Poof Tardiff: Young Berlin

Hello fellow Berlinites. At one time, when the movie “The Masked Menace” was filmed in Berlin 90 years ago, I thought that I could find this film in the archives, because it had many moving scenes of the “Paper City.” I tried forever to find this film and came up short. Its leading star was silent film great Jean Arthur, along with Laura Alberth, Gus De Weil, Agnes Dome, John Hamilton, Thomas Holding, Larry Kent and more. Many scenes were done near the old Brown Company barn beyond Kelley's sawmill.

What I was really looking for was moving scenes of this area, because Pathe' films was given free reign by the Brown company, Boston and Maine Railroad and the Union Waterpower Company and invited them to go as far as they wanted in filming scenes at their mills, shutes, spillways, flumes etc. The also took moving pictures of downtown Berlin and some of its top citizens.

Pathe' also said they were able to obtain some magnificent shots of the picturesque White Mountains. As well, their great pictures of Berlin and this vicinity would be a boost to this section of New England on the screens of thousands of theaters throughout America, so they filmed local scenes along with their movie.

To see motion pictures of Berlin, its streets, local celebrities in the surrounding area that was filmed almost 90 years ago would thrill me to no end. Supposedly, it was shown at the Princess Theater when it was completed.

Well, the closest that I can get to knowing what Berlin looked like in its earlier days, was in letters, pictures and stories by citizens years ago that had written in the local papers and that was earlier than the 1920s.

One old-timer in 1949, described to his best ability what Berlin looked like back in 1895. He said this city's sidewalks back then were crude affairs. Some places one plank was used, some two, some three and some none at all. The Dead River, where it ran under Main Street was covered loosely with planks that jumped up and down when a horse or something heavy crossed. On the right side of Main Street going up, were the wooden planks; on the other side there were none at all.

Labnon's was owned by Stahl and Clarke and what was known as the Buber Block, was the Parent Block. Next to it was a place called McHugh's drugstore. Going up Main Street where the post office (Badger Realty today) used to be was the grand Clement Block. On Mason Street in back of Fournier's furniture store (old Joliette Snowshoe Club) was a hotel called the Central House. It stood back from the road and burned to the ground in the early 1900s. All that area is just vacant land today.

Back on Main Street where today's Supreme Pizza operates was the Dean place, where Ben Dean shot his wife and was then sentenced to 11 years in prison. He was pardoned after serving less than half of his sentence. From the Dean place to beyond today's library, there was nothing. Above the library and on the same side just before the railroad tracks where Hair Improvements now stands, was what was called the Berlin Fire Station, so called back then.

Now, this old-timer took us on to the East Side in 1895 and he said there were only five buildings on that side back then. On Champlain Street there were three houses and there were the homes of T. P. Burgess general manager of the Burgess Mill and Superintendent George Burgess on mill property. Later, the George Burgess home was used for a girls club, but nothing stands there today (2017).

The chief of police back then was a man by the name of John T. Youngcliss who saw a lot of action while he was in this position and the Fire Chief was George Kent. The captain of the Hook and Ladder truck at the Berlin Fire station was named John Gullison. The writer said that the fire department had strong horses back that.

Where the Brown Company offices once stood (new Court House today), the road was being cut through solid rock and was then known as the “Narrows.” The first paper mill in Berlin was the Forest Fibre Company located where the Tube Mill once stood. All they used was dry poplar. After this, the Glen Number 1 Mill was built and later the Burgess Mill.

On Mechanic Street, where Blais and Aubin once stood, was a place called the Whitney Opera House and across the street was Music Hall. The VFW in 1949 on Mechanic Street was the police station or the “Lock Up” in the late 1890s and Berlin High was on top of School Street where the old Notre Dame use to be.

This writer considered our principal street back then as Glen Avenue. All the homes for the mill executives and their offices were located there in the 1890s. After one left Green Square and headed for Jericho, they were practically out of town said the old timer. The writer also reiterated that the happiest years of his life were spent in early Berlin.

Another letter that came to the newspaper in 1949, after some old pictures were posted was that of John Q. Farrington who was born in Maine in 1867 and lived in Berlin at 1253 Main St. at this time. Mr. Farrington talked about the first time that he ever came to Berlin back in 1876, when he was about 9 years old. He was living in Gorham then, a place that was bigger than Berlin in these early years. One of his neighbors, a Mrs. Evans, wanted to come to Berlin to see her aunt, a lady named Mrs. Johnson.

Mrs. Evans had hired a team from Mr. John Peabody and the next morning, soon after breakfast they started for Berlin. As John could remember, they did not have any whip and the horses were well aware of it, so, they did not trot at all. On her way, Mrs. Evans stopped and John got out and cut a switch. “It really helped,” he said.

After they went down Tinker Hill (into Cascade Village that was not there yet), they came to a house that was owned by Albert Gerrish and another house owned by Dexter Blodgett. These places would be in the river today across from Vintage Junkie. The dam at the Cascade Mill covered all this up in the early 1900s.

The next place they came to was Berlin. The only mill that existed in 1876 was the sawmill were Heritage Park is today, with nothing but the river to view on the way out.

As they entered today's Green Square, there were two roads, one left to Jericho and the other went towards Milan. They took the road to Milan (Main Street today) and as the young lad could remember, there were only five buildings on the east side of the street, all the way up to Berlin Mills and the sawmill. He noted that there was also a railroad crossing and not much more on the other side of the street before then.

On their way through, they stopped at the old Berlin Mills Store (Brown Company store) where Mrs. Evans got out and bought some items. They continued on until they reached the Sam Paine Bridge and crossed over to the East River Road where their trip ended two miles further toward Milan. They must have been close to today's “Le Chalet.” A day and night were spent there before the return trip back to Gorham. It certainly must have looked different back then. I wish there were more pictures.

Poof Tardiff writes a weekly column for The Berlin Daily Sun. Questions or comments email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, join the many friends of “Once upon a Berlin Time” on Facebook and guess at the posted weekly mystery pictures.

Paine BridgePaine Bridge

High and Pleasant St 1870sHigh and Pleasant Street 1870s

Glen Avenue 1897Glen Avenue 1897

Gilbert Parent BlockGilbert Parent Block