I was asked by the president of the Barre Area Development Board to say a few words at your weekly meeting on Jan. 21, 2020. On reflection, I would like to expand on my remarks.
I graduated from Spaulding High School in 1950. That year, Spaulding was the State Champion in basketball! In 1959, after attending various schools and a stint in the U.S. Army, I returned to Barre to practice law. Like many young lawyers, I became involved in civic affairs.
By 1962, I became a director of Barre Area Development (BAD), where George Pitman reigned as the executive director. George was fantastic. Based on his exemplary leadership, the entrance to the Wilson Industrial Park carries his name. I became president of BAD in 1965. I was young, naive, feisty and out to conquer the world.
In 1966, I was heavily involved in the push for urban renewal. I still carry the scars from the slings and arrows I received in that battle. Belmont Houghton, who owned and operated the Barre Steam Laundry on Pearl Street, was the clever and resourceful spokesman for the opposition. He created a devastating lapel button with the photograph of a bulldozer labeled “NO.” In his handouts, he mocked Barre Area Development by calling the project, “BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD ...” It was soundly defeated. I never recovered.
Among other things, the urban renewal plan called for the demolition of the “old and decrepit buildings” located on the east side of Main Street, between Pearl Street and Keith Avenue. The goal was to make way for a modern, up-to-date “anchor” store. Well, it never happened. The same old buildings are still there — pretty much empty.
Despite the failure of urban renewal, downtown Barre has prospered in countless other ways. For instance, the Barre Housing Authority has been astoundingly successful. A few of their construction projects include the following:
1970: Renovation of the former Hotel Barre into a senior housing project
1973: Creation of Tilden House on South Main Street
1976: Creation of a new apartment complex on Jefferson Street
1982: Creation of the North Barre Manor
2016: The Central Vermont Land Trust opened its new three-story affordable-housing project on Summer Street.
All of the above-mentioned apartment complexes are located within walking distance of the “anchor” store proposed in 1960.
Shortly after the defeat of urban renewal, the economic welfare of the city received a significant boost when the state built a courthouse complex on Main Street. A new workforce began to stream into the downtown area every day. Other successes abound: the Aldrich Public Library renovation; the Barre Opera House restoration; preservation of Spaulding High School by the Vermont Historical Society; creation of Capstone; restoration of the Labor Hall; and restoration projects at all of the houses of worship around the city; even the services for the homeless have been enhanced.
Just recently, with the help of Barre Area Development, a majestic new addition to the Main Street landscape became a reality. Its name is appropriate — City Place. A short time ago, and with help from the City and Barre Area Development, local entrepreneurs were highly successful in restoring the Blanchard Block next to City Hall.
Let’s not overlook the banks and how they have multiplied; prosperity abounds. Every time I go to one, I don’t even have to get out of my car. And how about all the fancy bistros that have mushroomed on Main Street! For those who like to meet to eat, downtown Barre is the place to go. The new home-grown independent retailers and entrepreneurs appear to be doing well, too.
Ah, but what really makes the difference in downtown Barre is the silent music contained in its granite art — Bobby Burns, Youth Triumphant, the Italian-American stone cutter, Mr. Pickwick, the “zipper” next to the incredible Studio Place Arts, the innovative bicycle racks and various styles of “granite furniture and artifacts” displayed throughout the city. These features make Barre truly unique. And, of course, the Barre City cemeteries are the envy of the world.
But one major project still remains — a renaissance on the site of the proposed “anchor” store on Main Street between Pearl Street and Keith Avenue. I hope it occurs within my lifetime.
I am proud to be a part of the Barre community. And I am proud to have had the opportunity to serve on the Barre Area Development Board. Barre stands on the threshold of a new era of economic, cultural and spiritual development, and I believe the city, the town, and Barre Area Development have the ability to face the challenges unique to our current economic times.
Despite Belmont Houghton, BAD is dedicated to the goal of bringing new business, new residents, new visitors and new ideas to Barre.
I urge the voters of the city and the town to vote “yes” for the $40,000 funding requests of Barre Area Development.
Stephen B. Martin lives in Barre. He is a past president of the BADC.