On May 29, 1995, a powerful tornado ripped through the center of Great Barrington after cutting a 45-mile, west-to-east swath of destruction from central Columbia County, N.Y., along Route 23 to the town of Monterey. The National Weather Service ranked it as a borderline category 4, with wind speeds as high as 210 mph. Three people were killed (a staff member and two students at the private Eagleton School), at least 24 people were injured, and damage was estimated at $25 million.
Fairview Hospital, part of Berkshire Health Systems, is one of the smallest in the state; because of a regional population that would otherwise be underserved, it gets an extra infusion of federal aid. It recently reported a $500,000 surplus, reversing the previous tide of red ink. But it could face a loss of $670,000 in federal aid over five years if President Bush's proposed cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are approved by Congress. A group of cancer specialists is leaving the hospital in a dispute over leased space. The town and its surroundings face a deepening shortage of primary-care physicians and dentists.
The village of Housatonic, part of Great Barrington, included 1,135 residents in the year 2000. It has its own post office. A major employer in the Risingdale neighborhood, Fox River Paper Co., formerly Rising Paper Co., is being sold to Neenah Paper Co. The impact on the plant, which employs nearly 150, is unclear.
The Railroad Street Youth Project is a resource center operated by area residents, and funds community projects on a $10,000 annual budget. It has been instrumental in mediating an ongoing dispute between Triplex Cinema owner Richard Stanley and young people who congregate in the adjacent parking lot; some of them are viewed by certain merchants, residents and visitors as unruly and disruptive. Stanley briefly deployed a high-frequency sonic device, "The Mosquito," to discourage the youths from congregating in the area. The tactic aroused intense controversy.