Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It Can Happen Here

Last evening we were watching Chronicle on WCVB. They had one of their "Main Streets & Back Roads" segments airing and it was great. Chronicle spotlighted Brandon, Vermont. Until recently, Brandon had been going through much of what has been affecting Sturbridge over the past few years. Shops closing up, stores remaining empty, and the down town area becoming a bit derelict. The tourists were going elsewhere, too.

Then something amazing happened. People began to work together.

It started with a bit of whimsy, a pig parade. Three foot tall fiberglass pigs were made and individuals worked on artistically painting them in all sorts of ways, and then they were pulled down Main Street in a large parade. This bit of whimsy has become an annual event, and this year the pigs have been replaced by dogs and cats. The event spurred a lot of brainstorming, and even better, action. A local architectural designer lent her skills to help redesign store fronts and areas the Main Street including a small park with stone walls, brick walkways and a wonderful gazebo. One of the towns eminent residents, Warren Kimble, opened a gallery downtown, and soon other artists followed. Walking tours of the town that was first settled in the 1660's began, and the over 260 houses on the National Register of Historic Places became a magnet for tourists.

Everyone was involved. From the town officials, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, small clubs, to individuals, everyone was set on achieving one goal: to make Brandon better, and to bring it back to life.

They have attracted artists from all over. The former executive chef of the Four Seasons in Boston packed up and moved to Brandon to open a new restaurant. Each new addition attracted more attention, and more business.

This past year, during a period of brainstorming, they thought of a very unique way to embed themselves even further on the map. They gave away a wedding. Local businesses, caterers, florists, wedding dress shops, photographers, musicians, engravers all gave away a bit of themselves in order for Brandon to give away a free wedding to some deserving couple. An essay was required to enter, and the best one was chosen by the committee. The winners were awarded a grand wedding worth $40,000.00.

What this event did for local business is amazing. What is even more incredible is that the town decided something had to be done, and they threw their ideas onto the table, and acted. They didn't just sit around and debate, or write about the changes that needed to occur, they went to work. The result is a town that is far different than it was a few years ago, and all because some folks up north saw a need, and took it upon themselves to make the changes happen.

It can happen here.


  1. In my opinion, that's what the newly formed Economic Development Committee is trying to do, there are some very savvy business people on this committee. The problem as I see it, the powers that be want to encourage businesses with a no growth policy, my commonsens tells me the two just don't compute.

  2. I don't agree with you, Gumdrop. There is not a "no growth policy" in Sturbridge. There is attempting to be a Smart Growth policy, but it is being met with animosity by those who don't know what Smart Growth is. If you read up on Smart Growth, you will see that it translates to exactly what Selectmen are attempting to do with the wastewater treatment plant.

    How about being a bit more open-minded as to the possibilities of Smart Growth, and ecotourism.

  3. I do know about Smart Growth and many of the effects it would have on Sturbridge. We do have one small Cluster Development in Sturbridge that was approved a few years ago. You can pick and choose what options you like from any program, but there are some aspects in Smart Growth that would go down in flames in this town. Take Affordable Housing as one, sounds great until its in someone's neighborhood and than the NIMBY affect comes into play. A prime example the so called "in-law" apartment.
    I believe that Smart Growth has a place,but in a much larger population area than Sturbridge. To throw Smart Growth around as if it will cure all of our woes, in my opinion is pie in the sky.
    Our Master Plan is 20 years old, Dialogue for the Future was an extremely small segment of the population.
    Right now the Housing Partnership is searching out an expert to see exactly what the needs of Sturbridge are. The Planning Department has
    $25,000. in seed money and needs approximately $50,000. more for an expert to do a Master Plan. Not a waste of money, Cresent Gate, a 40B project for 55 and over, has some Affordable Units still vacant, difficult to meet the monetary State requirements, would the same hold true for families? Until someone does a Town wide survey no one really knows.
    You hear people bemoaning the fact about the empty store fronts on Route 20 and the terrible effects that retail would have if allowed on Old Route 15, but yet, the business community thinks retail there would be a great thing.
    Do the powers that be want growth, I stick to my original statment, the powers that be want "clean business" growth, little or no residential growth.

  4. Gumdrop, you draw absolute conclusions from where there is nothing to support your claims. These are merely your opinions, not absolutes, and pardon me, they are very negative. This is why Sturbridge is what it is now. There are many possibilities, and one needs to think outside that box instead of sticking to the same old ideas. The same old ideas have gotten us where we are now.

    BioMag is one such example of thinking outside the box. Look at those results.

    The idea is to use zoning and land use so that those uses, like Chapter 40B housing are put into the appropriate places, and there will be no "nimbism". Putting those uses in close proximity of downtown Sturbridge will work the best. Will that be difficult, probably. Impossible? Maybe, but has it been tried yet? No.

    So, to say some aspects would go down in flames seems defeatist. To knock it before it's even tried, is just an excuse for the same old, same old.

    Since the accessory apartment was voted down at town meeting, would it worth writing a bylaw that allows a restricted apartment rathern than none at all?

    What's the harm in starting out with an apartment that limits occupancy, then changing it if there is a demand for additional apartments in Sturbridge, or if a town wide survey or study indicates such is needed? But for some, it must be all or nothing. For some, thinking outside the box is difficult. For some, meeting halfway is not possible.

    Seems you have already discounted Smart Growth principles without even trying them. Further, I don't see anyone "throwing Smart Growth around" as if it's the cure all. But shouldn't we TRY IT before it's condemned as a failure?

    It's not just about what the business community wants Gumdrop. I'm sure we all want business,and a booming downtown.

    But for residential growth, there are lots of good reasons to limit it. This statement does not translate to NO residential growth; it means limited residential growth, just like many other communities in Massachusetts and beyond who are trying to control costs in their communities. I haven't read anywhere where the "powers that be" want NO residential growth.

  5. I believe there will come a time that Sturbridge will be featured on Chronicle. With over 1,100 acres of Open Space acquired in recent years, along with the passive recreational land the Town has acquired over the years, we have an opportunity to tap into the ecotourism market. Tourist coming to hike our trails, travel our river, enjoy our fields and vistas, will shop in our Commercial Tourist area, eat in our restaurants, stay overnight in our hotels and visit Old Sturbridge Village. The Sturbridge Heritage & Preservation Partnership is presenting its Regional Tourism Market Study Report this month. This report could hold the key to an economic upswing. These are difficult days for all cities and towns across our country. Fortunately in Sturbridge we can use our assets to create a unique tourist destination which, in turn, will revitalize our commercial tourist area. Bill Emrich brought this concept forward to the Board of Selectmen, who in turn shared the information with the Economic Development Committee. If we work together, as they did in Brandon, it can happen. Thank you Thinking for bringing forward the example, which shows that the dream can become a reality.


Anonymous comments not accepted, and will be rejected. Please use your full name. Choose "Name / URL" and enter your name, and your name ONLY. Leave "URL" blank.