NORTH ADAMS — The neighbors of an empty lot on Houghton Street where a row of four dilapidated duplexes sat vacant for years are happy they've been torn down and like the look of the neighborhood even more.
The blighted Houghton Street structures have been plaguing the neighbors for decades. They were condemned more than a decade ago and slated for demolition several times, but they never came down for one reason or another.
They were set to come down again in 2014 when the city Historical Commission asked for a delay to evaluate the buildings as a possible museum centered on the mill workers' life of the 1800s.
North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright agreed to hold off on demolishing the structures to give commission members time to come up with funding for the project.
As it turned out, it also gave the owner of the property, the estate of the Romeo family, time to clear the title and make arrangements to demolish the buildings, allowing the city to devote its resources to demolishing another blighted property. Once the Historical Commission determined that the cost of the museum effort would exceed the funding opportunities, the structures were cleared to come down.
They were taken down and the property cleared of debris by mid-February. Today, the edges of the vacant parcel are bordered with large landscape stone and where the houses once stood is a bare patch of soil.
"That's been a blighted situation for a long, long time," Alcombright said. "And now it looks great. There had been a fair amount of work by some of the neighbors to spruce up their houses and properties, but those houses were just so discouraging."
He praised the Romeo family for not only keeping the taxes current on the property, but also for carrying the cost of the demolition.
"That saved us $80,000 to $90,000," he said. "Now we can use that money to do a couple of other tear-downs."
The houses were reportedly built around 1850 to house workers employed at the Hodge Box Factory and Foundry, but all along the neighbors have been saying the blighted structures had been bringing down nearby property values and compromising any effort to improve the neighborhood's appearance. The mill houses were boarded-up, listing, and overgrown with weeds.
According to one neighbor, Jim Lipa, there had been indications of drug use in the abandoned houses.
"They were very unsightly," Lipa said. "We're all happy that they're down. The museum idea wasn't a bad one, but it just wasn't feasible. It was time for them to go. And now the neighborhood sure looks different."
The corner of Houghton and Liberty streets is now much more open, allowing better visibility for drivers as they approach the turn.
"I think the area is vastly improved," said Paul Hopkins, another resident of the neighborhood. "It's been mentioned to me by several people, including visitors to North Adams who had seen the houses at their worst. One reaction was 'Oh, wow!' I would venture to say that the intersection of Liberty Street and Houghton is safer now, too."