Editorial: Railroad Salvage saga comes to a fiery finish

Published: 1/3/2017 5:01:47 PM

Saturday’s fire at the Railroad Salvage property put a longtime piece of Turners Falls history out of its misery.

The past 20 years have not been kind to the building that lies between the power canal and Connecticut River in a section of the village known as The Patch, and that was once an integral part of the community.

To have this broken and vacant building consumed by a suspicious fire doesn’t really come as a surprise. The surprise, rather, is that the old mill wasn’t destroyed by fire years ago, intentionally or not.

The building started as a cotton mill in the late 19th century and was transformed in 1973 into one of Ruben “Ruby” Vine’s Railroad Salvage stores that sold inexpensive housewares, appliances, clothes and furnishings.

That store closed in 1994, and two years later was sold to the first of a series of new owners. They all arrived announcing big plans for what the building could become.

The first had plans for a shop for repairing and selling used supermarket fixtures. Another wanted to see the building used for a flea market at first, with a number of plans later: artist lofts, a teen dance club or outlet stores.

Another idea was to convert the building into 88 apartments.

But of all of these would-be redevelopers that arrived with impressive visions that offered glimmers of hope, none was able to revive and renovate the building and grounds.

A tipping point happened in 2006 when sections of the building’s roof and walls collapsed, and Montague officials were forced to closed Power Street and the Sixth Street Bridge, fearing future collapse would endanger passersby. At the same time, the town began the long legal road through Housing Court to try to get the property secured and made safe.

But even having Housing Court involved proved less than satisfactory. Despite various orders, complete cleanup of the property and demolition of the building didn’t take place. Meanwhile, the property was a continual irritant to the town as witnessed in the police logs. Youngsters would go there to explore, or the homeless would set up tents there. If it was a danger back more than a decade, the situation hadn’t really improved, despite the fencing around the property to keep people out and police vigilance.

Everyone should be thankful no one was caught in this blaze or injured. If anything, though, Montague officials realize more pressure is needed to see that nothing else befalls the property. Montague Board of Selectmen’s Chairman Richard Kuklewicz said the fire has moved the process of securing and removing the building “even more to the forefront.”

Only a quick and successful cleanup of the property will finally put the Railroad Salvage story to rest.

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