Poof Tardiff

Once Upon a Berlin Time Hello fellow Berlinites. Her married name was Caroline Lewis Gordon Brown. She came to us as a southern belle and the daughter of Robert E. Lee’s right hand man, General John B. Gordon. It was said that a newspaper once called her “The Angel of Berlin, New Hampshire”. I have researched the history of this extraordinary lady and here is what I have found. I must first give you a short synopsis of her family. President Theodore Roosevelt said this of General Gordon; “ A more gallant, generous, fearless gentleman and soldier, has not been ever seen by our country”. Every story about Caroline’s father tells of his heroics in leading the Confederate soldiers to many victories over the Union army, during America’s War Between the States. After this great conflict, Gordon became one of the most famous men in the South. After his daughter moved here, he came to Berlin for a lecture in November of 1903, and was praised by those who met him. This great General was not alone in displaying bravery. His wife, and the mother of Caroline, followed her husband through the war from start to finish. Her name was Fanny Harelson Gordon. She went from battle to battle with him staying in his tent along with him and other officers. At one point during a battle, she showed that she was made of the similar stuff as her husband. She rushed out into the street during a skirmish to urge the general’s retreating troops to go back and face the enemy. Gordon was horrified to find his wife in the street, with shells and balls flying around her. She was even credited with saving her husband’s life and nursing him back to health after he was severely wounded. After the war was over, Gordon and his wife raised a family. Born to them on September 6, 1873, in Kirkwood, Georgia, was young Caroline. What a bloodline she had! “She was raised in the southern tradition,” exclaimed one relative. Her father became governor of Georgia twice and also held the rank as a United States senator. Thus, Caroline split her time growing up at several places. They were Washington, DC, Atlanta, Georgia, and the family plantation in Kirkwood. Young Caroline was a great singer, and had a superb contralto voice. She became an instant hit from Atlanta to New York and Boston to Chicago. In addition, she also ran a mission school at the family plantation, where she worked with African-American children. Her career as a singer came to an abrupt end when she met the love of her life. While attending a wedding in New York, young Caroline met one of Berlin, New Hampshire’s most successful businessman, Orton B. Brown. Their courtship lasted for about three months, and then wedding bells came into the picture. On Thursday, September 19, 1901, Miss Caroline Lewis Gordon married Orton Brown, at a place called the “Sutherland”. This was General Gordon’s residence in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. The ceremony was considered the event of the season. There were sixteen hundred invitations issued. Now, Atlanta was about to lose a great lady, and Berlin, NH, was to receive an angel. After almost two months of touring and honeymooning, the newlyweds returned to Berlin. This special date was November 16, 1901. They moved into a house that once stood on the corner of High Street and Hillside Avenue. This house would have been on the right coming up High Street and on the right coming down Hillside Avenue. They would later settle into a house just up Hillside and on the corner of Church Street. This beautiful mansion stood where the elderly residence does today. It was sadly torn down in 1970. Caroline Brown, who must have had quite a transition from the plantation of Georgia to the hills of Northern New Hampshire, at once began reforms. One of the first things that she did was to start a club for the boys and young men to give them refuge from the tough streets of early Berlin. This new venture proved to be very successful for these young men. Once Mrs. Brown got this club in motion, she never stopped helping the underprivileged citizens of her new hometown. She had great interest in their welfare and started projects to better their lives and the lives of others in this community. In a story that I wrote about Esther Uschoeffer, I talked about how district nursing was initiated in this city. It was Mrs. Brown who started and took control of this program. Her influence with the Brown Company persuaded them to finance this nursing program until the city of Berlin could carry it on its own. It finally became public health nursing. Caroline also convinced her husband Orton to donate their original house on High Street, as the nurses’ headquarters. Once the YMCA (Community Club) was built for boys in 1913, Mrs. Brown started a women’s club. The club was housed in a building that Brown Company owned on the end of Burgess Street, in back of the Burgess Mill. Many entertaining events were held there. When the United States entered World War I, the national Red Cross got involved, but Berlin had no such chapter. Mr. and Mrs. Brown immediately got the ball rolling, with Caroline becoming the chairperson for this volunteer organization. It was started in Berlin during the month of May 1917. At a meeting of the local Red Cross branch here in Berlin on May 12, 1917, Mrs. Brown offered the lower floor of their residence on Church Street as Red Cross headquarters. This offer was taken up by all the other members. One of the rooms was to be used for making surgical dressings. The large living room and library were used for garment making, and the third room was maintained for packing and shipping. Not only did this lady donate $2,500; she got a Red Cross flag and the flags of the other allied nations. She made sure that these were flying over the new headquarters every day. She had over 700 hundred women and 186 high school volunteers to help her. This was amazing for such a small city. Berlin’s “angel” was not a big socialite though. Her time was devoted to raising her family and community activities. When she got the Red Cross movement in motion here in Berlin, her co-workers dubbed her “Mrs. Red Cross”. Caroline was also a member of many famous clubs across the country. Some were; the Colony Club of New York, The Colonial Dames, the board of the Robert E. Lee of Westmoreland, Virginia and of course the Berlin Women’s club. There was a time when Caroline was overwhelmed with her tiring activities, and had to withdraw to the seclusion of a cabin that her husband had built for her in Gilead, Maine. Even though, her efforts of community service continued, and she served the citizens of Berlin throughout her entire life. Caroline Lewis Gordon Brown’s efforts to serve the people of Berlin ended on October 17, 1942. She passed away on Sunday night at the New England Baptist hospital in Boston, at the age of 69. She had been ill for over three months. This great lady did so much for the people of this city, some of which hasn’t even been mentioned. Every project that she either worked on or introduced was for the betterment of this area. I certainly hope that this short narrative helps keep the memory of this wonderful lady alive. People who met and knew her had nothing but praise. They were certainly touched by this angel from the “Paper City”. Caroline was buried in the city cemetery here in Berlin. May her memory live on. Check out this story and more on the World Wide Web at www.du-nord.berlin.nh.us/history.