A letter from Mayor Arthur Scholtz of Berlin, Germany
honoring the "Paper City" on its 100th anniversary on July 5, 1929
International Paper Mill, c. 1912
Around 11,000 years ago, small groups of Native Americans camped around the area of what is now called Berlin. In later years, the Eastern Abenaki tribes came to Berlin to mine rhyolite on Mt. Jasper.
When English colonists came to America, Berlin was first granted on December 31, 1771, by Colonial Governor John Wentworth, as "Maynesborough" after Sir William Mayne. But the grantees did not take up their claims, which disappeared with the Revolution. In 1802, Seth Eames and Gideon Tirrell were sent by the descendants of Mayne to explore and mark lots for settlers, and still no one came. Maynesborough was settled in 1823–1824 by William Sessions and his nephew, Cyrus Wheeler. Both men were from Gilead, Maine. Farming was the first industry. With 65 inhabitants in 1829, the New England town was reincorporated on July 1 as Berlin with the help of Cyrus' father, Thomas Wheeler.
Situated in a heavily forested region, the community developed early into a center for logging and wood industries. Falls on the Androscoggin River provided water power for sawmills. In 1826, a road was built to Gorham by Thomas, Amos, and Daniel Green. In 1851, the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad entered Berlin, connecting it to other markets. Acquiring water, timber, and rail rights in the early 1850s, the H. Winslow & Company built a large sawmill at the head of "Berlin Falls". In 1868, William Wentworth Brown and Lewis T. Brown bought a controlling interest in the business and changed its name to the Berlin Mills Company.
By 1885, the mill town was home to several pulp and paper mills, including the Riverside Mill, Forest Fibre Company and White Mountain Pulp & Paper Company. Because of the need for labor in the mills, immigrants arrived from Russia, Norway, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Ireland, and Germany. Many others were French Canadians from nearby Quebec.
In 1872, a group of Scandinavians founded the nation's oldest ski club, which still exists today. It was originally called the North American Ski Club (in Norwegian, Nordamerikansk Skiklubben), but later was renamed the Nansen Ski Club. This was in honor of Fridtjof Nansen, who in 1888 skied across Greenland. In 1897, Berlin was incorporated as a city, the northernmost in the state.
As of 1874, the Boston and Maine Railway passed through the eastern portion of the town and operated on this line until the 1980s. The old railroad bed has since been converted for usage as an ATV trail.
Berlin's main industry in the early 20th century was the pulp and paper industries, which have been in a long decline since that time. As jobs left the area, the population has decreased and is about half its peak of more than 20,000 in the 1930 census. In 1917, the Berlin Mills Company was renamed the Brown Company, because of World War I and anti-German feeling against the enemy of the time. A short time after the Great Depression, the Brown Company went into receivership. Surviving with governmental help, it was bought and sold several times after World War II.
In 2001, American Tissue filed for bankruptcy, before which it had stopped paying city taxes. Its facilities were purchased in 2002 by Fraser Papers of Canada. But in March 2006, Fraser Papers announced the closing of Berlin's pulp mill. On May 6, 2006, 250 employees were displaced, some moving to Cascade's paper finishing mill, but most were left unemployed.
On October 3, 2006, the North American Dismantling Corporation of Michigan announced that it had bought the 121-acre (49 ha) defunct pulp mill site of Fraser Paper, and would spend a year demolishing the property to allow redevelopment. Laidlaw Energy LLC has since purchased a portion of the former Fraser property, including a large recovery boiler which it intends to convert into a 66-megawatt biomass plant in 2010–2011.
In the 1990s, the local historian and author
Paul "Poof" Tardiff began writing articles in The Berlin Daily Sun. He later collected these in a three-volume series titled Once Upon a Berlin Time, which documents local history. He continued to write articles for the newspaper every Tuesday and Thursday until his death in 2018.
Recent economic development has been based on the correctional industry. The 750-bed Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility was built in 1999 and employs approximately 200 people. In 2012, the Federal Bureau of Prisons opened a federal, 1200-bed medium security facility, which employs approximately 350 people.
Post Office Square c. 1914
Main Street South in 2007
Grand Trunk Railroad Station 2007
City panorama from Mt. Forest, 1970