Poof's column — 1979IV

1979 IV

Hello, fellow Berlinites. In May of 1979, our local radio station WMOU was fighting for its existence. Despite the fact that the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., had recently upheld the Federal Communications Commission’s refusal to renew licenses to White Mountain Broadcasting Company’s WMOU–WXLQ, owner Robert Powell was determined to do all that he could to reverse that decision.

Mr. Powell purchased the station 1969, and this station later changed hands again, but today (2017) it no longer exists.

Also, during the month of May 1979, a new name for Liberty Gardens had been selected. It was one of 300 names submitted by Berlin residents who participated in the Liberty Gardens renaming contest. During the second week of May, five names were chosen by the Royal Management Company of Cohasset, Mass., and forwarded to a panel of three Liberty Garden tenants for the final selection. These three tenants were: Paul Filteau, Myrtie Parker and Priscilla Duchesnaye. The winning name was “Brookside Park,” which was submitted by Mrs. Goldy Bisson, of 124 Maynesboro St., who was a tenant of this place. She was awarded $50 for her renaming effort.

In June of 1979, over 1,400 members of the United Brotherhood Local 75 went on strike, following the overwhelming rejection of Brown Company’s last contract offer on Monday, June 25, 1979. Union members followed the 790–133 rejection of the two-year package with a 749–175 vote to strike, at a meeting held on the same Monday evening at the Berlin Junior High School auditorium. The union’s one-year contract had expired at midnight on June 25 and workers walked off the job in the first strike to hit the Brown Company since 1958.

Of course, the strike that took place in June of 1979 at the Brown Company brought out pros and cons about the contract that was offered. It took seven days to end this job action before the new contract was ratified by local 75 with a vote of 833–52. In less than one year though, the Brown Company no longer existed in this city. It was bought out by the James River Corporation.

In July of 1979, there was a bid to keep the East Side fire station operational, which was in the basement of the old King School, but it failed. Forty people tried to change the minds of nine at a meeting of the City Council, but could not do it.

The group was led by Sen. Laurier Lamontagne, and it appealed to the council to rescind its decision to close the East Side fire station, which was still manned back then. Rep. Guy Fortier reminded the Council that there were 1,700 signatures on a petition to keep the station open and losing the station in King School would be quite a blow to the residents of the East Side. Fortier also said that in addition to keeping the station open, it should be staffed by two firefighters at all times.

Arguments went on to keep the station open and councilors said they wanted it closed. In the final analysis, it was decided to close this fire station and lay off the department’s one probationary firefighter. The East Side fire station was in the bottom of what we call the East Side mall today (2017) and had its garage on Hillsboro Street. I am sure that I will come across the exact date that it closed as I read on.

A July newspaper had a great story about West Milan’s Harris Nichols. It said that he was crazy about guns of any kind. The story was titled “Harris and his guns” and written by Greg K. Morris. Mr. Nichols had been collecting guns since his early childhood, and by 1979 had come up with a collection of over 80 antique pieces ranging from an old matchlock rifle dating back to the late 1500s to a post Civil War piece such as a colt revolver.

On a Sunday in July, Harris proudly displayed many of his guns at a flea market in his hometown of West Milan. Nichols was a lifelong resident of this village and had been going to shows like this all over New England for many years. Harris went to the shows to see if he could trade guns and see what everyone else had. He said that old guns were harder to come by in 1979 than they were in the past. The majority of his collection was purchased in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In these earlier days, one could go to an auction and pick up an old gun for little cost. Harris said that he picked up an 1846 percussion rifle for $11 and by 1979 it was worth $300. I wonder what it would be worth today.

Harris even brought his collection to the Berlin school system and gave talks to history classes about the guns of yesteryear. According to Harris, interest in muzzle-loading rifles for hunting was coming on strong, and he was correct. We now have a deer season for muzzle-loading, which has brought out another way to hunt the whitetail deer today. Harris and his wife are not with us anymore, so I wonder what happened to all of the guns that he had collected.

Two local youths were part of the archaeological expedition practically in their backyards during the summer of 1979. Tommy Martin and Jim Wheeler (City Manager today) were working with Harvard archaeologist Richard Gramly for several weeks in the summer of 1979, helping to excavate some old Indian sites in the area. One of these sites was the old mine where local Native Americans found stone for their tools and weapons and the other sites were where they fashioned their implements.

Gramly had been digging in the area on and off since 1975 and had been here full-time since March of 1979. In this time he uncovered evidence of the natives making tools on top of Mount Jasper over 7,000 years ago. Previously, the oldest known Indian activity in the area was around the birth of Christ.

Since Mount Jasper is a popular local spot with high school students, local citizens, hikers and even hang glider enthusiasts back then, some of the work Gramly and his team did was to preserve and beautify the mountaintop. He built steps into the side of the mountain to check erosion, applied for CETA help to clear off some trees near the stone face of Mount Jasper and to plant little trees to make a small park. I do not know if this portion was completed.

The mine or cave, which is just below the summit of Mount Jasper, was the only known Indian mine at the time, which burrowed into a hillside using a tunnel. All the other known mines were simple open trenches. It was for this reason that Gramly wanted this mine to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gramly’s main interest was to dig into the old Indian workshops, where he found flakes or stone that had been chipped off larger pieces by Indian craftsmen. He also cleaned up the old mine mainly for people to see when they hiked around the mountain top.

As for the local lads, Tommy Martin became interested in working with Gramly because he lived near him on Argonne Street and had talked to him about his work. Jim Wheeler lived near Mount Jasper on Willard Street and was a frequent visitor to this mountain. He saw the excavation work being done and contacted Gramly to learn more about what was going on there. So, both of these young men picked up a job for the summer. I guess if you want to know more about the artifacts that were found, you can ask the City Manager, or Mr. Martin, as they still both live in the area.

I will continue with a history of Berlin in 1979 in my next writing.

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