A look back at 2009



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Jack Colby, a Littleton native, shown sitting in front of the Riverglen House in Littleton, was editor emeritus of The Courier, holding down the position for 40 years. Colby passed away March 13 at the age of 93. He was well-known for his Mountain Musing column, which was the longest running column in the country and appeared in The Courier every week. Courier file photo. (click for larger version)
December 30, 2009
NORTH COUNTRY–While choosing top stories of the year is admittedly a rather a subjective process and no doubt some will disagree with them; there is a common thread among them of longevity. The stories had long ranging impact; the issues involved were in the works for a long time and were talked about everywhere. Some of these may have been the death of a prominent person or infrastructure projects years in the making that affected many people.

1. Littleton infrastructure: Main Street reconstruction, the new Police Station, and the official reopening of the Littleton Opera House.

It was hard to separate these three items, thus they were left together. All three of these projects had been discussed, or even in the planning stages, for years.

Main Street reconstruction was the by far the biggest event in Littleton this year. There were weekly meetings held with contractors and business owners, traffic was detoured and tied up, water and sewer lines were dug up from the Opera House to the Littleton Diner, and a huge rock found underground that stopped all work. Sidewalks were replaced, the road repaved, and there was of course, the noise of it all. While it seemed like it would last forever, the project is over except for some touchup work in the spring.

In the case of a new police station, Littleton had been working towards it for 40 years. Finally, this summer, the department officially moved into its new home on West Main Street, a state-of-the-art facility that should serve the department for decades. Now the majority of town services are in one "campus" type location, with the Police Department, the Fire Department and the Highway Department all within a stone's throw of each other. The ribbon cutting was held in October.

At the other end of town, a ribbon cutting was held at the Opera House. The building was closed in late summer 2005 for safety violations and there were times people wondered if it would ever reopen. This summer, with U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg in attendance, it was officially declared reopened and a concert was held in August, though much work remains to get the first tenants, the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Littleton Area Historical Society, situated. It also appears like there might be a question on the ballot this year whether or not to move the town offices back in.

2. The death of Jack Colby.

Now perQ1 haps we at The Courier are a bit biased about the death of our editor emeritus, Jack Colby, who died in March at the age of 93, but his impact on Littleton cannot be denied. Editor of the Courier for over 40 years, he also wrote his column, "Mountain Musings," for almost 70 years, as far as we could determine the longest running weekly column in the United States. Colby was such a newspaperman—and that's what they were called in those days, not reporters or journalists—that he always had weeks and weeks of copy ready in advance. In fact, his column ran for a few months after he died he had so much copy ready.

He was also the editor and one of the compilers of the main Littleton history book, Littleton: Crossroads of Northern New Hampshire and received the Pollyanna Award for his optimistic outlook.

Colby was a lifelong Littleton resident before moving to Lexington, Ky. in 1994 to be near family. Even then his mind was always on Littleton and he faithfully continued his column until his death.

3. Tearing down of Franconia Paper Company Mill in Lincoln.

The end of an era came this December with the final demolition of the remaining parts of the Franconia Paper Company's mill, including the building that was home to the Papermill Theatre. The demolition in a sense symbolized the last step the community took in the long road that brought it from a depressed community with a closed paper mill to a vibrant tourist-based resort community centered on Loon Mountain.

The remaining buildings had been an eyesore but will be no longer. On the very site of the old structures a new 170-room hotel to rival in size the Mount Washington Hotel is going to be built by Inn Seasons Resorts and will be called, Riverwalk Resort Hotel. Right in the center of it will be the new seven-story home of the Papermill Theatre. This will not be completed for several years.

In the meanwhile, Jean's Playhouse, a smaller building is being built to temporarily house the theatre. When the hotel and new permanent home for the Papermill is built, Jean's Playhouse will become a children's theatre.

4. The new Profile School in Bethlehem.

Though the work had been going on for several years and the vote to approve its construction occurred a few years ago, the final touches were put on this fall and a ribbon cutting finally held in front of the new, beautiful structure. Tours were held of the new building and staff and students showed off their new home.

The newer portions of the old building, which had held the Middle School, were renovated, but the rest, including the gym, was torn down. The playing fields were also redone.

The old building, while only 30 years old, had numerous problems, including a leaky and dangerous roof, especially in the gym, where alarms had been set up to warn of a possible imminent collapse because of too much snow.

While this never happened, everyone is breathing a sigh of relief they won't have to be fearfully looking up at the ceiling during a game.

5. The proposed Dalton Dragstrip.

While not technically in The Courier's coverage area, its immediate proximity to it, and likely effect on the area, made this one of the biggest stories of the year. The Dalton Dragstrip is a dragstrip proposed by Dalton property owner Doug Ingerson, owner of Chick's Sand and Gravel, as well as owner of around 2,000 contiguous acres in Dalton, Littleton, Whitefield and Bethlehem.

Ingerson wants to build an eighth of a mile long drag strip on his property, which in a few years would expand to one quarter of a mile long. There would be parking and seating for 1,000 people on the site, which is located between Manns Hill and Forest Lake and abutters in both locations believe it will affect both locations.

Though hundreds of people turned out for meetings in several towns to speak out about the project, they discovered there was little that could be done through zoning regulations since Dalton has no zoning.

Of the tops stories listed, this one will likely be on the list next year because it isn't over yet. Ingerson is continuing with his plans for his track and his abutters are continuing with plans to stop him or modify his plans.

Several other stories got runner up status for top story of the year. Among these was the death of Ed Clark, one of the near legendary owners of Clark's Trading Post.

Other stories were the sentencing last week of the murderers of Christopher Gray, the Vermont man killed in October 2008 for allegedly making advances on Amber Talbot, of Woodsville. Talbot was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in jail for helping plan the murder. Timothy Smith and Anthony Howe, both of Woodsville, were both sentenced to 40 years to life in jail for second-degree murder for carrying out the act.

A fourth defendant, Mike Robie, is awaiting sentencing.

Littleton native Christopher Chase pled guilty last week in St. Johnsbury, Vt. for the August 2008 murder in Guildhall, Vt., of his girlfriend, Sara Bragdon. While he will be sentenced at a later date, his minimum sentence will be 20 years in jail, by the terms of his plea deal.

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