Letter: Preserve past, strengthen future, save steeples


The steeples of North Adams are our most tangible link between past and present. Our generation is called to demonstrate as much strength and perseverance in protecting them as our ancestors demonstrated in building them. Saving the steeple of Saint Francis of Assisi Church, in a way that still enhances economic investment and opportunity for our community, is a civic duty. I encourage the people of North Adams, the leadership of CVS Caremark, and the leadership of my beloved Diocese of Springfield to work together and let the following realities drive their decisions.

A New Jersey- sponsored 1998 study revealed, "every $1 million spent on non-residential historic rehabilitation creates two jobs more than the same money spent on new construction." The same study found that cultural tourists, those attracted to the charm and character of communities that combine a creative economy with a robust preservation of its history, stay "longer than the average tourist, and spend 78 percent more." Studies conducted in 2002 in Colorado and Florida demonstrated significant returns in economic activity and cultural tourism as a result of historic preservation as opposed to new construction.

In North Adams, our priorities for economic growth and opportunity are intimately linked with the maintenance of our historical heritage. When I arrived in Washington, D. C. for college in 2001, I accidentally started a tradition. At least once a year I bring friends from all over the country, and sometimes the world, for a trip to my hometown of North Adams. My sister, who now lives in Houston, often does the same with friends.

The awe I see in their faces as they cross the Hadley Overpass, or pass through Route 2, is immediately followed by torrents of questions about the churches. Why so many? Why so large? Why so prominent? It provides me an opportunity to tell them a compelling American story of an immigrant mill town that produced the metal plates for the world's first ironclad warship. That built and housed the Western Gateway. That built the electronic components that helped end a world war. That weathered the withdrawal of its greatest industries and reinvented itself into a center of the arts and a thriving creative economy.

Our steeples are our memorials. Our Washington Monument. Our Gateway Arch. Our Golden Gate Bridge. They remind us of where we come from. They are a defining feature of our charm. They welcome our visitors and tell them a part of our story.

We can work together to protect our steeples while still creating jobs and opportunity for our people and welcoming the type of investment that CVS offers to bring to our community. The Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, the Grace Baptist Temple in Philadelphia, or even a Dunkin' Donuts in Toms River, N.J. demonstrate that commercial enterprises, like CVS or any other, can thrive while protecting historic landmarks.

We learned the lesson of urban renewal on Main Street. This is about more than preserving historic architecture for preservation's sake. This is about maintaining North Adams as a very special place and as a great American story.


Arlington, Va.

The writer is a native of North Adams.


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