Thursday, May 10, 2007

Westfield Steps Forward

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!


Anonymous said...

What beautiful writing, and as a lifetime resident of Westfield, it is greatly appreciated that someone who knows the history is reflecting on the good points of the city.

Bill Dusty said...

I love the idea of rooftop gardens & dining. I'm surprised we don't see more of that in space-challenged urban restaurants.

Too bad.

Mark T. Alamed said...


(and I agree, Bill)

Ted said...

Hi Mark,

Very nice posting and nice photo's to go along. I am very partial to the area you speak of. We lived at 4 Union Ave, next to Westfield Fuel, for many years. I was in the Construction Business and a lot of my accounts were our neighbors also. Real friendships came from this area and we are very proud to call as friends Chet Pranka, of Valley Hardware, and his family. 2 More Chet friends at US Line, Harry and Marika Theodorakis and family, friends over at Elm Pizza, Mike and Bill and families at Westfield Fuel kept us warm while we lived next door and the sons are still doing that in our 1830's house on West Silver. So many, many friends from The Foster House which you get from working for 3 owners over there. We worked at Elm Pizza, The Foster House, Westfield Electroplating, Westfield Fuel, bought my lumber from Fitzgerald Lumber and our steaks from The Butcher Block, across the street. My best construction job ever was renovating and restoring the Railroad Depot. There are lots of Westfield stories about growing up on "The Hill" or "The Northside" and I think they are mostly true. What a great group of friends we have because we spent some years on "The North Side". Now it is changing again and may be for the better. We will have to wait and see. Already the Foster House is used for sandblasting parts instead of serving food, there are two candle factory's in the area, The Pioneer Valley Railroad put up chain link fences, Valley Hardware is empty and for sale and there are no more Chinese, therapeutic, massages across the street, but you can get a tattoo, in the area, if you want one. Time marches on!

Just a little Musing

Mark T. Alamed said...


Thanks for sharing such great reminiscences!

Most of those places you've mentioned have a connection to me or my family as well. My father and brother still take their deer (when they get them) to the Butcher Block for butchering. Elm Pizza was a favorite hangout in high school. The train tracks were like alternate sidewalks to us as kids, for getting around purposes.

I think that Westfield has so far been able to maintain the 'small town' feeling, despite its actual size. Your comment and the obvious affection you feel for the folks you mention kind of reconfirm that for me.

How fortunate we are to live in such a great town!

It must have been awesome to renovate the Railroad Depot. If those walls could talk!

Take care,