HINSDALE, N.H. -- Norman Bergeron started making his living at 1347 Brattleboro Road a month before one of the greatest tragedies in American history.
Not Hurricane Katrina. Not the 2001 terrorist attacks. But the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Bergeron's purchase of a business from Francis Loomis and stands as a testament to Bergeron's willingness to adjust to the times that have come and gone. Bought as a salvage yard, the property has been known to area residents as Norm's Marina since 1995. Bergeron now lives in a house on the 17.8-acre property with Joan Nowill, his partner of 32 years, and runs a variety of services, such as New Hampshire vehicle inspections and boat launching and storage.
"It's average," he said this week, citing mostly the weak economy. "It was a little slow this past spring because the water was so muddy and dirty."
Nowill said the marina used to fill its 63 boat slips (or spots for storage) but now rents out only about 80 percent of its capacity. She said Bergeron ran the business as a salvage yard, like Loomis did, until it failed to be lucrative anymore and Bergeron called a marina "a better, cleaner business."
Nowill said that in addition to the boat storage and vehicle inspections, Bergeron's son, Greg, conducts boat repair work on the property. Nowill said people can pay a fee to store their vessels at the marina all year long or can purchase a season's pass, which allows boat owners to bring their watercraft from their homes and launch into the Connecticut River as often as they want. There is also a 2,000-gallon tank filled with gas for sale and about 10 professional fishing tournaments held every year.
Bergeron, 79, said he paid $6,800 a few years ago to re-pave the launch area, which can now better handle boats of all sizes.
Bergeron has plenty of photographs of himself and the business in their younger days and told the Reformer the property has changed a lot over the past five decades.
It could be seen as ironic that the 50th anniversary of Norm's Marina coincides with passionate local advocacy for replacement of the two Pennsylvania truss bridges mere yards away from it. Brattleboro is connected to New Hampshire by the structures, with the Anna Hunt Marsh Bridge providing a way to Hinsdale Island and the Charles Dana Bridge linking the island with Hinsdale. But JB Mack, the principal planner for the Southwest Region Planning Commission, has said federal highway standards dictate the bridges are too narrow and have insufficient weight limits and vertical clearances. They are considered "functionally obsolete."
Several local residents and legislators are adamant about getting the bridges replaced with a new one, which was chosen as the best alternative. All ambulances and other emergency services must cross both the existing bridges and risk getting halted by the railroad tracks. The new bridge, however, would go over the tracks -- and right past the house Bergeron and Nowill live in. It would begin near the stop light at the former Walmart location, stretch across the river as well as the southern portion of Hinsdale Island and the Merrill Gas Company and then touch down near Brattleboro's "Malfunction Junction."
Bergeron and Nowill say their house would practically be under the new bridge. They say they acknowledge the problem with the current bridges but don't favor a new one being built the way it is planned. They said rehabilitating the two existing bridges is a better idea and would be less expensive for the state.
"If I had my way it would go over where it is now," Nowill said. "The other option was to go down to the old railroad tracks, but then you'd still be in for a dead-end.
She said she and Bergeron attended a recent meeting about the bridge and voiced their concern about the project.
"If they want to do it, fine. But they're going to have to buy the house or something," she told the Reformer. "We don't want to be underneath a bridge."
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.