Onward: South County towns look ahead after year that brought surprise tornado

  • Forest Manager Shane Bajnoci, left, and Timber Harvester Dylan Field, right, take a break from cutting trees damaged by February's tornado in Conway, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Trees down and damaged homes and the United Congregational Church along Whately Road in Conway after Saturday's tornado. February 27, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The aftermath of Saturday's tornado near United Congregational Church of Conway, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo. Recorder Staff

  • The United Congregational Church in Conway's bell is secured Monday morning after being removed from the steeple. The February 25th tornado knocked the bell off it's stanchions as the tower separated from the main structure by 4 inches. May 1, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Antiques are salvaged from J&J Maggs Antiques collapsed barn in the Pumpkin Hollow section of Conway from tornado. February 28, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The barn housing J&J Maggs Antiques was leveled by Saturday's tornado in Conway, but spared their adjacent house. February 27, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Conway firefighters proceed down route 116 during the Conway 250th sestercentennial parade Sunday, June 18, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • The Philadelphia Mummers proceed up route 116 during the Conway 250th sestercentennial parade Sunday, June 18, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • The Frontier Regional School marching band performs as the Conway 250th sestercentennial parade proceeds down route 116 Sunday, June 18, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Dramatic light Sunday morning overlooking Pumpkin Hollow in Conway, Dec. 10, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Feb. 25 will mark the one year anniversary of the tornado that ripped through the Pumpkin Hollow section of Conway, damaging many buildings, including the historic United Congregational Church.

Nearly a year later, the church’s congregation continues to hold weekly services at the Conway Grammar School, awaiting final resolution of the church building’s fate. Inspectors are currently investigating the extent of damages. A few months ago, members decided to put the building’s pipe organ into climate controlled storage, preparing for the worst.

Elsewhere, though, there are signs that Pumpkin Hollow’s quiet community is moving forward. Tea At Two, an artisan shop a few houses down from the church, reopened in October after eight months of repairs. And a new, English-style barn stands in place of a former colonial barn owned by antique dealers John and Jan Maggs that was flattened during the storm.

2017 was a year of highs and lows.

Not long after the tornado touched down, while those affected were still removing branches from their yards, Conway celebrated its 250th anniversary with weekend-long festivities that included fireworks, a parade, and a well attended art show featuring the work of famous oil painter Lester Stevens, who lived in Conway during his twilight years.

Aside from those two events, town life has continued as normal.

“The roads are getting taken care of, the police are policing, and the fire department and ambulance continue their good work as well, as do the folks at the transfer station, the various town offices and the 150 or more volunteers on committees, boards, commissions and councils that take care of local needs and cover local issues,” said Conway Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson.

Preparing for future development

As the year comes to a close, all of southern Franklin County’s towns are wrapping up a busy year laying the groundwork for future developments, most notably, elder housing.

This year in Deerfield, despite protests from a group of passionate residents, a condominium development for residents 55 and older on Sugarloaf Street received a green light from the Planning Board.

At the same time, town officials announced plans to move the senior center into the former South Deerfield Congregational Church, renovating the current building into affordable senior housing.

“We’re in a good state, moving forward positively. It’s really exciting. There are some really good things happening,” said Deerfield Selectboard Chairwoman Carolyn Shores Ness, noting that officials intend to focus next year on long-range planning. She also highlighted a few regional projects that Deerfield has helped to move forward, including the establishment of a mosquito control district to monitor for disease.

Projects moving forward

Deerfield Academy volunteered this year to build and then donate a permanent home for South County EMS, a regional ambulance service established in 2013, on Routes 5 and 10. The gift settled a long dispute between the three participating towns about where the EMS provider would build its permanent home. South County EMS currently keeps its ambulances in a few different fire stations. The building should be ready in the new year.

Across the Connecticut River, at 120 North Main St. in Sunderland, Rural Development Inc., a nonprofit, has started work on a proposed affordable senior housing development. When the development is finished, eligible seniors will be able to live there at a subsidized rate.

Coinciding with that project, Sunderland received grants to renovate crosswalks and sidewalks on a few oft-traveled roads through town. And at the School Street riverfront area near the Public Library, officials unveiled plans to build an accessible riverfront walkway and a new boat launch.

In Whately, residents established a Housing Trust and began renovating their historic Town Hall by leveraging a mix of town, Community Preservation Act money and state funding, according to Whately Town Administrator Brian Domina. When repairs are finished next year, the building’s second floor will be reopened as a community hall, and the downstairs will permanently house the Historical Society.

This coming year, constituents in all four South County towns should expect to see some of those projects reach completion.

Anniversary celebrations

As Conway completes its 250th year as an incorporated town, Sunderland is getting ready to celebrate its 300th birthday next year.

Festivities are being planned throughout the year, with a large parade scheduled for June 16. Other events include historic reenactments, outdoor concerts, local artist displays, area bike tours, a “celebration ball” and a Veterans Memorial program, according to Sunderland officials.

Looking even further ahead, 2018 marks the beginning of planning for Whately’s 250th anniversary, and Deerfield’s 350th anniversary, both of which will be held in a few years.

For more information on Sunderland’s 300th anniversary celebration plans, or to make a donation to help put on the events, visit: sunderland300.com

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo