Discover baseball’s hidden gems and historic roots in New Hampshire.
Read about it here. (Our latest contributions to the current issue of New Hampshire magazine.) And, if you like it, you can read another story we did on local history and baseball for the magazine here.
It’s spring in New Hampshire – the New Hampshire that’s on calendars, not the one that’s got lighthouses or the one that looks likes the suburbs of Boston. New Hampshire’s spring has some wonderfully charming days like this one.
The only thing that it compares to it is in the fall, when the leaves stand posed at the end of branches showing off their red and gold colors, as they prepare to launch out into the cool blue sky and onto the green-brown ground.
These spring days are pregnant with warmth.
Not real warmth…
There’s a poignancy to these days too, a real sense that they’re here only to leave, like your first love or seeing your favorite car just as it disappears around a corner. These spring days are pregnant with warmth. Not real warmth yet – that’s still ten or fifteen more degrees away before we’re casting off our coats and sweaters. But, a warmth still the same, something that bespeaks of light ahead.
In this New Hampshire, that hint is mostly seen in the heavy water. Somewhere, deep down, below that drift of snow leaning against the barn, beneath the plowed piles clinging to the sides of your driveway, is the water, melting down as the depth of the snow sinks.
It’s known as mud season here, starting sometime in March and heading into April, May, even June some years. It’s messy and annoying, but it’s also a promise.
WARNER – Looking at this small picturesque New England town today, it’s hard to imagine the significant role it once played in the development of the region’s winter tourism industry.
But it was about 85 years ago when a local businessman made the biggest deal of his life, drawing more than 200 people to town in America’s first “ski train.”
‘They left Boston’s North Station and arrived in a town with a little over 1,000 people… Word spread, and Warner was soon known as the winter sports capital of central New Hampshire.’
Rebecca Courser, the executive director of the Warner Historical Society, talked about the event, and the subsequent impact of impact on the town, as a special “Snow Train Dinner & Talk” in the town hall recently. The society’s fundraising event drew more than 200 people.
Buck Whitford introduced skiing to the town in 1909, Courser explained. He’d picked it up when visiting family members in Minnesota, and initiated friends and neighbors into the sport. It wasn’t long before locals in Warner – and in other northeastern communities – were making their own wooden skis, swooping down their hills and mountains.
But it was John “Happy Jack” Chandler who initiated the ski trains, according to Courser. In the early 1930s, Chandler took a trip to Boston. He visited several large businesses where he promoted Warner as a great place for a wintertime company trip. Some of the organizations sent representatives to the town and, after seeing the local hotels, restaurants and skiing facilities, some – including the John Hancock Insurance company – decided to take Chandler up on his invitation.
“They left Boston’s North Station and arrived in a town with a little over 1,000 citizens,” Courser said of the early ski trains. “The Boston folks grew to have a great appreciation for Warner as a winter playground. Word spread, and Warner was soon known as the winter sports capital of central New Hampshire.”
Of course the operations were relatively primitive. With no snowmaking equipment, business was completely dependent on natural snowfall. So when one winter brought a dearth of good cover, Armdam Doucette, the town barber, challenged the other men in town to join him in a pledge, “not to shave until we get some skiable snow,” Courser said.
In 1950, the Boston-Warner ski train brought 1,200 people to town, making the largest corporate outing America had ever seen.
Almost 30 men participated and, although there’s no proof that it impacted any wintry precipitation, it did bring the town some unexpected publicity. “Permanent five o’clock shadow hovers over Warner,” was a headline seen as far away as California, Courser said. And when the snow finally arrived after Christmas, the ski train people returned.
When the country entered the prosperous post-World War II years, things really took off. At that time, there were 14 inns and hotels operating in Warner during the winter months.
One weekend, approximately 900 Hancock employees got off the ski trains, virtually doubling the town’s population. In 1950, the Boston-Warner ski train brought 1,200 people to town, making the trip the largest corporate outing America had ever seen.
But by 1956, poor skiing conditions and increased competition from places like the state-owned Sunapee resort began the decline of the local tourism industry.
“Many of the inns shut down abruptly,” Courser noted.
The local ski operations were eventually turned over to the schools. When construction of Interstate 89 divided the primary ski area, the operations were later moved to the Mink Hills area. By the 1980s, the ski businesses were gone.
But the ski trains had a major economic impact on the town for more than 25 years. It brought new people to Warner, some who returned during the summer, and some eventually settling here. And the winter population hike forced local residents, businesses and civic organizations to work cooperatively, Courser concluded.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, Tuesday, February 19, 2019. All images are courtesy of the Warner (N.H.) Historical Society.
BRADFORD – A crowd of about 50 residents gathered at Kearsarge Regional Elementary School last week to discuss what they’d like to see when the planning board updates the town’s master plan later this year.
In a series of discussions, the group talked about their hope for a business revival in the village, local business establishments taking advantage of the steady year-round road traffic on Route 103, and the continuation of the town’s focus on preserving and developing both its historic character and its agricultural economy.
The primary focus of the meeting was to review and discuss issues raised by more than 160 residents who had responded to a survey the planning board published last year. Pam Bruss, chairman of the board, told the meeting that the results generally mirrored trends that have been identified around the state in recent years, including a growing older population and the exodus of younger people from New Hampshire.
The large group then split into four sub-groups where specific areas of concern were addressed. A member of the planning board worked with a professional planner from the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission to help identify benefits and challenges that should be considered when plotting Bradford’s future.
‘I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford anyway unless we have a cell tower.’
One issue that came up several times was the need for increased commercial development, particularly in the village area. Several residents noted that there are some lots there where well water is at least partly polluted, while others pointed to some septic problems.
When Matt Monahan, one of the CNHPC planners, suggested that the town might consider some kind of well water and/or wastewater district, the residents reported that previous attempts in that direction had met with property tax-related resistance. “The attitude is, if those people (n the village) want it, let them pay for it,” one man said.
“I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford anyway unless we have a cell tower,” said another citizen, while others laughed in recognition.
Monahan said that poor cell phone and internet services present significant challenges for businesses.
He also suggested that successful business operations could be drawn to town by looking at national trends and reducing them for the town’s population. “For instance, healthcare. What does that mean for Bradford,” he asked rhetorically. “It’s not going to a hospital but it could mean a doctor.”
The remark led to a general discussion of desirable businesses for the town, including a CVS-like pharmacy/grocery store, eating establishments and additional agritourism operations, like the Sweet Beet Market. “But not a chain,” said one man, as others in the group nodded. “It should be homegrown, a mom-and-pop operation.”
In another corner of the room, Audrey V. Sylvester spoke with folks concerned about the town’s historic character. She quoted from a report written by Christopher W. Closs, a professional planner from Hopkinton: “As a corridor, West Main Street represents one of the better-preserved surviving 19th century village residential districts in rural New Hampshire.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Claire James, the planning board’s vice-chairman, announced that her group would review the participants’ comments and observations, then begin coordinating them with the survey results and other information. Then, the members would begin drafting the master plan. Portions of the document will be discussed at several public meetings and the final draft will be presented to at least one public hearing before it is offered to voters for their consideration
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.