Progress happens, and this week progress is happening in Westfield.
Tomorrow, May 11, the ribbon will be cut at Barnes Airport officially opening the new terminal there. Barnes, named as such in 1936 for the original property owners, the Barnes family, who leased the land to the city for $1 and relief of property taxes in 1927, was first opened on October 12, 1923, by a group of Westfield and Holyoke businessmen. The City of Westfield purchased the land in the early 1930's, and the airport was soon expanded with the donation of an additional 297 acres of land from the Barnes family.
When I was a kid, my grandfather would take me and my brothers to watch the planes land and take-off, probably leading to my enjoyment of that simple past time to this day. When my children were little, I brought them to the same strip of grass that parallels the runway that my Pop would take us. Now I take my grandkids. Progress isn't all bad.
Some folks may not feel that way come the ground-breaking for the $60 million Great River Bridge project, which will also be held tomorrow in Westfield, on-site, with Governor Deval Patrick expected to be in attendance. The project, to build a second bridge over the Westfield river east of the existing one, is expected to last five years, and will undoubtedly intensify the nightmare that is Westfield traffic at rush hour. Although there have been doubts as to the benefits of a second bridge by some local naysayers, I think this is a project of historical proportions that is long overdue and necessary to the continued growth of the city. Indeed, when one speaks of proportions, the Great River Bridge project is expected to be the most expensive civil-engineering feat that will have been pulled off in Western Massachusetts when it is finally complete. It's about time we squeezed some cash out of Boston. After all, much of it is ours.
A couple of weeks ago I took a walk and snapped a few photos of the area. It won't look the same for long, relatively speaking, and the changes will be major, including the razing of Blessed Sacrament church on the corner of Union and North Elm streets. For those of us who can see history in the making, the city air is electric with anticipation.
Looking south down routes 10 & 202, North Elm street. Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament church stands empty, awaiting its fate. The Parks Block can be seen further down the street. Dedicated on July 2, 1911, the church was moved to its current spot from its original location at the corner of North Elm and Princeton streets in 1920.
The intersection of Union and North Elm streets. Trucks must detour this way in order to make it safely under the railroad overpass, which is only 11'5" high where North Elm street passes under it. According to project plans, the overpass will be raised to 14'5" to accommodate trucks and trailers, which average 13'6" in height, eliminating the need for a detour. The church bell tower has been eerily empty for some time now, the stripping of the building a sure sign that changes are coming.
The Parks Block on North Elm street. O. B. Parks sold everything from flour to farm tools from his store at number 55. Despite the major renovations to their immediate area, these buildings will remain standing, as they have for over a century now. On May 29, 1910, Blessed Sacrament parish's first mass was held upstairs from O. B. Park's store. The two-story Valley Hardware building on the block's right is currently for sale.
These buildings along the north bank of the Westfield river will be demolished for the new bridge. A park is planned for the space between the two bridges.
The railroad overpass will be raised to 14'5", as mentioned before, a major undertaking in itself. The building to the left is the old Hotel Bismarck, 16 Union Avenue. Built in 1899 and convenient to the railroad station across the way, the hotel boasted a rooftop garden where guests, along with drinks and dinner, could partake of various forms of entertainment, including vaudeville acts, during their stay. The hotel was owned by John Buschmann and his son Thomas. The building was discontinued as a hotel in the 1930s.
Looking northeast at the current bridge spanning the Westfield river. The new bridge, to be built down river from this location, will mimic the truss-style construction of this one, completed in 1939. The twin bridges will, without a doubt, change the face of Westfield in a major way.
Here are links to a few more EWM posts relevant to the Great River Bridge project or the general neighborhood of the bridge:
Sleds, Bridges and Steeples: Thoughts in Traffic
Postcard: Westfield River
Westfield, Massachusetts Railway Station Photos
Westfield, Massachusetts Railway Station Postcards
As always, thanks for stopping by!