Posts Tagged ‘Whitefield’

By Jeff Woodburn
WHITEFIELD – The first left off of Forrest Lake Road is “Newell” and second, just a few feet away, is called “Casino.” Together these Burma-Shave looking signs are the only remaining evidence of the popular dance hall that for forty-years became a summer Saturday night staple drawing crowds of as many as a thousand young people. For many—who are now grandparents or great-grandparents themselves — the memories of adolescences remain and are possibly an uncomfortable reminder that kids will be kids. (more…)

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by Kim Robert Nilsen

Counted nine fistfights, I did, going on at the same time just a good spit uphill from North Stratford village. Bottled up all winter in logging camp hovels and then turned loose to drive logs down the Connecticut River for months, the axmen I use to manage in the headwaters country needed fortification for the long pull south, down to the mills at Holyoke and Hartford. Bellies full of mash lightning, the loggers knuckled one another and swore oaths they couldn’t say to their skinflint timber baron employer, old man Van Dyke. The Bastard!

Forgive me, I didn’t introduce myself. The name’s, Jigger, Jigger Johnson. I was in Van Dyke’s employ for forty years, a walking boss in the logging camps up the old Indian Stream Territory. I bossed for him on the river drives in the Connecticut River drainage. Worked for other timber barons, too, the length of the Magalloway and down the Androscoggin. I was the best there ever was. But, you know, I turned 95 under the blue moon. I’d drown myself, sure, if I had to dance in my spiked boots now on a rolling river log.

Now where was I? Oh, yes, George Van Dyke. He was the king of tall timber, king of them all. The man had so much coin, investment stock and land holdings that he could put a gang to work for weeks digging a mighty furrow dead straight through a river oxbow at Colebrook. He’d change the course of the Connecticut so as not to shanghai logs in the bend, where it would always jam up so bung-tight that it took several boxes of dynamite and four days wages to free up the godforsaken log tangle. To the devil with that! Straighten the god-given river, he’d say.

North Country timber made the man, Van Dyke. Cut timber for him I did from Pittsburg Township on the Canadian line all the way down to that big railroad crossroads, Woodsville, a hundred miles to the south. But he wasn’t the only scoundrel who made it big. Timber made more than a few men wealthy on the northern New Hampshire frontier. Big woods and fast water, steam locomotives and icebox rail cars, soda ash and sulfite chemicals, tidal waves of milk and potatoes and immigrants, and all those highbrow tourists’ with their taste for mint julep and candlepin bowling; why, all that would conspire to change the Granite State’s northern jungle into an economic powerhouse that couldn’t catch its breath. I seen it all. Give me a few minutes of your time, friend, and I’ll tell you all about it.

You see, it was boom times up here, once. In just one generation––oh, roughly 1885 to 1910––we made the leap from hand-to-mouth to full-blown prosperity. In 1900, about the time Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in as president of the 46 United States of America, this here big isolated county where we’re sittin’––Coos County––was already a big kingpin in America’s headlong rush to become a global power. Imagine this, Coos was once the undisputed world leader in paper pulp capacity and in newsprint production. The sawmill with the largest volume output in all New Hampshire called Coos home. Just about the grandest dairy herd on this planet ruminated in a community called Hazen, once a town of few hundred. You can’t find it on the map no more. Today, its population is exactly zero.

Bear with me; I’m still pretty sharp, even though I’m wrinkled like a crabapple in winter. There’s so much to tell you.

Now, this land north of the mountain notches once boasted one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in North America. Not fibbing, I ain’t. Mountain folk at Berlin actually burned as many electric lights as the masses huddled around the Amoskeag Mills in Manchester. Innkeepers in town after town built 12,000 summer lodging rooms and suites to house the vacationing horde of genteel New Yorkers and Bostonians. Loggers harvested 30 million feet of spruce logs per year just for the young paper industry, never mind the sawmill trade. Shippers sent special unit trains chock full of lumber or ice and milk southward to the cities. More than a few farmers in Colebrook made darn good potato whiskey and grew a billion spuds that they made into landslides of shirt collar starch.

Now, those heady times in these mountains won’t have been so glorious had it not been for a fellow from Pennsylvania. A decade after Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces to General Ulysses S. Grant, a wee bit of a chemist from outside of Philadelphia, one H. H. Furbish, got hold of an English invention and brought it up here to the backwoods. Furbish knew a Limey by the name of Hugh Burgess who invented a process of combining ground wood and caustic soda ash into a slurry. Burgess agitated the mixture. Lo and behold, the lignin glue that cements all wood fiber together in every living tree on earth liquefied. He rinsed the liberated wood fiber and pressed the water out of it. The loose flock stuck together into a thin mat. Presto! Burgess made himself paper.

You see, until that moment, paper production was a laborious endeavor, requiring pounded plant fiber, endless bales of rag cloth, and lots of time and toil. Burgess’ soda ash process needed only ground wood and a common earth chemical, that soda ash. His process was fast. The potential for the mass production of paper was not lost on the chemist from Pennsylvania, Mr. Furbish. So what does he do? Furbish goes in search of forests where poplar trees grow in abundance. He stepped off a Grand Trunk Railway train in the tiny hamlet of Berlin, on the east side of Coos. From the train windows he could see poplar stands intermingling with the cold-hearty spruce and fir of the trackless northern boreal forest. Within a few years, Furbish had two Forest Fiber Company mills on line on the banks of the Androscoggin River. The business had a total daily pulp wood capacity of some thirty tons.

But the promising wood-fiber mills were nearly stillborn, see. He started out producing far too much product than there was a market for in the 1870s. So tiny Berlin, population of little more than a thousand souls, had to hold its breath until the mid-1880s before a new technology could be shoehorned into a startup mill at the maw of the great falls of the Androscoggin.

The brothers W. W. and J. B. Brown––men with Portland pedigrees, investment money to buy up most of the local sawmills, and a nascent interest in the soda ash scheme––turned their backs on Furbish’s process, limited as it was to the use of low grade hardwood trees. They embraced a caustic sulfur molecule instead, one that, under heat and pressure, could very efficiently liberate wood fibers from softwood logs. Surrounded by a million acres of spruce and fir forest, the Brown brothers decided to channel a good share of their resources from their sizable Berlin Mills Company sawmill operation into something altogether new called the sulfite papermaking process, named for that Englishman, Burgess, but taken a big step forward by an American named Benjamin Tilghman. Tilghman liked to play with fire. His papermaking scheme used sulfurous acid, terribly corrosive stuff, you know, dangerous as all get-out.

Well, the Brown brothers built a big sulfite paper mill of great complexity in 1888 and fitted out with the new wonder technology.

Furbish couldn’t compete with the new sulfite works. So, he abandoned his soda ash effort and turned his attention to harnessing the power of falling river water at the millrace dams and the muscle of high-pressure steam. Just like God, who makes lightning bolts in the heavens, Mr. Furbish made electricity. Pretty soon Berlin matched Manchester light bulb for incandescent light bulb. The town glowed at night under the Milky Way, an island of electric brilliance huddled in the dark folds of the White Mountains. It was one hell of a sight to behold, I can tell you.

But paper was only part of the story up here in the north. Other marvelous things were getting a toehold, too. On the other side of Mount Washington, some thirty-five miles to the west, a young town a-building along the Johns River was running a high temperature, hot as the scarlet fever. Whitefield was a little farming town of 1,000 citizens on Abe Lincoln’s inauguration, but it swelled to nearly 3,000 in a generation, and no one knew how many men were bedded down in straw in the logging camps at Pondicherry reservoir and farther east.

Whitefield became something like an octopus. Three mainline railroads and narrow-gauge logging tracks snaked through the mountains and converged at mammoth sawmill complexes covering untold acres of ground just below and west of that quaint Kings Square in the center of town, with its fine whitewashed bandstand where the Whitefield Amateur Band played on summer evenings.

A family by the name of Brown, no relation to the Browns of Berlin, mind you, managed a truly huge conglomerate, larger and more varied than most in existence in the six New England states. Its primary business was the milling and sale of dimension lumber for the building trade. In 1885, the Brown factory alone ripped twenty-three million board feet of lumber from a gang of high-speed steam and water-powered blades. They also produced fine molding, clapboards, hardwood flooring, butter tubs, rain gutters, even masts for sailing ship. The buildings were first lit with gas lamps and then electric lights and ran day and night. Laborers by the hundreds earned an industry-busting annual wage of $500. That was good money then, boy.

Nearby stood the Libby Company sawmill buildings, eclipsed only by the Brown’s monstrosity. The steady flow of timber from the mountains spawned a dozen other woodworking businesses: a butter box plant, stovebox kindling kilns, dowel-stock turning firms, railroad tie cutters, a textile bobbin mill, a carriage maker and wagon fitter and more. The workers had to have rugged, well-made clothing on the job. That was no problem whatsoever in Whitefield. Snow & Baker, whose textile plant sat adjacent to the sawmills, employed a hundred women who stitched a world-renowned overall worn by just about every railroad hand, farmer, miner, and stevedore in America.

Now, wood from the forests may have been the fuel that sparked the economic boom in the North Country, but tourism fanned the flames. Yes sir. The growth of the tourist trade was simply remarkable.

Two miles north of those big Whitefield sawmills stood the Frank and Mary Dodge farm. The main house boasted a view like no other in the east––towering treeless summits that rivaled the Alps of Europe. The Dodge family took in their first guests because a stagecoach became mired down in a great blow in 1865. Thirty years later and they had built one hundred rooms and were adding floors one atop the other in their majestic Mountain View House.

About that time, the modest Dix House in wild Dixville Notch sixty miles to the north had just been purchased and it was expanded into a colossus, something they call The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel today. The Crawford House perched at the head of Crawford Notch always had an army of carpenters at work on new annexes. Fabyan House nearby, The Glen House, Profile House, Maplewood, Waumbek, and so many more were raised up all at once and gained in girth decade by decade.

You look skeptical. Don’t believe me? Well here, I’ve kept clippings from all manner of newspapers and periodicals. Read this one. “The pleasure houses of the fashionable tourists are full,” wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne. I imagine you’ve heard of him?

Here’s another, from a New York Times social scene reporter. She typed this out in 1906: “The Hampshire Inn and the Elms at Colebrook are both opening in early June with the usual large patronage.” Now imagine that? Colebrook! Those guest rooms were the very farthest from the eastern metropolises, yet they were overflowing. And they might have had stiff competition had not the unfinished Metallak Hotel, a grand Victorian edifice, been blown off the hill overlooking town by a fierce April storm a decade earlier.

The North Country boom years, they brought a new sort of leisure clientele. When I was a youngster, roughing it on trails and riding horseback up the rough bridle paths to the summits of the high peaks was de rigueur among the tourist set. The writings of Thoreau and Longfellow were the rage, and guests longed to test their mettle against the mountains. But all that changed by the last decade of the century. The mountains became wallpaper. Few climbed them; it wasn’t fashionable any longer. Gentlemen and ladies of the Gay ‘90s demanded ice in their afternoon highball, bowling alley games, string quartets playing on sweeping verandas, and polo matches.

Speaking of polo, why, you should have seen the magnificent 6,000-acre Louis Hazen farm beneath Cherry Mountain, with its agricultural fairground buildings, and its horserace and trotting track. Sports flush with money used to play polo matches on the infield. Hotel guests flocked by carriage and train to see the competitions and bet on the races, only to find the steeds occasionally spooked by the incessant yammering of the logging, passenger and freight trains pounding through nearby Waumbek Junction, where several rail company lines and a logging railway converged in the span of just a few dozen yards. Sometimes the smell of dung from 500 head of Hazen’s award-winning Jersey cowherd wafted over the festivities. Truth be known, it was common knowledge that the Hazen dairy herd was the largest and one of the most productive Jersey dairy herds in all of North America.

And still that little town on the Johns River continued to add new businesses and new structures to its downtown. Just south of the old Whitefield and Jefferson Railroad depot, where big Baldwin locomotives once sat idling under a clouds of steam exhaust and coal smoke, stood a fancy new brick-faced dairy goods manufacturing plant erected by The Maine Condensed Milk Company. The firm processed raw milk, canned Baby Brand products, and shipped the goods by the boxcar load every day. The big agricultural business purchased milk from farmers as far north as the Canadian border, who shipped their bulk product in hip-high steel cans loaded aboard boxcars lined with cakes of river and lake ice. The firm paid out $11,000 in milk receipts every month once business reached full production in 1890. That was a lot of coin at that time.

Up in Colebrook, farmers talked-it-up about the coming of the Maine Condensed Milk Company plant to Whitefield, just fifty steel rail miles away. Farming was Colebrook’s sturdy backbone, and it was about to get a whole lot stronger. The main trading center for Upper Coos, Colebrook had already been crowned the “Potato Capital of New Hampshire” when the first iron horse pulled into the town’s newly minted railway station in 1887. Mountains of potatoes and potato starch could ship by rail, surely; but load ice aboard double-walled boxcars and milk could get to Whitefield unspoiled, could get anywhere, really. Hundreds of hill and intervale farmers within a few hours’ wagon ride of Colebrook’s depot responded extravagantly to the new market opportunities unleashed by the arrival of the railroad. Within a few years, they were shipping two million pounds of dairy per annum.

I think you’ll agree, the whole of northern New Hampshire was a beehive of hyperactivity. It was wild, hectic. But there was a cure-all for all that frenetic pace over at the county seat, in the shire town of Lancaster. A fellow there by the name of Parker J. Noyes––he was a lieutenant in the Great War between the North and South and the owner of a small apothecary––invented something he called an automated tablet machine. The first one, built in 1885, began kicking out standardized medicinal pills by the thousands every day. He set up packaging and bottling lines. The young firm couldn’t make Noyes Pectoral Syrup fast enough. It was spectacularly popular. Here’s an advertisement pamphlet of the day. Take a look. See that? It says, “Noyes Pectoral Syrup with Heroin should be placed at the head of cough remedies, as its sales exceed all others combined.”

Now, remember, I was talkin’ about Berlin early on. Well, Berlin needed that Noyes elixir in the worst way. International Paper swooped in to town and bought up the startup Glen Manufacturing Company in 1898, a plant conceived by Boston Globe and New York Tribune backers as the answer to their respective newspapers’ voracious appetite for newsprint. By the turn of the century, that mill was the largest newsprint processor on the seven continents. Staggering was I.P.’s need for raw materials. The mill had to grind, pulp and process 400,000 cords of wood per year to meet demand. More than 500 men were on the mill payroll alone, but each winter there were many hundreds more, axes and crosscut saws in hand, toiling in the woods, dropping timber on every damned mountain within fifty miles. Most of the farm land in the Androscoggin River valley was given over to the growing of hay to feed the many hundreds of horses needed just to pull the massive pulp sleighs full of logs to crude railheads or out onto river and lake ice to await the spring thaw and the log drives to the mills.

In the time it takes for a newborn babe to reach puberty, the little hamlet of Berlin was overrun with new citizens, swelling that wee burg from a little over a thousand folks to nearly 10,000, most cramming into hastily built boarding houses and triple deckers that, in many cases, housed four and even five generations of big extended families. Why did the Norwegians, the Germans, the Italians, the Irish, and especially the French Canadians come in such numbers in so short a period of time? All you had to do was take a walk downriver a mile from the falls toward the lofty snow blanketed peaks of the Presidential Range. The Androscoggin River was unrecognizable, coated thick with factories, one atop the other, each bigger than the next. A dozen smokestacks rivaled the heights of the peaks. The rancid smoke they belched smelled like money. There was plenty of gainful employment to be had.

So quickly did that new city rise up from its rough wooden boardwalks that by 1904 merchants and the civic-minded alike decided to tear down many a wooden structure on Main Street, prone as they were to fire. They built big new four- and five-story blocks of granite, marble, and brick. In three years the infant town sloughed off its old skin and grew an entirely new one. I’ve been told that more than a million fares were paid one year on the shiny Berlin-Gorham Electric Railway, a trolley line. Now how’s that for growth?

Money grew on trees, but before long the “City That Trees Built” started running out of trees. So did the buzzing sawmills at Whitefield. I’ve got a stereopticon image of the village by the Johns River; it shows an industrial town ringed with stumps, not a single tree in sight all the way east to and up the flanks of the big mountain ranges. The company brass in Berlin hastily invested in new railroad track into the wilds of Magalloway, Lincoln Plantation and Paramachenee on Maine’s northwestern frontier. Spring log drives on the rivers were fine, but logging trains could haul year ‘round.

With all that prosperity came trouble. It came in the form of smoke on the wind. A family acquaintance of mine keeps an old letter from a Marian Pychowska, who was vacationing in the mountains back in 1886. Mrs. Pychowska wrote to say that smoke “had filled Crawford Notch and drifted way ‘round to Conway, while great yellow-brown volumes rolled up from the increasing fire, making the southern landscape all lurid.”

Ever advancing, ever larger armies of woodcutters left mountains of tree-crown slash in the woods. I was guilty of it myself, more than most. Lightning strikes and hot embers blowing from locomotive stacks would spark ever-larger conflagrations one year to the next. The worst was feared, and the worst arrived in the spring of 1903 on warm zephyrs that wicked the cutover forests of moisture. On the Maine-New Hampshire line east of Mount Washington, fire erupted in the Wild River drainage and consumed peak after peak of the Carter Range. West of the great 6,288-foot summit, the Zealand Valley resembled the gates of hell, so hot was a 10,000-acre blaze adjacent to a 12,000-acre burn that ran its course just half a decade earlier. Smoke was so dense from six major forest fires burning at once that an eyewitness––a citizen standing at the mill yard fence of the just completed Odell Manufacturing Company paper mill in Groveton village forty miles from the Zealand fire––admitted to a Coos County Democrat newspaper correspondent that evening darkness had descended at the noon hour and the air was unfit to breathe. In Manchester more than 100 miles to the south, wash hanging on clotheslines was coated gray with forest-fire soot. That’s God’s honest truth.

The fires brought brimstone from a hornet’s nest of angry citizens. The Reverend John E. Johnson, an Episcopal missionary, scrawled a scathing report about the fires and their cause. He wrote that lumbering had become “the boa constrictor of the White Mountains,” and that civilized men and women must rise up to “crush such an unmitigated outrage upon the rights of humanity.” Clear-cutting timber, he continued, “robs…the vast array of worshippers at nature’s footstool who turn to the White Mountains for health and recreation.”

Those fires charred 86,000 acres. The voices grew more strident with each new blaze. A well-regarded agricultural periodical of the time, the New England Homestead, called forth citizens to “organize a White Mountains forestry association. Talk alone cuts no figure. The lumber barons are united as one man; the vast public, if united as one man, can secure justice.”

Action was swift. Reams of legislation were written and signed into law in state chambers and federal halls. By 1911, Congress passed the Weeks Act, named for a prominent politician who hailed from Lancaster, and established the first landmark conservation district in the east: The White Mountain National Forest. But fire is swifter still. Many of the over-built Brown mills at Whitefield burned in a spectacular nighttime blaze. Horse-drawn firefighting equipment was no match for the flames. The Browns were spiritualists. They believe in God’s plan, not insurance. They didn’t rebuild and sold their remaining interests to Blanchard & Twitchell at Berlin. The family emigrated to Idaho.

Borden Company bought out The Maine Condensed Milk Company and operated the plant for the briefest period, when a worker noticed flames lapping under the eves. The fire reprised the Brown sawmills fire. Insurance? No sir. Borden pulled out of town, too.

Clear-cut forests were smoldering and mills lay in ruins. By Christmas of 1910 much of the North Country economy was collapsing in upon itself. The giant sawing operations in the region bowed to “King Paper” in Berlin and dwindled down to nothing. They’d lost most of their markets to western lumber merchants shipping Rocky Mountain lumber east on the nation’s rapidly expanding transcontinental railroad web.

George Van Dyke, capitalist lord of these northern Connecticut River watershed forests and the man who championed the straightening of the river to speed logs to market, died suddenly in 1909. Van Dyke’s driver rolled a touring car too close to the edge of a steep embankment overlooking a massive log jam in the sweeping dogleg bend at Turners Falls, Massachusetts. The earth crumbled beneath the tires and the auto pitched off the cliff. Van Dyke was dead by nightfall.

Six years after his death, old man Van Dyke’s patented log drives ceased to run the river altogether. The corn and potato whiskey bars dried up in North Stratford. Loggers could board trains now and turn to driving newfangled trucks and ugly duckling Lombard Log Loaders that looked like little steam locomotives with tractor treads. Mechanization began to cut woods job numbers dramatically, even as the papermakers thrived and increased production until the Wall Street crash of ‘29. But sawmill operators walked away from their mills, and hill farmers wink out quickly, one by one, as first steam and then gasoline farm tractors boosted productivity on the best bottomlands but killed off the little guys with pastures that grew stones better than food.

In-migration into the North Country stalled and reversed direction, particularly here in Coos County. The Boom Times went bust. People couldn’t buy a job. So they left. They are still leaving. Every single decade now for a full century this grand forested county has lost population. It’s a shame. It pains me to have to tell you that. I’ll be checking out soon myself, old as I am. But I don’t want to go. I love the place so.

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Eleanor Miller with son, Steven.

By Jeff Woodburn

Eleanor Miller could never have imagined how her husband’s short trip down to the village to vote in the annual town meeting election, on March 9, 1954,  could have propelled her into office and both she and her husband, Velma “Val”  Miller, into Whitefield’s history books. Both that day would invariably be entangled in one of the town’s biggest political controversies, and when it was all over Mr. Miller, who that day was re-elected as selectman, was forced out of office, and replaced by his wife, who became the town’s first female selectman.

As Mr. Miller climbed the steep steps of the town hall, he may have worried about his chances of being defeated, and as he passed through the doors of the old town hall, the 41-year old dairy farmer may have wondered if he had moved too fast in the controversial firing of the longtime police chief. Once inside the hall, he walked past his nemesis, Murray Clement, the police Chief that he discharged two years earlier. Little did Val Miller know that Mr. Clement had been waiting all day for him.  As Mr. Miller approached the election officials and requested a ballot, Mr. Clement dropped a bomb shell that would rock the town for weeks, immediately change the political landscape and become a permanent part of local political folklore. He challenged Mr. Miller’s right to vote because he was not a citizen of the United States.

The Challenge. Harold Burns, then a young ballot clerk, remembers the awkward scene. “We were all terribly surprised,” he said. After all, Mr. Miller, who grew up in Dalton and graduated from the Whitefield High School, had been a voter in town for 15 years. “The Moderator, Richard French” the “Coos County Democrat” reported, “did not permit the challenged man to vote as no affidavit of citizenship was presented to him.” Nonetheless, Mr. Miller was re-elected, but was not sworn in as selectman. Over the next several days while Mr. Miller tried to secure documents proving his citizenship, the controversy spread through town. The details were noticeably absent from the weekly issue of the “Coos County Democrat.” The publisher, Clinton White, decided as he later wrote “with open reluctance to withhold the story until the investigation was completed.” The “Union Leader”, the state-wide newspaper, smelled a rat and made charges of a cover up engineered by the Mr. White and town officials. The conservative paper and ardent supporter of the Red baiting Joe McCarthy’s anti-communism crusade wrote a provocative article leading with, “A Federal investigation is being conducted into the citizenship of the former Chairman of the Board of Selectmen.” The story included several key officials including Mr. Miller, Selectman Maynard Gallagher and town attorney Walter Hinkley either refusing to comment or contradicting each other. On March 24, the “Coos County Democrat” ran a front page story on the citizenship challenge and refuted the “Union Leader’s” accusations, and reminded readers that “the Lancaster paper had supported ex-chief Clement in… his dismissal,(and therefore) an extreme effort was made to be fair to Mr. Miller.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Miller continued to put the puzzle of his citizenship status together. The story was complicated from the start. There was no exact record of where Mr. Miller was born. It was believed that he had been born in Middlesex, NB on January 9, 1913, but his half-sister believes he could have been born in Orleans, Vt. or possibly in other locations near the U.S-Canadian border. Further complicating matters was the fact that Val’s mother, Cora Miller, was born a U.S. citizen, but when she married Frank Miller, a Canadian citizen, in 1904, she automatically lost her status as a U.S. citizen. That marriage ended in divorce in 1924, when Val was 11-years old. It was presumably then that Mrs. Miller and her children moved to Dalton. In 1936, she regained her U.S. citizenship, but by then her son, Val, was 23-years old and no longer under his mother’s guardianship.

Mr. Miller apparently had some doubt about his own citizenship status and in 1938; he consulted with an attorney about starting the Naturalization process. At this point, he was advised by the attorney that “he didn’t have to, he was a citizen anyway” according to an article in the “Coos County Democrat”. It was then that Mr. Miller registered as a voter in Whitefield. In 1951, he ran and was elected one of the town’s selectmen. By September, 1953, he sought to reopen the question of his citizenship presumably to dispel rumors circulating around Whitefield. He consulted Myron C. Hubbert, Acting Examiner of the U.S. Immigration Naturalization office in Berlin.

Immediately after the challenge Mr. Miller’s attorney, Walter Hinckley, of Lancaster, indicated that Mr. Miller was in fact a U.S. citizen. Three days after the challenge on Mach 12, 1954, Mr. Miller went to the Lancaster to see the Acting U.S. Immigration Naturalization Examiner Hubbard. It is not clear why Mr. Miller went to the Lancaster office, rather than the Berlin office where he began the inquiry five months prior. Possibly, Mr. Miller and Attorney Hinckley felt a more favorable response was likely, or conceivably they believed the Berlin office shared private details of the case with Mr. Miller’s accusers, ex-chief Murray Clement or one of his associates. The case was transferred to the St. Albans, Vt. Office and later Examiner Percy Gee ruled that Mr. Miller was not a U.S. citizen. The “Coos County Democrat” made it clear to note that Mr. Miller “had every reasonable cause to believe that he was a citizen and ran for public office in entirely good faith.”

The Chief. While former Chief Clement may have won his legal battle to remove Mr. Miller from his position as a selectman, but it was Val Miller who garnered the sympathy of Whitefield’s townspeople. “People were ticked off,” said Kenneth Russell, Sr., who remembers the incident. “Somebody did him (Val Miller) wrong.” The insertion of Mr. Clement on the political scene was reminder of the actions that lead to his removal as the police Chief. A former Boston and Maine Railroad fireman, Mr. Clement became chief in 1929, and reined over the relatively somber days of the Great Depression, prohibition and World War Two. The winds of change were in the air. Even in small towns like Whitefield, returning veterans and other young people wanted to enjoy life and have a little fun.  Chief Clement, a stout and portly man with a mean streak, was determined to keep a tight grip on his town. “His presence kept us in line,” recalls Kenneth A. Jordan “I was afraid of him.” He wasn’t the only one. Chief Clement was notorious for using so-called “twisters” to gain control over people he was trying to detain. “He demanded and received obedience with them on,” said Mr. Jordan. The “Coos County Democrat” described a twister as “a chain that will exert pressure without cutting and its use is legal when required.” Mr. Jordan said they would draw blood and he specifically remembers Chief Clement putting them on a drunk and twisting them until the man’s wrists were bloody. Even those, who defended Chief Clement, said he had a penchant for violence. Edward Boswell remembers him as being “pretty fierce, (but) fair.”  He too saw the Chief draw blood. Chief Clement “beat the hell out of old Dan Beaton for being hot (drunk)… and he wouldn’t get into the (police) car.”

After 23 years as chief, Mr. Cement’s power was solidified, but his enemy list was growing and his old school approach was wearing thin. On September 6, 1952, a 19-year old was arrested for reckless driving and according to the “Coos County Democrat” “was taken to the jail and he resisted arrest, kicking and thrashing around and hollering until twisters were put on his arms.”What happened next is not exactly clear, but at least two current residents remember that the police were having as Robert Stiles recalled “a beating party” at the police station and Charles Canton, a prominent business and civic leader, who lived directly across from the station, intervene. One thing led to another and ultimately, Mr. Canton in the words of his grandson, Steve Canton, began “thrashing the cop.” A week or so later 61-year old Mr. Cantin died of a heart attack. The police brutality incident was investigated by the County Solicitor (attorney), Whitefield District Court Justice Harold E. Kier and the “Coos County Democrat.” All stood behind Chief Clement. The “boy” and his father both refused to point the finger at the Chief Clement and the “Coos County Democrat” wrote, “the boy’s father told this newspaper… that the boy had not been injured at all,” and then concluded with “these statement are reported that circumstances will not give credence to exaggerated stories.” Apparently, the selectmen were not so convinced and on September 22, they signed a letter addressed to Chief Clement that “his services were no longer be required” and that Burton McLain, of Lancaster, had been appointed the new chief. No reasons were given as to why the long time chief was let go, and the Union Leader reported that the firing took place “only a few month before his date of retirement.”  The chairman of the Board of Selectmen was none other than Val Miller, who 17-months later would seek re-election.

Mr. Miller, the aspiring dairy farmer, had more pressing problems than to worry about the ex-chief. He had to build a barn. Six days after Murray Clement was fired, the town rallied together to rebuild the Miller’s barn, which had been lost by a $25,000 fire a year before. As many as 75 people participated in an old fashion “barn raising.” The Milk Pail, a dairy farming journal, wrote the “a new barn, the first of its kind in New England is completely fire proof”. Newspapers from as far away as Boston covered the event.  This public outpouring of support clearly demonstrated that most people thought, as Robert Stiles said, that “Val Miller was a helluva nice guy” and as Kenneth Jordan, Jr. said, most people were “glad that he (Clement) was gone.” “Everyone knew that Murray Clement hated my father,” said Joan Miller Bateson, and the reason was clear: Val Miller did something few people did he took on Murray Clement and won. By 1954, Mr. Miller was still popular, but that could not fix his citizenship problems.

The Woman.With Val Miller out, the remaining two selectmen, Maynard Gallagher and Edward MacDonald, needed to appoint a replacement to fill the 3-year term. Little information is available about the reasoning or the process, but the choice was both historic and defiant. The selectmen appointed Eleanor Miller, who became Whitefield’s first women selectmen. At 41, she was born before women had won the right to vote, but no grand announcements about the historic nature of the appointment came from her or anyone else. It just seemed like natural thing to do. “It just wasn’t a big deal at the time” recalls Kenneth A. Jordan.

Most observers believed the appointment was designed to give Val Miller the last laugh and not let Murray Clement get away with usurping the will of the voters. Some, like Robert Stiles, then a town employee, believed that Mr. Miller continued to call the shots. “Eleanor was appointed,” he said, “but Val did it.” Joan Miller Bateson remembers her mother as a loyal wife, but she “had a mind of her own.” To comprehend Mrs. Miller, one must understand the events that shaped her formative years and her all encompassing role as a farmer’s wife. She seems defined in a many way by the events of her time namely, Prohibition and the Great Depression.  In that era, the home was the central place to demonstrate piety and frugality, and within the shadows of their husbands and the culture of the time, many women were strong, influential partners. Nowhere were these partnerships more pronounced than on a farm, where the work never ended. The Millers got into farming when most people were getting out, and by Whitefield standards they were large. By the 1950’s, dairy farming was declining due to the centralization and standardization of dairy production.  State law and larger wholesalers, like H.P. Hood, for whom the Miller’s supplied milk, required expensive improvements to ensure milk sanitation. A large steel holding tank was a vivid sign of changing face of agriculture on the Miller’s farm. It was razed along with the farm to make way for the Weeks Medical Center a few years ago. Mrs. Miller dealt with the business side of the farm and although quiet, she was comfortable dealing with the many customers as well as wholesalers. Ruth Waid, who as a young girl worked for and lived with the Millers, said “Eleanor was hard working… more the type to listen (than talk.)” She “did not go all out for politics,” but she was principled.  There was at least one political view that Mrs. Miller cared deeply about, Mrs. Waid remembers, “No liquor whatsoever. I can safely say the she (Eleanor) was against drinking (and for prohibition).” Most remember her, as Peter Packard, then a young farm hand, as caretaker making sure everyone was well fed and looked after.

Mrs. Miller also had a background that surprised many, including her own children. In her early years, she worked at the State House in Providence, RI and later the North Providence city office. But all that was before she married Velma Miller, and thereafter, as a selectmen and even when she died unexpectedly in 1966 the news accounts referred to her as “Mrs. Velma Miller.” Her own name doesn’t even appear in her obituary, but it is affixed in the town’s history as are the events that lead to her appointment.

The sequence of events

March 5, 1951               Val Miller elected Selectman

September 6, 1952         Allegations of police brutality made against Police Chief Clement

September 22, 1952       Selectmen fire Police Chief Clement

September 28, 1952       Community “Barn-Raising” rebuild state of the art barn for the Miller’s farm

March 9, 1954

Ex-Chief Clement challenges Selectman Miller’s citizenship

March 30, 1954

Eleanor Miller appointed Whitefield’s first female Selectman


Val Miller becomes a Naturalized U.S. citizen

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Brad Lufkin, Jr.

by Jeff Woodburn

WHITEFIELD –Brad Lufkin can remember when he had to compete with 5-full service gas stations in Whitefield. Now, he is the only one in town, and one of only two full service auto repair station left in Coos County.  Self service stations with convenience stores have grown so popular that they are threatening the very existence of old style filling stations that provided services from windshield wiping to the local news. All told there are only 3 gas stations–  Lufkin’s Service Station in Whitefield, Lemieux Garage, Inc., in Colebrook and Munce’s in Berlin — that pump gas for their customers.

Gas stations are struggling despite the high gas prices because their margins are slim, competition is stiff, regulations are strict, upgrades are costly and credit card fees are high. Many sell gas as a way to attract customers to their higher margin goods or services. The age-old gas station offered gas, but was really in the business of repairing automobiles. That was the model followed by Scott Lambert, owner of P & L Auto, on North Main Street in Lancaster, who recently closed his full service Sunoco gas station, but remains in the auto repair business.  Lambert, who leases the building from Falcon Petroleum, said, ““Self service is taking a lot of the profit away. (I have) to pay the help (to pump gas.)”  He says that if he is only 1 or 2 cents greater than his competitors he’ll lose business. But, what really forced him to close was the requirement to replace the old oil storage tanks. He estimates the cost for new tanks is from $100,000 to $150,000.

“You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t know how to pump gas,” said Lambert. This leaves his customers—many of whom are elderly literally out in the cold, ice or rain trying to pump their own gas and figure out how to operate the complicated automated systems that vary from station to station. It also means lots of walking back and forth between the car and cashier, as well as waiting in check out lines. Not only that, Mr. Lambert says his customers will miss the social connections that are the hallmark of small towns.  “I really think that we’ll be missed,” he said, “the ‘personable-ness’ is gone.”

Lambert is not alone. Many old style gas stations are being closed or converted into convenient stores often with food service. For forty-years, Dean Blanchette, of Lancaster, has been the guy to see in the North Country about commercial fuel tanks and pumps. He has also watched the steady decline of old style filling stations. Up until the late 1970s, he recalls “everyone who had a gas station worked on cars. That’s all there were.”  Back then, he said, it was typical that the buildings, tanks and pumps were owned by big oil corporations and lucrative commissions and incentives were provided to operators based upon volume of gas sold. Banchette remembers the first self-service station in the area,”everyone thought they were crazy.”  The idea took off, he said, and great “change (was) forced upon the small, full service stations.”

“I guess it’s going out the door with dinosaur,” said Richard Cote, who runs the state Division of Weights and Measures.  He out to know, it is his department that insures the accuracy of the 2,800 gas pump measuring devices.  Of the 800 New Hampshire businesses that sell fuel, most are self service convenient stores, he adds.  “The few full service stations that exist have been service stations for generations.”  The trend worries historic preservation leaders. The remaining full service stations build community and preserve tradition, said Linda Wilson, Deputy Preservation Officer at the State’s Division of Historical Resources.  “They create a place for people to come together and create (social) connections… and invest in their local communities.”

The 3 remaining stations that offer full service in Coos County are deeply rooted in tradition. When asked why they pump gas for their customers, Robbie Munce, who grandfather opened the station in 1968 on Pleasant Street in Berlin, answers “We always have. It is just the way we’ve always done it.” Munce’s is not simply nostalgic throw back. They are formidable enterprise with 200 employees and nearly 2 dozen stores throughout New Hampshire. Berlin is their oldest and only location that offers full service gas. The location offers a convenient store, but does not repair cars. It is a service that the people of Berlin want, said Mr. Munce, and are willing to pay 2 cents more per gallon than their closes competitor. Munce’s hires high school students to pump gas, wash windows, check oil and tire levels. Robbie Munce grew up pumping gas and said, “It’s an easy job, but it takes initiative. When it’s nasty weather people don’t want to pump their own gas.” He recalls once it was so cold that he saw “gasoline gel.” He credits the experience with the basics of running a good service oriented business. Munce, an Anglophone, had to learn to “make change in French.” The service station was the local social center, he said, we were the “first to know the scores of the hockey games that were out of town,” and people came not only to get gas, but also the news.

Pauline Limieux’s family has been in the gas business in Colebrook since 1934. She is the vital link between the past and the present.  She is presently owns Limieux Garage, Inc. with her son.  They fix cars and also are snowmobile dealers. When asked about the distinction of being one of the last remaining full service stations, she responds: “I don’t know how long we’ll be able to do it,” but then she turns very practical, “the pumps aren’t set up for automatic. Can’t put in a credit card.” She says her customers seem to like “to know the person that pumps their gas,” and often “like to pass words.” Mrs. Lemieux also noted that some customers’ dogs have come to expect a treat from the pocket of the long-time attendant.

Back in Whitefield, Lufkin’s Service station has been pumping gas and repairing cars for customers since 1945. You can’t buy a soda, sandwich or snow machine. The current owner, Brad Lufkin, keeps the family close – his son Mark and his grandson and namesake Bradley make up most of the work force. Mark Lufkin ticks off the attributes of this small, local operation. “We have long standing customers some of them for 30-years.” Meanwhile his son, Bradley, cleans the windows and fills the tank of Virginia Poole’s car. She’s writing a check to pay for her purchase, something she can’t do at many of the big self-service outfits. Poole likes the convenience and service that the Lufkins’ provide, and doesn’t seem to mind the conversation. Mr. Lufkin pauses and looks at his son and says we have to be careful, “Brad will talk their ear off.”

1) Bradley Lufkin washes Virginia Poole’s windshield at Lufkin’s Service Center, in Whitefield. (Photo by Jeff Woodburn)

2) Scott Lambert, of P & L Auto, in Lancaster in front of his defunct gas pumps. (Photo by Jeff Woodburn)

3) Bud Matott’s American Gas Station shown here in 1961 sat were the present Cumberland Farms is in Whitefield.  This photo is from www.suitorsgarage.com., a web site that documents some of Whitefield’s old garages.

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