Once Upon a Berlin Time: 1903 — X

By Poof Tardiff

Hello fellow Berlinites. The month of December 1903 still had plenty of news about this city that made history.

Word was received in Berlin on Saturday, Dec. 24, 1903, to the effect that the Honorable R. N. Chamberlin of Berlin had a meeting with the governor and council on Dec. 23 and was appointed as associate justice of the superior court of the state of New Hampshire. The appointment of this famous Berlin lawyer was a foregone conclusion for several days, since it was mentioned that the judge from Littleton had resigned his post.

Mr. Chamberlin began his position on Jan. 1, 1904. This appointment necessitated his entire withdrawal from the practice of law and the partnership that existed since 1893 under the firm name of Chamberlin and Rich. The business continued under the direction of Mr. George Rich.

In 1881, Mr. Chamberlin came to the small village of Berlin and opened an office, doing business in law and insurance, which he continued for many years. His law practice increased to such an extent that he dropped the insurance portion and devoted his entire attention to his profession.

He was the first lawyer to settle in Berlin and at that time the “Paper City” was a small and comparatively sparsely settled town. Chamberlin was admitted to the New Hampshire Bar Association on March 15, 1883. Since that time he had been located here and eventually became a partner with George F. Rich (Berlin’s ninth mayor).

The business that he built up was large and lucrative. For 20 years, a large part of the legal affairs of the Berlin Mills Company was in his hands and practically all of the Grand Trunk Railroad business in the state went through his office. He was certainly one of this city’s top attorneys.

Another sad accident took place in the city of Berlin that touched the hearts of many of this city's citizens back then and had the sympathy of the entire community for the bereaved parents. It occurred on Dec. 17, 1903, and made the headlines of both local papers.

During this Thursday afternoon, Percy, the 4-year-old son of John Armstrong of Western Avenue, set fire to his clothing and died from the effects of the injuries he received. Late on this sad day, Mrs. Armstrong left the house to go across the street, leaving the child standing in the window, where she told him to remain until she returned. When the mother came back to the house, not more than 3 minutes later, her son was nowhere to be seen.

Soon, however, she heard the boy calling for her, screaming that he was burning. Mrs. Armstrong rushed into another room to find the child with his clothing in flames. In her short absence Percy had found some matches, lit them, and set fire to his clothing.

A doctor was immediately sent for, but the youngster could not be saved and he passed away at 7 p.m. Little Percy was one of two children, and his presence was greatly missed.

A December issue of the newspaper had an article about what it took to feed the men in a woods camp. These were the Berlin Mills Company camps that were in the lakes region of Western Maine during 1903.

“The Berlin Mills Company supplies were all in the storehouse on the Cupsuptic,” said Emerson Ames who had worked here for the past eight years. They were taken by boat earlier than usual because of ice.

They were delayed by the non-arrival of potatoes from the West in 1902, and the next day after they finished, they had to break some ice coming down the lake to take the train home. Thus they started earlier in 1903.

There were four camps in the Kennebago region which were supplied from the main storehouse, three at Lincoln Pond, and several other jobs in the neighborhood. The supplies were taken by train to Bemis and then carried across Lake Mooselookmenguntic in the Berlin Mills Company’s enormous tug.

As each camp had between 50 and 75 men, quite a bit of provisions were necessary to keep the wolf from howling about the door through the winter. In the first place, 15 cars of oats and six cars of corn went over for the great horses involved in the logging operations. Then came the provisions for the men, 650 barrels of flour being an important item.

In 1903, the supplies included two cars each of sugar, kerosene, salt pork and corned beef; one car of lard, one of pea beans, one of cabbage and other vegetables. Along with this came 100 boxes of prunes, 125 boxes of evaporated apples and big lots of raisins, cream of tarter, spices and 25 casks of kerosene.

Tea and coffee were staples and 50 pounds of Rio and Java mixed and pounds of tea were sent to the storehouse. Oleo margarine, the best substitute for butter that the lumberjack could get, was laid in stock, between 200 and 300 boxes being in a lot.

From what was called the old Toothaker farm at Kennebago, the Berlin Mills Company purchased 1,000 bushels of potatoes for these camps. Besides the Kennebago camps, there were six more at Bemis that were under the charge of James Keenan. At Kennebago, William Mahaney was in charge. Both of these men were local and famous woods bosses.

Moreover, in addition to the supplies sent during 1903, the supplies that were left by the crews that had finished work on the railway extension were purchased for the woodsmen.

There were also the many camps that were along the Swift and Dead Diamond rivers that had to be supplied, not to mention the other outpost in northern New Hampshire. All of these camps worked to get the logs to the mills in Berlin via the Androscoggin River.

The men worked hard and they were fed well, but it took a great cook back then to make the supplies tasty and satisfying to the woodsmen. If this wasn’t done, the camp chef was history.

I do have one more chapter about the year 1903, as it was a big year in the history of this city.

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