Currently browsing posts filed under "Local Places"

Follow this category via RSS

Next Page →

Williams Inn Approved


From iBerkshires:

At long last, the new Williams Inn is “shovel ready.”

On Thursday night, Williams College received the final regulatory approval it needed to build a 64-room, 60,000-square foot inn at the bottom of Spring Street to replace the current 100-room inn at the Field Park rotary at the junction of Routes 2 and 7.

I was talking to an administration official a few years ago about this project. He claimed that the reason it was needed as that “Spring Street was dying.” That was (and is) absurd. Spring Street has never been more vibrant. And, to the extent that it is “dying,” that the small merchants who used to sell school supplies and newspapers are disappearing, it is because Williams has been raising their rents for years.

The real reason for the Williams Inn is that it will be great for rich people. (Not that there is anything wrong with rich people!) If you were, for example, a trustee, the lodging situation at Williams has been problematic for 30+ years. The old Williams Inn is decrepit, probably the worst hotel that you have ever stayed at. The Orchard is adequate but it is too far away from campus. You usually bring your spouse for trustee meetings, but you travel in one car. Then, either you have an annoyingly long walk to campus for your meetings, or you drive and leave your spouse stranded at the Orchards without a car. Not good!

The new Williams Inn solves those problems. It will be plush. It is as close to campus as possible, allowing you to walk to all your meetings while your spouse keeps the car to explore the local region.

I am not claiming that anyone on the Trustees ever discussed these issues out loud. But I guarantee that they all thought about it. If the Record were a decent paper, we would have a lot more detail on the costs involved with this project, including the costs associated with the purchase of the old Williams Inn. It isn’t, so we don’t. Still, I am in favor of the new Williams Inn. First, it will be very convenient for all us rich guys. Rich Eph Lives Matter Too! Second, it is probably a good idea for Williams to make any visits to Williamstown for major donors as pleasant as possible. My sense is that our peers all have first class hotels within easy walking distance of their campuses.


Townie Redux … Williamstown area by a knowing author

67101edd53c0c03f19c948d0247695a7--amusement-parks-beautiful-picturesReaders of my ‘Townie’ post on Andre Dubus III will like this short story written by ‘Anon’ in the late ’70s on townies in the Williamstown area he either knew or was.

The Boys of Bennington

The carnival was set up on the high school sports field in Bennington. It was an old school kind of carnival that originated in the South and traveled through the North during the summer months. It still showcased the bearded lady, the snake woman, and the smallest man in the world, when such things could be seen in Vermont- back in 1978.
Stevie and Mark were drinking beers under the concealing overhangs of a big spruce tree in a stand of pines next to the carnival. The boys were small for thirteen; ninety pounds and five feet tall. Through the trees they watched the action and listened to the sounds of buzzers, grinding gears, bells, and vendors’ loud solicitations. The carnival lights danced in the shadows of the trees; flickering about the boys’ faces.
Stevie was a fair haired kid in a white T, a cute boy. Mark was more awkward. He had curly brown hair and freckles so deep they could even be seen in the flickers from the carnival. His new black T-shit had large crisp white letters that lit up with a strobe effect from the flashing lights- proclaiming “Disco Sucks.”
Read more


Cultural Hub

From the Wall Street Journal:

When it opens, it will be the first destination hotel in this once-great manufacturing town. But visionary ideas have been percolating in North Adams since the mid-’80s, when plans emerged to renovate a 28-building industrial campus, the former Sprague Electric capacitor plant—at one time the city’s biggest employer—into a showcase for cutting-edge art. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (or Mass MoCA), which opened there in 1999 after a long gestation, has helped transform the city. “We saw the [plant] closing, the desperation in the community,” says North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. “And we all admit one thing, resoundingly: Where the hell would we be if it were not for Mass MoCA?”

A slew of projects, starting to roll in this summer with the mayor’s support, promises a leap forward, further changing North Adams into a destination for art and performance, accommodation and food. It may be a turning point for a city that’s dealing with population depletion, high unemployment and addiction rates and empty storefronts that starkly contrast with the well-heeled Williamstown, home to Williams College, right next door.

Read the whole thing. There is a great senior thesis to be written about the rise of North Adams as a cultural destination. Who will write it?

And there’s much more in the pipeline for North Adams. Though clearly ambitious, the ventures under construction this summer are a fraction of the city’s proposed master plan, a grand scheme to build a “cultural corridor” that’s currently outlined in blueprints and feasibility studies, featuring at least four new museums along with a distillery and “art hotel,” both designed by Jean Nouvel. It’s all the brainchild of Thomas Krens, who hatched the original idea for Mass MoCA before moving to New York in 1988 to run the Guggenheim for almost 20 years.

Krens, who has a home in neighboring Williamstown, would not discuss details of his official return to the Berkshires, but they’re easy to discover by talking to local power players. His Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum, a quirky 34,000-square-foot institution featuring model trains zipping by landmark buildings by architects such as Frank Gehry, is most likely to break ground first, followed by the Global Contemporary Art Museum, a motorcycle museum and a museum of time. If even a portion of the plan gets off the ground, it may be as significant for the area as Mass MoCA’s opening 18 years ago. “We’re one attraction away,” says Mayor Alcombright, “from being a weeklong place to be.”

Is there an alum who has had more of an impact on the local area than Krens? If so, who?


Williamstown as Sanctuary City

Williamstown does not appear to be a sanctuary city.


There was an interesting e-mail last week about the “Williamstown Immigrant Trust Act” which seems to, in all but name, turn Williamstown into a sanctuary city.

In the United States and Canada, a sanctuary city is a municipality that has adopted a policy of protecting unauthorized immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws and by ensuring that all residents have access to city services, regardless of immigration status. Such a policy can be set out expressly in a law (de jure) or observed only in practice (de facto). The term applies generally to cities that do not use municipal funds or resources to enforce national immigration laws. The cities usually forbid their police or municipal employees to inquire about a person’s immigration status or share such information with immigration enforcement. The designation has no precise legal meaning.

1) Am I correct that Williamstown is not currently a sanctuary city and that this act, if passed would turn it into one?

2) Does anyone have any insights into the local politics involved? Williamstown is overwhelmingly liberal and had fewer than 15% of its votes going to Trump. So, presumably, anything that goes against Trump would be popular . . .

3) How much leverage does the Federal Government have over Williamstown? The town’s budget is $19 million, with 10% coming from “Other Governments.” But how much of that is state versus federal? How how much of the money from the state is actually funding that originates from the federal government? Best info I can find is here:


I think that this is just school-related revenues and that there are few other sources of state/federal aid to the budget. Would Trump ever start to take away education-related money from sanctuary cities? Would a loss of $400,000 make Williamstown rethink its stand?

Governor Baker seems committed to keep the state government out of the discussion. That is good news for Williamstown since a withdrawal of state funding would cause chaos for its budget. But what happens when the Feds start to put pressure on the States? Imagine if Trump (and the Republican congress) decided to cut off funding to any state which insisted on giving its own funding to sanctuary cities.

Is the new construction for the high school — and the tax free bonds that support it — a possible pressure point?

Again, informed commentary from Williamstown residents wanted!


Rail and Architecture Museum

Via our friends at Williams twitter, this article from The Berkshire Eagle:

Just over a year ago, Thomas Krens was flanked by two former Massachusetts governors as he introduced his proposal to revitalize downtown North Adams.

On Tuesday, Krens’ team detailed the continued work toward opening the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum at Western Gateway Heritage State Park — which he believes would draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to downtown North Adams — at a North Adams Chamber of Commerce event.

The event, an annual holiday tradition for the chamber, drew plenty of interest from chamber members, who were taken on a tour of the studio where a team of Krens’ employees are designing the museum step by step, including a long and detailed model of the planned model railroad museum.

“It’s a work in progress, so everything is made of foam and held together by tape,” said Andr e Heller, the project’s manager. “It’s a working model, and our posters change and our models change on a daily basis.”

The installation will be rooted in a historical narrative, delving into what moments were important in railroad and architectural history and how they intersect with American history, Heller said.

In addition to the design, the museum’s planners face the challenge of raising funds to actually build it.

“It just came out of knowing my members would love to hear it firsthand from him, and he’s moving right along,” program coordinator Ricco Fruscio said of the event. “[Chamber members] get excited because they realize there are other people that are investing here too.”

Krens, a visionary behind the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and former director of the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation in New York City, announced a proposal for the model train museum last December.

A Williamstown resident, Krens has made creating Route 2 a “cultural corridor” the center of his work. Krens has also detailed plans for a privately owned, 160,000-square-foot contemporary art museum at the Harriman and West Airport in North Adams and a revitalization effort at the Mohawk Theater, which has been closed for 25 years.

If and when it is completed, the museum will be the park’s largest building and feature nearly 10 miles of track for up to 100 precisely scaled model trains.

Fruscio also praised the ongoing progress of private development at the Redwood Motel and Greylock Mill.

“People are very excited, there’s a lot of investment coming into the area,” he said.

Good stuff! The more that Ephs like Krens ’69 can turn the area around the College into a “cultural corridor,” the better for Williams.


Pittsfield Police Chief Wynn ’93 and the Civil Service

From The Berkshire Eagle:

The state Civil Service Commission has rejected a request to allow acting Police Chief Michael Wynn to become the city’s permanent chief.

The commission has denied the request from Mayor Linda M. Tyer, and it advised the city to offer a Civil Service exam for police chief “forthwith.”

The Civil Service process relies on competitive examination rather than political appointment to determine leadership. A mayor can then choose from the top three candidates.

While the city subscribes to the Civil Service process, its mayors long have opted to appoint acting chiefs, circumventing that process.

Wynn was a captain with the department in January 2009 when he was named acting chief by former Mayor James M. Ruberto. He retained that title under Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, whom Tyer defeated in November 2015.

Tyer asked the commission in June to officially appoint Wynn chief based on his Civil Service exam results in June 2009 — the last time it was given — when Wynn and Lt. Jeffrey Bradford took the test. Wynn placed first; Bradford ranked second.

“I felt that it was important that we undertake this administrative appeal, to settle once and for all whether Michael Wynn had any remaining standing to be eligible for the appointment permanently as our chief of police,” Tyer told the Eagle on Thursday.

But in a five-page letter dated Dec. 8, commission Chairman Christopher C. Bowman said Wynn should have appealed to the commission on his own — and more immediately following his 2009 appointment — if he wanted to serve as more than acting chief.

The commission also cited the need to avoid the “appearance” of a conflict of interest: Wynn’s wife served on Tyer’s campaign committee. Bowman acknowledged the commission found no evidence that the request was politically or personally motivated.

The results of the 2009 tests were good through 2012, the letter stated.

Members of the police union, who had opposed Tyer’s request, applauded the commission’s ruling.

“All we asked for was a fair process,” said Pittsfield Police Sgt. Matthew Hill, who represents Local 447S, the union for department supervisors. “We really wanted to see the Civil Service process followed. We’ve been going far too long without a Civil Service chief.”

Hill said having an acting chief leaves the department in limbo and diminishes the point of Civil Service.

The union opposition “has never been about [Wynn] or how he has done the job. It has been about doing the process right,” he said.

The Civil Service exam can take two forms: a written test and what’s known as an “assessment center,” which tests police on real-life scenarios in addition to the written exam.

Historically the city has only offered the written exam.

Tyer said the city will offer another test, though she was unclear on a timetable or which version it will use.

“We are assessing what our options are,” she said. “Within the next week or so will we have a final plan for how to proceed.”

She said Wynn will remain acting chief in the interim.

Wynn directed all questions regarding the commission’s decision to the mayor; he confirmed he will remain with the department.

“I’m proud of my service with the Pittsfield Police Department, and I’m happy to continue my service in my current capacity, or any other capacity that may be requested or required,” he wrote in an email.

Regardless of the type of test, Hill said he knows of at least three officers who are interested. He did not have a time frame in mind but added, “We’d like to have something happen sooner rather than later.”

The city has had an on-again off-again relationship with Civil Service.

In 1981, after 70 years with Civil Service, the city voters opted out of the process. During the 10 years without it, the police department had three different appointed chiefs, a temporary chief and went two years without one.

Civil Service was reinstated by voters in 1991.

The city’s fire department is also led by an acting chief. Tyer said she does not plan to make changes there any time soon.

It is very hard to know what to make of this. PTC: Help us out!


1) In the numerous Williams College puff pieces about Wynn (example here), I have never seen him referred to as an acting chief. Politeness, sloppiness or something else?

2) Does race play any role here? Wynn is African-American in a city (and department?) that is overwhelmingly white.

3) What is the deal with the Civil Service in Massachusetts? I am embarrassed to admit I know nothing about it. Does it also play a role in the governance of Williamstown and North Adams?

4) One of the many sad side effects of the destruction of the business model for regional papers is that there is so much less coverage of local events. Any Williams student with an interest in writing/journalism should start by reporting on news in the Williams region. We would be eager to provide hundreds of daily readers for her prose . . .


Yesterday I passed a protest at Field Park …

Where I witnessed the pretense of those who claim the moral high ground in this election. Many held signs professing support for “peace” and “love.”

Is there anyone “here” who can honestly claim that Hillary Clinton does not have a record as a hawk who has been involved in the escalation of war for decades?

How can you legitimately claim the moral high ground of “peace love and understanding” when you voted for a war candidate?

The lesser of two evils argument I understand. That is very different than claiming the moral authority of “peace and love.”

A vote for Hillary Clinton was a vote for war. War is not peace and love.


+2.4 Grades in Williamstown

The New York Times has an interesting graphic on money/race/schooling. Here is Williamstown:


Click on the image for more detail. From the Times:

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

1) An article like this that doesn’t even mention genetics is too embarrassing to spend much time on. Summary: School achievement is at least 50% genetic. So, unless you control for this effect, it will hard to tease out the independent effects of income/spending.

2) But there is a lot of great data here! Economics/statistics majors looking for a good senior thesis topic should dive in.

3) Williamstown is an interesting outlier. I bet that lots of college towns are above the fitted line, meaning that the students do much better than a simple measure of SES would suggest.

4) There is endless complaining from the faculty/administration about the quality of Williamstown schools, followed by demands that Williams spends its own money to help. This is natural, in that parents complain about the local schools everywhere. But it is also absurd because, in comparison with other towns to which Williams employees might conceivable move, the Williamstown schools are much better. Williams College should spend zero dollars on the local school system.


Change on Spring Street

Lovely article from Phyllis McGuire about change on Spring Street over the years.

At the post office on Spring Street last week, I mailed “birthday” cookies to my son Christopher, who lives on Long Island. It is a tradition that took root when he was a freshman at Williams College far from our home in New York.

Memories took me back to the Saturday we drove Christopher to Williams to start his first year as a college student. And I set eyes on Spring Street for the first time.

With flower boxes and green spaces, it was very different from shopping areas in New York. I especially liked the white clapboard houses that served as business offices or stores.

We stopped at Slippery Banana to buy snacks before unpacking the car and moving Christopher’s belongings to his dormitory.

In a window of The House of Walsh, a high-end clothing store, a sign read SALE, but we did not have time to shop — sale or not.

Slippery Banana and The House of Walsh were on the west side of Spring Street, as were the eateries Colonial Pizza and Cobble Café.

Before starting back to New York, Bill and I drove to B&L Service Station at the bottom of Spring Street to fill the gas tank of our nine-year-old Dodge.

Years later as a resident of Williamstown, I would pick up a local newspaper at the Williams Newsroom on Spring Street after attending Mass at St. Patrick’s Church.

The aroma of freshly baked bread wafted from the Clarksburg Bakery.

Whenever time drew near to send a greeting card to a friend or relative, off I went to McClelland’s Stationery, just a couple of doors down from the Williams Newsroom.

It was not long before I was greeted with a friendly, “Hello, Phyllis. How are you?” in a number of stores.

Shopping for clothes one day at Salvatore’s, I bought a pair of black loafers that turned out to be the most comfortable, long-lasting shoes I ever wore.

I received a lot of compliments on the pink floppy sunhat and pink cloche I bought at Zanna’s, a women’s clothing store.

All those stores are gone.

On the other hand, a barber shop founded 100 years ago is still located on Spring Street. It is no longer known as St. Pierre’s Barbershop, but as Empire Cutz, having been renamed by Duane Griffiths who bought the business from Roger St. Pierre in 2015.

Goodman’s Jewelers is in its 73rd year on Spring Street.

Harts, previously Harts Pharmacy, has changed hands a few times in its 85 years on Spring Street. Until 1970, it was owned by members of the Hart family. Then Phillip Hart sold the business to Edward Conroy. When Conroy retired in 2012, he sold the business to Steven Wiehl who decided that prescriptions would no longer be filled at the store. Harts is now a general store.

According to information available from the Williamstown Historical Museum, Spring Street was strictly residential into the 1890s. Stores were scattered all over town.

Now, stores on Spring Street come and go.

The Barbara Prey Gallery and the Harrison Gallery closed their doors forever in the last months of 2015. I had visited them often and will miss them.

The space The Barbara Prey Gallery had occupied is now home to The Progressive Palette Studio and Gallery.

And on March 1, Amy’s Cottage will relocate from Water Street to the building that used to house the Harrison Gallery.

Amy Bryan, owner of the business, says they have outgrown the space on Water Street.

“It was getting squishy and we couldn’t display our merchandise properly,” she said.

“Now we are focusing on great sales in our Water Street location to empty the store before we close it in mid-February.”

The saying goes “change is the only constant.” So be it, but I wish that any change that comes to Spring Street would not detract from its small-town charm.

We ought to recruit McGuire to write for EphBlog. Given the bloodbath among local papers, I doubt that the Berkshire Eagle is long for this world.


First Church and Williamstown: 250 Years Together

Williamstown Historical Museum Presents First Church & Williamstown 250 Years Together with Moira Jones from WilliNet.

Hat-tip to our friends at the Williams Twitter feed.


Cross the Vermont Border to Peter Hopkins’ New Home Brewing Shop

Hoppy Valley Hops photo, via Twitter

Hoppy Valley Hops photo, via Twitter

When returning to the Purple Valley after an absence, it can be hard for Ephs to leave the Williams College campus at all, even for draws like the Pine Cobble Trail or the Clark. But now Peter Hopkins ’74 has a new reason for Ephs to venture the two and a half miles north up Route 7 to Pownal, Vermont: his organic hops farm, Hoppy Valley Organics, is ready to supply everyone’s homebrewing needs, and offering tours:

The company is in its third year of growing hops on property on Route 7 and at end of July, the owners are opening up the yard for those sightseers to get a closer look.

Concurrently, the company is showcasing its new home-brew supply store at the nearby Hoppy Valley Vermont Tasting Room.

“Over the last 2 1/2 to three years, we’ve had hundreds of people buttonhole us, taking pictures,” co-owner Peter Hopkins said…

The home-brewing shop joins the “Vermont Tasting Room” that Hoppy Valley has been operating inside the Hillside House Furniture barn for the last two years. As the inclusion of “Organics” in the business name suggests, Hopkins and his partner (Hillside House proprietor John Armstrong), are focused on premium, artisanal hops:

The hop-growing operation isn’t typical though. Hopkins and John Armstrong started the business with a focus on returning to the “roots of Vermont’s” hop growing. The two handcrafted teepee-like structures with ropes to pull the hops up and down. The business even kicked off with a community hop planting party, which mirrored an old-fashioned barn raising.

“The structures we built were typical of 19th-century hop growing,” Hopkins said.

Besides growing four standard varieties — Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, and Nugget — the owners have traveled all over the state seeking the oldest hops plants they could find to grow.

Hopkins has also been supporting efforts to change Vermont law to authorize farm-brewing licenses to be issued to Vermont farmers brewing from their own ingredients:

Peter Hopkins, who grows hops in Pownal, said he believes the bill would boost Vermonters’ efforts to grow hops, grain and malt.

“It should bring the farmers and the brewers much closer together. Each will depend upon the other,” said Hopkins, whose farm is called Hoppy Valley Organics. “If all of a sudden there’s increased demand, there’ll be more hops in the ground,” he added.

But Vermont-grown hops can be significantly more expensive, said Todd Haire, operations manager for Switchback Brewing Company in Burlington.

Switchback has brewed with local hops through University of Vermont Extension, Haire said. He said brewers are willing to try Vermont hops but need a consistent supply.

Hopkins is working on that! Another legislative change that could help Hopkins and Hoppy Valley Organics would be a repeal/reduction of the drinking age. Williams students, with their interest in organic farming, are both a natural labor source and a likely market, if Hoppy Valley expands. If students could lawfully home-brew from the product of their labors, this could be a virtuous circle. And being just on the north side of the Williamstown border places Hopkins in astate that has considered, at least twice, reforming its drinking age in recent years.

Williams Students help plant first hops at Hoppy Valley, via Twitter

Williams Students help plant first hops at Hoppy Valley, via Twitter

Other Ephs from the Class of ’74 — and perhaps others from the “4” and “9” years who arrived early to Reunion 2014 — are likely already familiar with Hopkins’ hops from a Thursday night kickoff BBQ he hosted and catered last year. Other Ephs should make time for the short northward detour on their next trip to Williamstown, or even plan a trip for the weekend of August 1. Then, in conjunction with a home-brew festival in downtown Bennington on Saturday, Hoppy Valley Organics will host two events:an open house on Friday, July 31 from 2 to 8 p.m. Parking for the event will be located across Route 7 on the west side of the Pownal View Barn and food and beverage will be available. And the grand opening of the home brew shop will be held Sunday, Aug. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

. You can keep up with Hoppy Valley Organics on Facebook and Twitter.


Hoch ’95 Hired as Williamstown Town Manager

Jason Hoch - 2014An Eph has been hired to replace longtime Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin, who recently retired. Jason Hoch, celebrating the 20th anniversary of his graduation from Williams College, was named the unanimous choice of the Board of Selectmen on Friday.

Hoch was a Political Economy major while at Williams, and his work there put him on the road to Spring Street. As a senior, his thesis was entitled “Crisis on Main Street,” examining downtown Adams about two years after the opening of Walmart near the North Adams/Adams border in September, 1993. In the thesis, Hoch applied Albert Hirschman’s “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty” framework, a longtime linchpin of the Political Economy curriculum.

Hoch has been working his way around New England as a town manager ever since. From 1997 to 2004, he served as town manager in Littleton, NH, where he enlisted public school students in the planning and execution of a revitalization program that helped rejuvenate Main Street, construct an educational nature trail, and develop a GIS mapping system. His efforts in Littleton helped create an unusually walkable small town:

Hoch, Littleton’s town manager, has worked hard to make his town inviting to pedestrians, and he’s eager to show off some of the recent innovations.

Before him, a red-roofed bridge stretches across the water. The sign over the entrance reads “2004,” the year the federally funded bridge opened.

Hoch steps onto the bridge. Its wide planks and waist-high railings make it a place to linger as well as walk. Halfway across, an elderly couple has paused. She perches on the railing and he holds her safe. They kiss like teenagers…

In the early 1990s, Littleton was on a downslide. The vacancy rate on Main Street was up and the number of people coming into town was down. A non-profit Main Streets program sparked the commercial district back to life, but the task of bettering downtown remained…

On his walk through Littleton, Jason Hoch ambles on the western side of the Ammonoosuc, along a gravel trail the city developed last year. Green and quiet, aside from the burble of the river, it’s hard to imagine that the interstate is a fraction of a mile away. This side of the river hosts a farmers’ market every Sunday.

“People park downtown and walk over the bridge to the market,” Hoch says. “Businesses started finding there were more people downtown, and the farmers’ market extended hours.”

Hoch is proud of what the town has accomplished.

“Littleton was an old mill town, and over the past eight years, it has started to become a different place,” he says. “On Main Street, it feels like a real town.”

The gravel crunches beneath his feet. “Little changes like this make a difference,” he says. “A simple gravel path. This isn’t hard to make happen. People can do stuff like this.”

From Littleton, Hoch moved on to Plaistow, NH, where he purchased a home and started a family. After a two-year stint in Plaistow, some work as an independent consultant, and with the addition of a bear, Hoch became the town administrator in Litchfield, NH, in mid-2010. He quickly earned plaudits for helping the town become better organized and its administration more creative and more efficient:

“People are asking for my advice, and sometimes even following it,” he said, half-joking. “I’m not just pushing paper somewhere.”

He said one example was an addition of ground-speed salt dispensers to Highway Department trucks, which he recommended to road agent Jack Pinciaro. The electronic dispensers measure the speed of the truck and lay down the appropriate amount of salt.

“It was something I saw in my years in Littleton, and it makes work easier and saves us money,” he said.

Hoch said he also brought in “a completely different approach” to the town’s budget system. He reviewed the original proposal by the Budget Committee and then made adjustments and cuts that went beyond their recommendations. The process brought praise from taxpayers and town officials.

“That’s always a good validation that you’re in the right direction,” he said.

Other highlights from his first year include helping to negotiate a new police union contract, renewing the town’s cable franchise agreement and developing a more efficient financial system that led to the town’s “clean audit” this summer.

More recently, Hoch helped update Litchfield’s personnel policies, improved efficiency in the town roads department, and helped the town establish an annual “Winterfest” celebration.

During his time in New Hampshire, however, Williamstown has never been far from his mind. As news reports of his hiring note, he warned Litchfield at the time of his hiring that “You need to be concerned when the vacancy come up in Williamstown.” Previously, Hoch participated in an EphBlog survey on Twitter about “Courses to Audit” while at Williams:

Jason, Welcome back to the Purple Valley! May the town/gown divide ever be lessened with you on the town side.


Repost: Stick Around for Summer


Pownal Quarry

  This View is from the Pownal Rock Quarry. Will seems to be having a great time in Williamstown. Congratulations. I hope that you and others stick around for the summer (if you have not already?), and get a chance to live in the Berkshires during the hot summer months. Take a few road trips into Vermont. Go over into NY to catch a show at SPAC. Spend some time fishing for brookies in some of the local rivers and streams. Rock climb and check out the amazing view from the Pownal Quarry Get into the Ice House . Go swimming at the Tubs, the Hopper, Linear Park, the Dorset Quarry , the watershed, Stockbridge quarry – etc.


Enjoy it man. It really is one of the most beautiful places on this planet.

(Reposted by request. Original post, by author ptc in 2009, is available here.


Mark Your Calendars

Looking for an excuse to visit the Purple Valley this summer?  Green Mountain Live! in Pownal (the former Green Mountain Racetrack) will be hosting the Full Tilt Boogie music festival on August 22.fieldtest1

ZZ Top, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Gary Clark, Jr., are among the artists scheduled to perform.  Tickets ($87.50 general admission) go on sale May 20.

Stay in Williamstown, bike up to Pownal, hear some music, what could be better?



Kitten Heels

From Jennifer Mattern:

I live on the outskirts of a land of big old money and gorgeous old houses and muted sweater sets and kitten heels and zealous committees and no visible midlife crises. I imagine I would be amazed by what goes on behind closed doors in the town next door. It is a glossy postcard of a place.

I live on the wrong side of the tracks, to be sure. Property values here are about a third, sometimes a fourth, of the values of very similar houses on the “right” side of the tracks. But the landscape is rougher here, spottier. We don’t have driveways or garages, so we pull our vehicles haphazardly up on the curb in the winter.

When I am in the right mood, the juxtaposition of the two towns—one home to the most expensive liberal arts college in the country, the other mentioned frequently over the past few decades as one of the Top Ten U.S. towns for teen pregnancy—is fascinating. We need a show like “South Park” to highlight the quirks. There would be a busy, cheerful border patrol, selling cupcakes and offering unusable financial advice to the unfortunates on the “Mexico” side. 401K advice is not helpful when you have 401 dollars to your name.

Read the whole thing. There is no better writer in all of Eph Planet.


Summer fun!

Re posting of places to swim and more! Summer in Williamstown is the best. While it may be dead in here… it is not dead at the star stacked local bars and hang outs.


College is second largest employer in Berkshire County

Attention PTC: Your comments needed!

From Sunday’s Berkshire Eagle

The Big 10
Companies with the greatest number of employees in Berkshire County:

1. Berkshire Health Systems  2. Williams College  3. Pittsfield Public Schools
4. General Dynamics  5. Jiminy Peak  6. Crane & Co.  7. Northern Berkshire Healthcare
8. Berkshire County Arc  9. Brien Center  10. Canyon Ranch

Sources: Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and company statements

“It’s a very interesting mix,” said Williams College economics professor Stephen C. Sheppard, referring to the top 10 list, which starts with Berkshire Health Systems (BHS). “That’s a good thing and a promising sign for us. There’s always a danger when a community has all of its eggs in one basket.”

The transition from a handful of major employers to a more diverse base isn’t unique to a largely rural area such as the Berkshires, Sheppard said.

“You do see that in other places, not just here, he said. “It’s more successful in other places. But the fact that we’re developing a diverse economy is a sign that we are recovering, that we’re making progress. I think we want to continue to move in that direction.”


When I think of Williams…

photo by psmithinseattle

…I think of moving-in day at the frosh quad, a certain bench next to West College, Lane Faison’s gravestone, Thompson Chapel, coffee at Tunnel City…

We all hold different images for places that are important to us. What might yours be?


New North Adams Restaurants

Two new restaurants opening in North Adams: Rub (which sounds awesome), a bourbon and BBQ joint, and Sushi House which is, well, a sushi place.  Hopefully a few Ephs will make the (short) trek over and check them out.


Sand Springs Closes (Again)

Early photo of the Springs

A rough winter for Williamstown businesses continues, with The Springs the latest to announce its closure:

Pete Scerbo, who represented The Springs Pool and Spa’s owner, Amy Patten, said the business won’t operate this summer during a meeting of the Community Preservation Committee Tuesday night.

“At this point in time, we’re not going to be opening the pool. It’s something we’re not taking on this year,” Scerbo said Wednesday morning.

The business’ website states it’s closed and up for sale.

The current owners took over in 2003 from the George family, which had owned it since 1950 and operated it as the “Sand Springs Pool & Spa.” And the 74-degree lukewarm springs have been a public ammenity for much longer. According to the Depression-era Federal Writer’s Project’s Guide to Massachusetts People and Places, Sand Springs Pool had a bathing hut erected “as early as 1800,” and “had been used for hundreds of years” by Native Americans before the settlement of Williamstown by Europeans.

When I was a student, Sand Springs Pool was a popular stop among local businesses on the advertising solicitation rounds. But because Williams has long had its own recreational facilities, Sand Springs Pool has rarely loomed large in the minds of students. (it’s a separate business, the Sand Springs Bottling Company, that has provided Williams students with ginger ale, club soda, and  bottled water).

Read more


“No small advantage…” Winter Study edition

Writing in the Albany Times-Union’s Outdoors blog, Herb Terns provides some great pictures and a nice account of his recent cross-country ski outing to the top of Mt. Greylock:

My trip started out at the visitor’s center on Rockwell Road in Lanesborough. The center is a comfortable place with a fireplace, nice view of the Taconic Range and a big relief map of Mt. Greylock itself.

Read more


Store at Five Corners shuttered

Photo by John Phelan, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Bad news from South Williamstown: The Store at Five Corners (originally opened in 1832) and Green River Farms are closed due to financial struggles:

Signs posted in the entrance way of The Store at Five Corners on Monday stated the store would close at the end of the day on Thursday, Jan. 6, for renovations and reorganization. Lewis said a large enough sum of money had been lost that made it prohibitive under the present course and former leadership to continue operating the businesses.

“Essentially there is no question that financial issues make it ridiculous to continue on our present course, and that is why there needs to be a reorganization. It needs to be essentially a regrouping in order make the businesses viable,” he said.

(Edit 1/21):

The above Bennington Banner link is now out-of-date. The story began as follows:

Two South Williamstown icons — Green River Farms and The Store at Five Corners — are closing.

These two, especially The Store at Five Corners, are local and regional icons — I hope a new owner can find a way to make them financially viable. An occasional visitor when I was a student, I’ve frequented it much more as an alumnus, and it’s a vital part of the identity of South Williamstown.


Pownal to Williams/town- Stay out of my kitchen!

From the Bennington Banner:

In a split vote, the Select Board decided Thursday to send a letter to the Public Service Board, asking it to deny party status to out-of-state entities such as Williamstown, Mass., regarding permitting of a proposed 29.5 megawatt biomass facility at the former Green Mountain Race Track.

Those pesky Vermonters!

(Ed note: The Green Mountain Boys Flag)

“The gods of the valley are not the gods of the hills, and you shall understand it.”
Ethan Allen Reply to the King’s attorney-general (June 1770), in a New York court case decided against him, prior to his armed resistance to claims of New York authority over Vermont.

Many arguments suggesting that Williamstown should have a voice because of impact, but I do not see anyone suggesting Pownal should be able to regulate Williamstowns plant- funny how that works!


Is this statement true?

Link to topix debate- Great stuff! Town and gown!

The Williams College heating plant particulate emissions ranking in the Commonwealth of Mass,with 0 being cleanest,and 100 being dirtiest in the state, is 90.

What exactly is the emissions data from the college power plant, how much growth in use has there been in the last decade?

Why be for biomass and other local fuel sources? It’s the war, stupid!

(Ed Note: Picture of the 1934 Cramm and Ferguson gem added Sun 16Jan’11 at 11:11 PST)


How much of a drunk are you?

In the vain of (rip off of) the Diana Davis series of pics around Williams Campus I am going to begin posting a series of pics that relate to alcohol. Williams is a heavy drinking school… so this should be easy. Don’t be bashful!

Where was this picture taken? Please add why you think you remember this item or location.

(Ed note: Dick Cavett recalls his first drunk and the legendary bed-spins DS)


Dork Alert: Fathers of Science Fiction Events at Heritage State Park

Eph dorks (perhaps that is redundant) take note: the Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams has a nice series of events planned for January honoring “fathers of science fiction” Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.  Check out the event schedule here.


Pownal Biomass Update

(By request, expanding on my SpeakUp! post)

A "similar" Livermore Falls, ME biomass plant

Here’s more on the controversy raging over the proposed Pownal biomass facility about which David previously posted.

Developer Beaverwood Energy describes their proposal (and a similar facility in Fair Haven, VT) here (complete with renderings and Google satellite views — worth looking at the Bing bird’s eye view as well:

The plants will be 29 megawatt, baseload plants. Unlike wind and solar, which provide intermittent power, these facilities run all the time, significantly improving the stability of the power system and reducing the cost for transmission by utilizing the existing power lines rather than creating the need for new transmission lines.

Beaver Wood’s projects will create approximately 50 renewable energy jobs at each facility and produce 100,000 tons of the highest quality pellets for commercial and home use.

The plants will also provide an estimated 1,000 indirect jobs including construction and many for loggers and forestland owners. The projects will use carefully harvested waste wood, helping Vermont nurture it’s forest economy.

Opposition is being led by a group called the Bennington Berkshire Citizens Coalition. From their website:

We are banding together to demand that we are given the respect we deserve as citizens and taxpayers to have a time to complete a full review of the proposal as serious concerns have arisen related to air pollution, water use, public health and safety, traffic, aesthetics, natural environment, and historic preservation as well as the direct impact on abutting residential homes and neighbors, real estate values, and the local agriculture/farming community.

Among their concerns:

  • Burning wood to generate electricity emits carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ash, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds.
  • The facility will need up to 400 gallons of water/minute from the Hoosic River or from an underground aquifer supplying water to the Pownal Water District.
  • It has been estimated by the developer that the biomass facility would require the arrival of 96 trucks per day, back and forth, down Rt 7, Rt 346 and Rt 2.
  • Biomass facilities are notorious for creating noise, light, and smell pollution during operation. In a 24/7 operation as proposed for Pownal, VT, they can be constant and

Williams hosted a panel discussion on biomass energy back on October 28, featuring Professors Hank Art and David Dethier and two industry panelists. Here’s the writeup from

Area residents packed into Griffin Hall at Williams College on Thursday night in hopes of getting some answers to how a biomass plant proposed for Pownal, Vt., would effect the region.

The answer: No one really knows. At least not this early in the permitting process.

Meanwhile, the Record carried an op-ed from Paul Harsch ’69 arguing against the plant:

Do not allow the promoters, lawyers and executives (none of whom will live in the vicinity of this plant) to sell you on a pipe dream of clean air and lots of jobs without first insisting on hard economic data and objective scientific proof from totally independent sources not on the company payroll. The science is there about the negative health effects and the history is there of prior failed economic prosperity and growth.

I wonder if Selim Zilkha ’46, namesake of the College’s Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, has a different take from his position as co-owner of Zilkha Biomass Energy?

In the most recent development, the Williamstown Selectmen made clear they wish to be heard in the permitting process:

The proposed site in Pownal is approximately one mile from downtown Williamstown, Massachusetts. Whatever occurs in Pownal will be felt in Williamstown, Mass., and vice versa.

Biomass power plants have faced opposition in cities and towns across America, not only in Pownal, including in Florida, TexasOregon, Wisconsin, and Indiana.


Mounties Football goes unbeaten 12-0. Wins Title.

Latest victim in title game is Athol. Greylock 34- Athol 14. Something in the local water this year! Mount Greylock Regional High School Football Team steamrolled the Division, compiling a 12-0 record.
Even more impressive is the dominance they displayed, winning by large numbers the entire season. Coach Shawn Flaherty, Asst. Coaches Paul Barrett and Brian Gill developed this team into one of the finest in county history. Congratulations to all!


Jobs meet the Global War

Biomass moves forward in Pownal.


For those that missed it

Williams Record review of the New Purple Pub here. What once made the original Pub a great venue is that the bar was an unapologetic dive, complete with dirty floors, burn stains and dusty license plates on the walls. The prices were cheap.
Not sure about the new formula. Place looks great, and has a killer location. The review is less than raving.


Next Page →

Currently browsing posts filed under "Local Places"

Follow this category via RSS