final decision of what systems and products do and do not get chosen for production. Recently though, Erik has partnered with Naomi Oreskes, whose sister lives right here in Milan, to publish two more popularly oriented books which have won them quite a bit of fame.
"Merchants of Doubt," their first book, is subtitled "How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming." Their controversial book was a finalist for the Loa Angeles Times' book award in science. While it didn't win that award, it was picked up by a film company that specializes in documentaries, and had its premiere at a Toronto film festival not long ago. It was also shown in New York just this past week. It has also won a prestigious award from the scientific community. "Merchants of Doubt" also found them in demand for speaking engagements about their book in both the United States and abroad.
In sending Barrie and me a copy of the book, Erik wrote "Well, this is book #5. Did you ever think that is what I would be doing for a living? I sure didn't."
No, I can't say that we did, although we always felt that whatever he did, it would have something to do with science.
And book number 6 is now out and already a clear winner. The Oreskes/Conway new book is titled "The Collapse of Western Civilization.." Subtitled "A View from the Future, it imagines a future historian looking back over the preceding couple of centuries seeking to understand how Western Civilization allowed itself to make such horrendously irresponsible decisions that it brought about its own collapse. While it is a book of speculation about our civilization's future, it is grounded in considerable and thoughtful research.
Their book has reached number 51 on the Amazon Book List recently, and media interviews, book signings, and speaking engagements are already well underway. And, of great satisfaction to those of us who care, the questions being asked of them regarding both of their books are highly thoughtful and probing ones. Clearly, there are many among us and around the world who believe that they may well be a portent of what lies ahead. Not in specifics, of course, but in possible end result.
In their introduction to the book, they write of a fellow writer in an Australian audience who asked, "Will you write fiction next?" "The Collapse of Western Civilization" is their answer. Yes and No.
Somehow in the midst of all this writing and traveling, Rik has found time to meet and fall in love with a colleague at JPL. Her name is Andrea Donnellan, and she is the principle research scientist there. Next May will find them exchanging their wedding vows at the Mahoosuc Inn, right here in Milan.
You may now return to what you were doing. Father's bragging is done.
Last Updated on Monday, 13 October 2014 17:59
Once upon a Berlin Time
Hello fellow Berlinites. Merchants were very skeptical about establishing themselves in this paper making hot bed of the country. The reason for this was because there was a constant fear and dread that we could have a "Timber Famine".
It was believed that in a very short time, the timber would all be cut from the hillsides and surrounding wood lands. With this, the industries of Berlin would cease to operate because of the lack of raw materials, but it did not come about.
Soon, however, merchants doing prosperous business in adjoining towns opened branch establishments in Berlin and in some lines of merchandise, a thriving trade was carried on by outsiders, several of whom in later years established regular stores here and became leaders in the mercantile life of this town.
One must remember, in Berlin's earlier years of the late 1800's, the day of the canned goods was not yet born and groceries were bought or handled in bulk. So, a failure to find a ready demand meant reshipping broken bulk at a considerable loss.
In Berlin's early years, the Dead River flowed sluggishly across the one street that was the "town" and it was crossed by a single bridge. The land on this street was swampy and for a considerable part of the year under water. A quarter of a century later this same terrain became some of the finest stores in the North Country. The matter of filling in this track of land and the construction of what was then considered fireproof buildings several stories in height, demonstrated the faith that was in the future of Berlin by these late 1800 and early 1900 pioneers.
As soon as it became a settled fact that Berlin would be an established market for selling provisions and clothing, other commercial ventures were opened up. It was almost impossible to say what industry took the lead, as this place seemed to grow overnight, once the paper industry complimented the lumber industry.
For a long time there had been a tavern near the Grand Trunk Station built in 1830 and it was still there until 1923. This hostelry was for the accommodation of travelers that were passing through town. There was also the Mount Forist House in the middle of Main Street (Family Dollar today) and the Cascade House (old St Regis). These three places were able to handle all of Berlin's needs before the paper boom.
In 1913, there were several hotels, any one of which could easily have contained the total accommodations of the early 1880's. Yet, the hotel accommodations of the early 1900's were insufficient at times to meet the large and increasing requirements of the traveling public.
Once the "Paper City" started its fast growth, many of the men in the mills came here with their families. The necessity for more schools became apparent and from the first days of Berlin's prosperity there had been every endeavor to maintain schools of the highest class. This was done with no expenses spared in either buildings or instructors to keep this city in the forefront in matters educational.
How well the town had succeeded in this was shown by the fact that Berlin had a reputation throughout New England as one of the most advanced cities with its educational facilities and curriculum pursued in its public schools.
In addition to the public schools that were created by the great paper industry in Berlin, the Catholic Church maintained two schools, one of which was the Academy St. Regis (Northern Lights today), which had an enrollment of about 1,300 pupils and St. Patrick's Parochial School with an enrollment of about 350 pupils. This put the total enrollment in both public and parochial schools of the "Paper City" over 100 years ago at nearly 3,000.
Now, business of any kind naturally demanded facilities in the handling and transaction of money, along with industries which were not backed up by unlimited capital.
Consequently, it was realized during the paper boom that there was a need for a banking system in this city. Banks, trust companies, along with building and loan associations sprang into existence almost on impulse.
When the town of Berlin was first established, religious services were held at irregular periods, in these days at the homes of the people. Population at this time was to widely scattered and few in order to make a church a real practical proposition. About the only place of worship was the upper part of the Berlin Mills store.
With the sudden boom in population because of the Forest Fiber Company and other new industries, came the accommodation for the observance of religious duties which were universally recognized. This city immediately became the religious center of a large surrounding district.
By the early 1900's, there were churches of many denominations having two edifices and two congregations. Several congregations had already outgrown the edifices which were originally adequate and more were going to be built.
Since the opening of the first paper mill, Berlin had also been a strong union town. Labor was well organized and ever ready to assert and maintain the rights of the trades people. By the 1930's though, strikes and labor unions seemed to doom our great International Paper Company, but the unions hung in there and certainly made our paper makers some of the highest paid laborers in New Hampshire.
By the early teens, two bridges had been built across the Androscoggin River, in order to replace the old structures which could no longer accommodate the terrific traffic between the West side in and the district (East Side) which contained the passenger and freight yards of the Boston and Maine Railroad. Now, we had a place on the City Council called Ward 4.
When nature provided this spot with immense power of the Androscoggin River, it seemed to overlook the visual features that made this city beautiful, but the citizens took good care of this.
By the start of the 1900"s, Berlin had a well built, well lighted and well paved city, provided with everything that made for the welfare of a well educated, intelligent, moral and industrious population.
We can certainly no longer call ourselves the "Paper City", as this name does not fit us anymore. People always wonder what happened to this once thriving metropolis. The answer to this was in a quote from the students at BHS during which they published a Berlin Centennial edition in 1929.
It read: "Looking into the future of the town, the prospect for growth and continued prosperity is most encouraging. The supply of timber along the course of the Androscoggin River is still large; so, from all indications, there will be no decline in manufacturing and as long as the giant paper mills flourish, Berlin will grow and prosper". Sadly, this just didn't continue to happen in the later part of the 20th century, when the paper mills died a slow death, but we as a city continue to try and find ways to thrive and we can still call ourselves by our second nickname "The City that Trees Built".
Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 October 2014 15:15
Much like Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, ol' Ithaca has not fared well the last couple of weeks. But the footballers turned their season around this past Sunday night, so maybe ol' Ithaca has turned the corner on misstatements with today's article.
Once again, there was a misstatement in last week's column. I did my homework. Honest, I did. But, evidently, I used the wrong resource for my information. Fortunately, a gentleman from Gorham caught my error and called to set me straight. He should know. He has hiked the 2200 mile-long Appalachian Trail that winds its way thought fourteen states. Clingman's Dome, in the Great Smoky Mountains, is the highest peak on the Appalachian Trail, not the peak I had said it was. So, thanks to the caller, and, once again, my apologies to my readers. Getting it right is always a priority.
The phone call and the fact-checking did open a floodgate of memories, though. Four of the best years of my life were spent in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. I did my undergraduate work at Maryville College, in Maryville, Tennessee. The drive to Gatlinburg, one of the major entrances to the Great Smokies, is an easy drive from Maryville, from where the mountains are easily seen.
One of my fondest memories is that of participating in the college's annual Sunrise Service. Maryville is a four-year liberal arts, Presbyterian Church-related college. I was a music major there and a four-year member of the college's Vesper Choir. The choir sang for the daily chapel services in those days, and took its name from singing for the Sunday evening Vesper Services. We went on tour for a week or so every year. Our repertoire was always that of sacred music only.
Easter Sunday always found us dragging ourselves out of bed very early in the morning, donning whatever clothes happened to be within reach, and trekking out to the college president's house in the woods, appropriately called Morningside. There we were treated to a breakfast buffet, which was followed by a short choir rehearsal, and then a walk in silence to the amphitheater, where the Sunrise Service, for which we had prepared special music, would be held.
The hillside in front of us would be filled with people, and what a view they had. Behind us were the Great Smoky Mountains. And, of course, the rising of the sun, something those of us in the choir never actually got to see
Sadly,, the Sunrise Service is no longer held in the amphitheater, which has been allowed to return to its natural state. When I was back in Maryville, a decade ago, I could not even find the place. The service is now held in the college chapel. The occasion may still be a beautiful one, for all I know. But it cannot be the same.
I am glad that I have the memories of those Sunrise Services with the Great Smoky Mountains as a backdrop.
Last Updated on Monday, 06 October 2014 22:36
Once upon a Berlin Time
Hello fellow Berlinites. As I continue with the story about Berlin developing into the "Paper City" over one hundred years ago, it had every advantage of most metropolitan places. It had the schools, churches, public library, and social life of any city. In many cases, the city of Berlin was superior to those that could be found elsewhere. So, as one can see, back at the beginning of the 1900's, this great paper making city was busting at the seams.
For these reasons Berlin people liked where they lived, had faith in Berlin and were always ready and willing to work for the interests of this place. With such a spirit all around town, this city was sure to become a still greater power in the business world.
Between the Berlin of the early 1870's and the Berlin of the early 1900's, not much more than thirty years, there was a fairly well-defined line of demarcation. In the memory of the men still living in this booming time back then, there were only several houses between Berlin Mills and Post Office Square. One of these houses stood near what is 157 Main Street today, built in 1842 and was known as the Wilson House.
The change from rural to urban conditions began when Mr. H. H. Furbish came to town in 1878 attracted by the abundance of water power and the plenitude of timber that could be adapted to the manufacture of paper.
You see, for many years the scientists of the world had sought a practical means of making paper from wood. As early as 1848, George Burgess had succeeded to produce paper in England, but at an unreasonable price.
Mr. Furbish began experimenting around 1870 or a little later and soon mastered the subject, acquiring a formula which revolutionized the paper industry. When he came to Berlin eight years later, he had little but the formula along with his own strength and energy.
In a short time, he succeeded in interesting sufficient capital to build his "Forest Fibre Mill", which operated to its ultimate capacity and turned out five tons of pulp per day. This was the beginning of the paper industry that made Berlin the leading producer of this product in the world just about forty years later.
From the first moment of the success of Furbish's plant and the growth of W. W. and Lewis Brown's sawmill, Berlin emerged from its former insignificant place on the map of the world and became a leader in the lumber and paper industry.
The industrial history of the world underwent a sudden change and Berlin seemed to be the pivotal point at this time, on which the turn was made. Immediately after the establishment of the Forest Fiber Mill on a productive basis other mills came to Berlin.
The second one was the White Mountain Pulp Mill, which few people knew about. It was built in 1880 and stood at the mouth of the Dead River where it enters the Androscoggin.
The next venture in the paper making field was the Glen Manufacturing Company, which later developed into the International Paper Company. The Berlin Mills Company also built the Riverside Mills, eventually purchased the Burgess Mill and constructed the Cascade Mill.
It was not to be understood that there were no manufacturing plants in Berlin before the paper industry got going. With the construction of the Grand Trunk Railway or the Atlantic and St. Lawrence as it was called in the early days, came the immense business of the Berlin Mills Company.
In those days there was a sawmill at every point that afforded power and offered a market. So a lumber mill more or less in every county made little difference in the industrial conditions around the area.
That was until the Berlin Mills Company began their developments. They were simply a sawmill like thousands of others, trying to make expenses and a prophet when conditions were at the best. Around the same time that Berlin show the world how to make paper, the Berlin Mills Corporation took over the property at Berlin Mills and by their energy and efforts, they made this corporation the largest and most successful lumber industry in New England.
Now, as the paper mills started to get erected their came an instant demand for labor and with the advent of labor came the instant demand for shelter. When the paper industry in Berlin started to really boom, there were no houses for rent or sale. It thus became necessary to provide for the sudden influx of labor along with their families.
At this point, owners of land became aware of the value of real property and put fabulous prices on their holdings in the immediate vicinity of the mills. There were few investors, because there was no property on the market.
Several men made small fortunes by building cheap tenements and renting them out at profitable rates. One man put up twenty houses in one season during Berlin's booming era.
With the onslaught of new comers, many people adopted the "squatter" idea of securing a dwelling place and built wherever they could find a vacant spot with such material that could be procured at little cost.
This was apparent during the later 1890s and early 1900s with the lack of the regularity. The irregularity could be seen in the "St Giles" district, the Berlin-Gorham Road and the shanties that were built in Cascade. "St. Giles" was an area composed of Granite, Lower School and Mason Streets. As a matter of fact, Granite Street was called St. Giles Street back then.
In the days of Berlin Falls as a rural hamlet with a post office, a small store and a custom gristmill, the commercial activity of this place was practically nonexistent.
At first, when Berlin began to show signs of becoming a thriving town, the people still did most of their shopping at the Berlin Mills Company store or in Gorham. As there were no streetcars yet, the trip to Gorham was made by horse and wagon or at the convenience of the Grand Trunk Railway.
Because of the six mile trip, marketing or shopping expeditions took a large part of the day. Merchants were being very careful about coming to Berlin and getting established. Even though the town had grown suddenly, the popular sentiment seemed to be that it would drop back into obscurity with equal rapidity.
I will continue my story about the growth of the early years of the "Paper City" in my next writing.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 September 2014 13:44