Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lumber town: Berlin, New Hampshire


Berlin is a mill and paper town on the Androscoggin River in northern New Hampshire. Situated north of the White Mountains, it is about four hours drive from Boston and seems to be far away from anything.

Berlin was once a thriving industrial city. Prosperity in the early 20th century came from timber harvesting, lumber mills, and paper factories. Workers were a mix of ethnic groups, with many being French Canadians. Many families spoke French exclusively, and schools taught English a foreign language. Sadly, since World War II, the town has been on a steady decline, and a large paper mill closed recently.

Immigrant families lived in wood double- and triple-deckers. You find this type of semi-mass-produced housing in former industrial cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston, but the architectural style was also used here in New Hampshire. I don't know how residents heated in the past; possibly boilers in the cellar used coal (brought in by railroad). Life in these tenements must have been dreary, but at least the men and women had jobs and dreamed of a better future. Some participated in winter sports. In 1882, a group of Scandinavians founded the nation's first ski club, named the Nansen Ski Club in honor of Fridtjof Nansen, the explorer who in 1888 skied across Greenland. Today, much of this housing stock is seedy and many units are empty.

You can still see elements of a prosperous past. The beautiful Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church overlooks the city from the west side of the valley.

It's interesting that the cornerstone was laid before the Bolshevik revolution.

This factory/warehouse was sheathed with zinc plates patterned to look like cut stone blocks. This type of busy pattern, resembling limestone blocks, must have been popular in the late 1800s because early-vintage cinder blocks were also molded with this design.

I think this kind of sheathing was most commonly used before the 1940s. By the 1960s, aluminum siding became more popular than steel sheathing because it was lighter and easier to install.

I have seen other buildings with zinc sheathing in other parts of the country. One was a church in Johnson City, Texas, where Lyndon Johnson went to services. The old airport terminal near Tallulah, LA, where Delta Airlines started decades ago, had zinc roof tiles shaped to look like clay tiles.

It's sad to see a town like Berlin heading downhill, but what can replace traditional industries that employed a large workforce? Berlin was once called "Papertown,"but that era ended years ago. The last paper mill in northern New Hampshire, the Fraser Papers mill in Gorham, south of the Berlin-Gorham line, just closed. In Berlin's case, prisons provide some employment but the employment numbers are minor compared to the thousands who once cut and processed timber. You can read about Berlin in Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin,_New_Hampshire

All photographs taken with a Fuji F31fd digital camera.

3 comments:

  1. I just moved here. This town is taking its dying breath. Id recommend staying away if you have to work for a living.

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  2. These pictures of Berlin are not even close to depicting how the city really is.. all of the buildings you posted are now demolished.

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