Hello fellow Berlinites. How many people can remember the store that once stood just before the Cleveland Bridge, on the way out of Berlin? It was there before the bridge was built, but a fire destroyed it during a Monday morning in late February of 1978.
It was called Norm's Trading Post, and before this, it was Romeo and Grace's. There were two fires that destroyed this Berlin business. Firefighting efforts during the second fire were hampered by three hydrants that were either damaged or frozen. During the first critical assault on the second fire, firefighters lost time laying out useless long hose lines to hydrants near Cross Machine Shop and on Watson Street, according to Fire Chief Norman Lacroix.
This all started with the buzzing of a smoke detector that roused owner Norm Martel from his sleep when a fire broke out in his kitchen area, which was in the front of his sporting goods and variety store. Out in front of this was his Sunoco gas pumps, so he evacuated his wife and two sons, from the apartment that had recently been added to the store.
Mr. Martel broke down the door to the kitchen and saw smoke in the corner near a rubbish container, but there were no flames. About this time, a passing motorist on Glen Avenue spotted smoke and called the fire department. Three trucks were dispatched to the scene at 3 a.m. according to the fire records.
Chief Lacroix said that the fire fighters immediately tried to hook up to a hydrant near Sanels Auto Parts store, but were unable. They were able to contain the fire using 1,000 gallons of water from the tanker and pumper.
Now, after the firefighters cut through some floors, the fire was considered to be completely out by 5 a.m. This is what the chief reported, so, engine No. 5 remained on standby until 5:40 a.m. to ensure the fire was completely out.
Martel boarded up the fire-damaged section of the structure before going to the fire station to thank the firefighters for their efforts and took a coffee break with them. When the owner returned to the store at 6 a.m., he saw more smoke and flames at the rear of structure. Three more engines, a ladder truck and tanker were dispatched to the scene. Off duty firefighters were also called by their homeowner radios.
The firefighters were unable to draw water from any of the three nearby hydrants so, two pumpers each carrying 500 gallons relayed water to the tanker. Firefighters had to use the available water sparingly. Even though 7,000 gallons of water were poured onto the flames, high snowbanks prevented firefighters from moving a pumper truck close enough to the river to draw water from that source. Firefighters then cut through the roof, to get more access to the fire. Others used portable air packs to fight the fire from inside.
By 7:30 a.m. the fire was again under control and the store itself was blackened and gutted throughout the interior. Martel had insurance, but not enough to cover all all the loss. It was a tough day for new store owner Norman Martel. I do not believe he rebuilt, and then the Cleveland Bridge was built using his land.
In the beginning of March, 1978, the Notre Dame Arena was put on the market. Arena manager E. F. Guay announced to the news media that they were going to try and sell the arena as an arena, in hopes that the buyer would continue to use the facility as a rink for skating enthusiasts and area hockey programs. He said that the current owners would only sell to other interests as a last resort. The asking price was not disclosed.
Guay said there were many reasons for the decision to sell. He said the owners had talked with some parties about the arena, but nothing had been definite. He also said that they were under no time frame to sell, as long as they had it, the arena would not close. The Notre Dame Arena is still with us in 2017.
The Berlin High School gymnasium was transformed into a large capacity party place on April 12, 1978, when the famous Irish Rovers appeared in concert there. Proceeds went to Berlin High School scholarships and to the Androscoggin Valley Hospital building fund. In February of 1976, this group had played to a packed house of 1,700 fans.
Audience involvement was the key to the Irish Rovers outstanding success in live concert appearances. In 1978, the group performed more than 100 concert dates each year.
During the 1978 March local election, voters elected Leo Ouellett as Mayor of Berlin. In an easy victory Ouellett defeated former council member Donald Borschers and a third candidate Raymond Blais.
While the election brought about only minor changes in the city council with Richard Payeur replacing Councilman Duquette and Mayor-elect Ouellett replacing Mayor Laurier Lamontagne. City hall observers suggested that the changes would be dramatic.
Mr. Ouellett, who also served as commander of the National Guard in Northern New Hampshire, was a strong leader who had smoothly and skillfully run the local planning board during the 1970s. The city of Berlin was now waiting to see how he would do as their top leader.
On the sports scene, two local lads had completed a fine season in Division I hockey with the University of New Hampshire Wildcats. The UNH team had concluded its 1977-1978 season in the beginning of March, when they lost the first round playoff game to powerful Boston University in overtime 6 to 5.
After a rough start which saw UNH drop several one goal decisions, the Wildcats had a very successful second half of the season. In Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference play, they concluded with a 14-11 record and an overall mark of 19-12. In the Eastern Collegiate playoffs, the Wildcats were seated in the eighth and final spot.
One of the main reasons for the club's success was the high scoring first line, which included Berlin's Frankie Roy and Johnny Normand. The former centered the unit which had Normand at left wing and Ralph Cox on right wing.
It was Roy's third year in a Wildcat uniform and his best one to date. Frankie had 22 goals and assisted on 36 others. His 58 points put him among the top 10 scorers in the ECAC. In three campaigns he had recorded 129 points (55-74) and was 18th on the UNH all-time scoring list.
Johnny Normand was responsible for total 31 points (17-14), which was a significant improvement over his initial season when he scored four times and collected five assist.
There were only four graduates in the year 1978, with the promise of an excellent year in 1978- 1979, they were touted to be the ECAC champions in 1979. I do not know if they accomplished that, but the city of Berlin was surely proud of their young college stars and their fans knew the route to UNH very well.
I will continue with the year 1978 in my next writing.