Dalton CRA keeps up with times nearing its 90th birthday



A nonagenarian come November, the Dalton Community Recreation Association, better known as the Dalton CRA, is keeping pace with the times.

The CRA operates two buildings: The Winthrop Murray Crane Community House on Main Street and The Dalton Youth Center just around the corner on Carson Avenue.

The community house has an indoor swimming pool, which is considered to be one of the oldest continuously operating ones in the nation. It is now heated through an on-site solar panel array. The CRA's vast Main Street lawn hosts everything from weddings held by its white marble memorial and fountain, to summer concerts featuring classical to rock music. Its youth center is currently undergoing renovations, and a new strategic plan is in the works for renovating the community house.

"In 1973, the 50th anniversary of the CRA, a [Dalton News-Record] newspaper headline read: ‘Community House Is Indispensable Part of Dalton.' Today, it still is," said Ken Whitestone, one of the 20 members of the Dalton CRA Board of Governors.

On Sept. 21, the CRA will have a gala 90th anniversary celebration featuring a Roaring ‘20s theme to honor its founding decade. Another event is being planned for Nov. 8, the CRA's actual "birthday."

The association was established in 1923 when Crane, a former Massachusetts governor, set up a trust fund that established the CRA and its board of trustees -- and ultimately the two building sites.

In its earliest days, the CRA sites were more male-dominated. The community house had separate entrances and activities for women and men. The youth center was affiliated with the YMCA until the 1980s.

Today, facilities are used by all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds and interests.

PHOTO GALLERY | Dalton CRA will turn 90 this year

It's still a place for town voting, and in the past, has hosted visits by the likes of the late Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy.

Wellness initiatives are a mainstay at the CRA, from Red Cross training, to fitness centers and currently the community house's leasing tenant, Berkshire Physical Therapy and Wellness.

It was and still is a hub for social events, from teen dances to holiday parties. This weekend's annual Crane paper sale will attract countless patrons; it typically nets the CRA about $25,000 to help keep the privately funded nonprofit organization running.

"Our mission is to provide social, educational, cultural and recreational activities in a safe, healthy and welcoming environment," said Alison Peters, the CRA's executive director. "We also aim to keep everything affordable. No one gets turned away."

Though "Dalton" is in its name, the CRA facilities, programs, services and events are open to everyone. Peters said the CRA previously served a predominantly Dalton crowd, but now attracts guests from the neighboring hilltowns, as well as the city of Pittsfield.

Like any organization, the CRA has had its ups and downs, from pool malfunctions to budget cuts.

"We change as the needs of the community change," said Wayne Cronnell, one of five members of the CRA's board of trustees.

"As we look ahead, we need to think about what makes our organization relevant," he said. "On the other hand, we have been doing this for 90 years."

Dalton resident Martha Seymour has noticed the changes. In addition to her annual patronage of the Crane paper sale, she's also a regular in the gym.

"They've done a lot of nice things here over the years. When I first moved here, they didn't even have a fitness center," she said. The current first-floor exercise studio was opened in 1995.

John Kittredge, another CRA trustee, said he'd like to see the association's governing bodies further explore community partnership opportunities, be it leasing space as it does with the physical therapy associates, or expanding programs and services to area schools and groups.

The CRA has been doing outreach, for example, by having a booth at Pittsfield's Third Thursdays events this summer, which has already helped boost membership.

"In many ways, the CRA is a gateway to Pittsfield. Coming from or going through the hilltowns, you have to come by this place," Cronnell said.

The CRA currently has 650 youth members and 500 adult members, and also serves people who come to special events like holiday parades and youth sporting events.

Peters said the center is becoming more socially aware and engaged by exploring more ways to better support and enrich the lives of the growing number of local families of people with special needs, and supporting people in financial need by partnering with the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation's Neighbor-to-Neighbor program.

"As a living, breathing organization, you always have to be changing," she said.

To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink

If you go

What: Craft Beer Festival, featuring more than 50 breweries, to benefit the Dalton CRA. There will also be a food truck from Ozzie's Steak & Eggs, live music by Lady Di & Her Knights, cigar hand-rolling demo, Holiday Brook Farm demo and more.

When: Today from 2 to 6 p.m.

Where: Holiday Brook Farm, Route 9, Dalton.

Cost: $30 at the gate.

Info: kellyspackagestore.com


What: "Dance Under the Stars," The Dalton CRA's 90th anniversary gala.

When: Saturday, Sept. 21, beginning at 6 p.m.

Where: The Dalton CRA Memorial Lawn and grounds, 400 Main St., Dalton.

Tickets: $10 in advance (available at the Dalton CRA) or $15 at the door.

Details: This "Roaring ‘20s" themed festive event will include live music with The Sister City Jazz Ambassadors and vocalist Rebecca Leigh, dancing, a cash bar, appetizers and light fare. The event will also honor several individuals through the presentation of the Gib Kittredge, Volunteer of the Year, and Pop Warner boy and girl of the year awards.

Info: Visit the Dalton CRA or call (413) 684-0260.

Fun facts ...

n Former president and chief justice William Howard Taft was present among a crowd of 4,000 people who gathered on the Dalton CRA lawn for the dedication of its white marble Crane Memorial in 1925.

n In 1978, Sen. Ted Kennedy paid a visit to the CRA.

n The Dalton CRA building was designed by Jallade, Lindsey & Warren architects of New York City. The construction work was done by D. Herbert Pike of Dalton. The interior designs were done by Francis Bacon of Boston.

n Though its four bowling alleys, located in the south part of the basement level have been shut down for several years, fitness classes are still held in that space.

n Older generations of CRA-goers still refer to the Main Street community house as the "Cow House," however research by the CRA Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors still have not led to the answer why.


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