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, September 11, 2012

We Must Rethink Who We Are, And Who We Want To Be

What you are about to read may not sit right with some.  In fact, it will infuriate many.  Let me say first, I am sorry for the emotions it will cause, not for the act in provoking them.

It has to be done.

Here goes.

We are not a "tourist town".

There, I've said it.  We are a town that has a tourist venue within it, Old Sturbridge Village.  Little within the town is designed to attract, support, maintain, or designate the town, or part of it, as a tourist destination.  Yes, we have well designed, and well constructed trails, but no professionally designed brochures, or booklets with simple to read maps.  We have trail heads with limited parking, and some signage, "Trek Sturbridge".  I haven't seen any actual marketing of our outdoors beyond what is written in the local newspapers.

In the 1940's when the Wells family built Old Sturbridge Village there was hope that the public would like it, and come back again.  They did.  That business spawned the need for places that those visitors could stay, and small motels, and motor courts sprung up.  

Over the years, motels, and restaurants were opened primarily to capture the crowds coming to Sturbridge to visit OSV.  Our town was quaint, with its pretty common and the period homes and businesses surrounding it, and the Publick House began to do  better than it had been doing once the "Village" began drawing crowds.

When the Mass Turnpike came to town in the late 1950's, Sturbridge was awarded it's own exit.  This act alone allowed for folks to hop on the pike and drive to Sturbridge to see Old Sturbridge Village without the normal stop and go driving along the back roads, and Route 20.  Without Exit 9 Sturbridge would have remained the rural New England town it always had been, and OSV may not have done as well as it has. 

Back then it was get on the pike, and head to exit 9, and get off.  Very simple, and the pike drew thousands, and thousands.  People actually made a day of packing up the car and heading out to explore the Turnpike.  They'd have lunch at Howard Johnson's at one of the many rest areas, fill up their tanks, and maybe follow a sign to Old Sturbridge Village to see what it was all about.  The crowds came to Sturbridge not because Sturbridge had a lot to offer, it was because of Old Sturbridge Village, and we had an exit.

Ever since we have referred to ourselves as a tourist town, and in a very real way we are, but not in the way one would think a tourist town would be.  When I-84 came to town along the old bones of Route 15 from Connecticut it shuttled a new breed of traveler to town: the transient.  People with a destination either north, or south of Sturbridge, but since we were at the the junction of two interstates, the east-west I-90, the Pike, and the north-south I-84, we were a great place to rest, eat, and maybe explore the sights.  Old Sturbridge Village was on the list of things to see, and shopping was second on the list.  If the travelers still had a ways to go, then one of our many motels rooms were available.

For years, and years, this was life in Sturbridge.  Stores opened, and thrived, or closed. Restaurants, opened and closed.  The successful deverloped a local, and long distance following, and became a destination themselves much like OSV.

Old Sturbidge Village did have its ups and downs as well, but over the past several years has rethought itself, and has down amazingly well.  They rethought themselves, and that act has renewed The Village.   It is way overdue for Sturbridge to rethink itself, or if they are in the midst of a ponder, then speed it up a bit and start to show results.

I've been to tourist towns, and so have you.  Newburyport, Hyannis, Ogunquit, Stockbridge, North Conway, Lenox and Mystic to name a few, and we cannot compare to any of them.  They all capitalize on their history, or a venue, within their town that attracts people.  That venue may be skiing, shopping, the ocean, fine restaurants, or entertainment.  Those towns adapted their existing infrastructure to serve tourism, build anew, and have maintained it all to insure the tourists don't go away.  Nothing will cause a tourist to rethink a future visit if the town starts to let itself go, or not address a tourists needs.  

Accommodating the tourist goes beyond offering a clean bed at the end of the day.

First thing we as a town need to do is to look around us and ask what infrastructure has been put in place, over the years,  to support a tourist population.

The largest convention center  in central, and western Massachusetts is here in Sturbridge at the Host Hotel.  Thousands come to the Host each year for any one of their many conventions, or shows.  Classic cars, antiques, political, fraternal, health and fitness events  attract thousands to these all weekend events.  I have watched those visitors playing Russian Roulette with the traffic on Route 20 as they try to cross the road in order to explore the rest of Main Street.  There are no cross walks, or pedestrian controlled traffic lights to be found within a short walk.  This simple omission speaks volumes about where our heads when it comes to accommodating our visitors.

There are no side walks along Route 20 from New Boston Road to the Host only a well worn dirt path.  A dirt path along a major route that has been used for generations of tourists, and residents, walking from the old motel on the corner of Route 20, and New Boston Road.  I wonder with the construction of the new Holiday Inn Express at that location will the state/town build a sidewalk.  It would have nice to include it in the plan offered to the town along with a traffic light.  Who knows, maybe the new owners have worked out something with the town, or maybe the town will refine the zoning in the area to force the necessary modern improvements.

The Welcome to Sturbridge sign, also at the same location, is in poor repair, and overgrown with trees.   Maybe it was maintained by the motel, maybe it's the towns, but it doesn't really matter, it is that old sign that visitors  see when they get off the highway at the gateway to our town.

Someone needs to take charge.

Sidewalks along Rout 20 are impassable to those with wide strollers or electric carts, wheelchairs, the number of crosswalks for a tourist town are few. 

These are a few of the things that prevent us from being a true tourist town, and I've mentioned them many times before.  There is so much room for improvement.

I could ramble on here for a dozen or so paragraphs, but it would do little to truly illustrate what is needed.  I've taken you on the is ride before.   The one way for you to understand is to visit a tourist town this fall, and look around you at how the host town accommodates its visitors.  Of course,  in most places the tourist season closed down on Labor Day weekend, but the signage, public bathrooms, crosswalks, traffic lights, sidewalks, and street lighting are still there.

Rethinking who we are, what we want to be, and how to get there is so needed.  Brick sidewalks are nice, and that simple, if not controversial act, inspired the recent landscape makeover at the Public House.  The entire area is beautiful.   Imagine if something just as simple was to happen along Route 20 in Fiskdale.  Who else would be inspired?

One simple act.  We need more of those.


  1. I agree that Sturbridge needs to define itself before it can move forward. Sturbridge has tourism but in the case of Sturbridge it is a weak economic engine. Other than OSV there is nothing of interest for tourists in Sturbridge, and as someone wrote in a letter to the editor once the tourists are here many businesses do little to attract them.

    Sturbridge needs a diversified vision and a reality check. In addition to our tourist site many indications say we are a bedroom community. If that is the case we may need more businesses, activities, and other amenities that cater to the needs of the hometown population. People move to areas where they don't have to travel far to get what they need.

    This is a topic that needs serious discussion and input from residents, businesses and local government. The answers are not in the Master Plan. The answers need to be based on reality not dreams and wishes.

    An idea for one simple act. --

    Many small towns, even neighboring towns, have flags and/or banners throughout the town. This gives the town a "sense of place" that we hear about at selectmen and town meetings. One simple act for Sturbridge would be to coordinate the flags and banners along our streets. Currently, we have flags on poles and in other areas the OSV banners are on poles. In some areas there are neither flags nor banners. Banners are expensive and OSV paid part of the cost of the ones we have. Next time around the cost can be covered with money from the Betterment Fund, by businesses or a combination of both.

  2. I like the idea of the flags throughout town, i have seen it elsewhere and it is attractive. We could have bought a years worth of flags with the money from betterment that went towards the lazer gun we bought the police.

  3. We need to aggresively promote our brand. Banners, flags, attractive Welcome To Sturbridge Signs, directional signage showing the way to points of interest in town, trails, Lakes, more crosswalks, street lighting...and on and on. The Master Plan is merely a plan, just as the plan was in 1988. We need the action to accompany it.

  4. We NEED a traffic light at the intersection of Arnold Road and Route 20.

  5. yes we do need a traffic light at Arnold rd. and rte. 20

  6. The intersection of Route 20 and Arnold Road, and Route 20 and New Boston Road have needed traffic lights for years. The town has said that it is up to the state since it is a road controlled by the state. In the meantime, safety is in jeopardy, and lives have been lost at the New Boston intersection. That particular intersection is the most dangerous in town, the the BOS has not presented a plan to correct it. So, what now? It may be time for a grass roots campaign to get those intersections fitted with lights. it is obvious that the BOS does not have this on their Things To Do list. All it would take is a request from the town to,get the ball rolling.

  7. Up is down and right is left and day is night...Friday, September 14, 2012

    According to "The Town," planning board, etc., they can't do anything about getting traffic lights at those intersections - but some of those same folks have spoken about narrowing the intersections at Cedar Street and Route 20, and at Routes 148 and 20, claiming that narrowing those intersections would make things safer. Huh? Go figure!

  8. Sad to see the majority of the BOS is anti-business voting for a split tax rate is the perfect way to styme growth and what will end up raising everyone's taxes in the long run
    Scott G.

  9. Dear Anonymous Scott G,
    Why do you get to keep your Pandora advertising sign truck in your parking lot? Weren't other business people made to get rid of such things years ago?
    Not that I'm offended by signs. 'Quite the contrary - but I do care about playing fair.

  10. can we make the main street in Sturbridge look more attractive and less run down? Look at the main street of Shrewsbury And Holden.. they have beautiful stonework, sidewalks and street lamps,(no Hanging over head wires) and we are supposed to be the tourist attraction..

  11. Make sense with our centsSunday, September 16, 2012

    The tourist attraction, OSV, has no overhead wires; it has practical stonework, and no street lamps. Sturbridge is not OSV, nor is it Shrewsbury or Holden. Needful things, warmth, practicality and neatness in our town would do us well.
    The millions we spent and are still owing on land acquisitions, and borrowing could have gone a long way in getting these things done, but, no, we have the CPA surcharge, its rules and regulations and folks pining to spend every cent they can get their hands on for needless stuff.

  12. Holden is a beautiful town, and i think Sturbridge would benefit a lot from what they have done. The downtown area is gorgeous. We can accomplish some of that with betterment funds. I would love to see the wires go underground as well. Once our tax rate drops to the 12% range i would likely vote for it as well. Underground wires is something that i WANT, not something that i NEED. I think it is going to take about 18 years to pay off all the long term debt that we are paying on, i may be incorrect. So come to me in 18 years when we have paid off the rest of the wants that we are paying for. The waste water plant was a need more or less, the rest of them not so much in my opinion. Wants and needs people, wants and needs. I don't want to pay my ridiculous tax bill but i NEED to now.

  13. Did anybody notice the fact that Rte 15 is now being proposed as an addition to the sewer service area? Do you think the town might finally put sewer in an area that could bring in more business? More tax dollars? More jobs?

  14. It might be a good thingThursday, September 20, 2012

    Have they an agreement for financing this now with those few properties that will use it (camp grounds, and the mobile home community)? Would it reach the restaurant, gas stations, and the truck stop/motel? It sure would be great if there was a way to open up Route 15 to meaningful businesses. In this case, I mean "meaningful" in a way that means more jobs and tax dollars than do boutiques, spas, and trails.

  15. One can hope! But the cost of installing sewer will still have to be borne by users who live on and have businesses on the street.

  16. HAs anyone noticed they have been talking about that for years and years.

  17. I think we should have a Wrentham village type of Shopping outlets on route 15, the location is ideal and it would give people something to do in addition to visiting OSV.. there would be something for everyone.. can't forget the great outdoors of Sturbridge

  18. Something like a Wrentham village might work here. Its not the greatest kind of business when it comes to creating jobs but it is better than nothing. We do have an ideal location that is for sure.

  19. I guess the stores might bring in a few more tourists and attract some of our townsfolk, but the salaries would be on the lower end. It would be a start but something more in the technical or educational, or even factory vein would be more beneficial both salary-wise and tax-wise. We really do need to do something more than cater to tourists and the upper scale.

  20. Not to burst any bubbles but if Sturbridge was such a great location for high end stores, don't you think they'd be here by now?

    Old Navy packed up and moved away. Linens and Things isn't here anymore. But we still have WalMart. The reason why low to middle end stores want to be here is because the income levels are what they are; it's our demographic. The stores know it and it's time Sturbridge folks faced it.

  21. Anonymous is right about WalMart being a good fit for Sturbridge (and the surrounding area). Specialty shops are fun to browse and provide something a little different, but, for needs, give me WalMart, pharmacies and grocery stores - and something up on Route 15 to provide good jobs - then we might begin to look at specialty shops we can afford.

  22. I do think that we have citizens in Sturbridge who prefer high end things and services. Some of these folks have complained that there is nothing good enough for them to buy in this town. The problem for them is that most of us don't give much of a hoot for much of those things (and, likely couldn't afford them anyway). Besides, Old Navy, for one, isn't high end enough for some, and the most of rest of us haven't felt the need to shop there either, so they're gone. For one thing, the very "quiet" signage in that area doesn't help. Many people still don't even realize there is an optical store, a women's clothing store, a shoe store, and more located on the same side as Staples and Stop and Shop.

  23. I'd like to know why a prior anonymous poster thinks Route 15 is a prime location for a Wrentham Village type of development?

    It's like saying that Sturbridge is a prime location for building $5 to $7,000,000 trails - there hasn't been any kind of analysis to make a determination in either case.

    There needs to be zoning changes on Route 15. Once that's done, we would be very fortunate if higher end stores wanted to locate here.

  24. the reason why old Navy closed is because of Lease disagreement with the owners, not due to low sales.
    Sturbridge is not known to outsiders or tourist as an outlet stores destination, therefore, we do not get those people seeking this kind of service. However, if we build it and advertise it, they will come.. They already do ! and they drive on by right through from CT and NY and vise versa- but now they can stop by and do some outlet shopping for their relatives along the way..


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