Greenfield’s library: ‘If we build it, they will come’

  • Ann Hamilton

Published: 1/28/2019 8:50:21 AM

In the sixth century B.C., a Greek philosopher wrote “Life is flux,” most commonly translated as “Change is the only constant in life.” I wish to respond to Councilor Verne Sund’s recent letter and to many others who feel as he does, seeming to yearn for Greenfield as it was in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. He lamented the loss of theaters, restaurants and industries. I would like to point out some reasons why the Greenfield of today is different that the Greenfield of yesterday, not necessarily a negative.

I am not a native. I grew up in Keene N.H., a community much like Greenfield in those days. But I was no stranger to Greenfield. I played field hockey against GHS, and my father drove me to the train station here to get to New York City when I was in college. After college, I met Bob Hamilton at the Executive Training Program at Jordan Marsh Company in Boston, and we married and settled here. However, Keene has grown much more than Greenfield in recent times. One reason for this is that Greenfield has a small footprint, and much of the open land is in a flood plain or an aquifer. Keene is 37.49 square miles, compared to Greenfield’s 21.9 square miles. Just look at a map of Franklin County towns. Deerfield is 33.4 square miles, and Montague is composed of 31.47 square miles. This makes Greenfield expansion and development difficult. Therefore, we must make careful and thoughtful decisions.

Before becoming the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce director, I was the first woman selectman in Greenfield. I served between 1980-83. That gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about land use planning, legislation, community improvement, capital budgeting, listening to constituents and prioritizing. John Ryan was the planning director, and we made a good team.

I feel our most important successes were the development of the 330-acre I-91 Industrial Park, and the conversions of the empty and abandoned Weldon Hotel and Millers Falls Co. factory site into housing. I fought off the pigeons flying through the Miller Falls tool company buildings, and I took every opportunity to see then U.S. Rep. Silvio Conte get the last housing grant for the Mill House and State Street Development Company. I recall intercepting him one time when he was in the basement of the Post Office interviewing candidates for West Point. But I persuaded and prevailed and am proud of all three projects. I think the most important attribute I had then was vision, not satisfied with the status quo, but wanting what was important for the future of Greenfield.

After 35 years, our industrial park is nearly full and fortunately, a great percentage of the 25 buildings there are manufacturers employing hundreds of people. For example, Westfield (47.9 square miles) has become home to many warehouses, less labor intensive. Many of the companies in the Greenfield park are home-grown and expanding. Steve Capshaw of Valley Steel Stamp has been advertising for employees for three or four years, on billboards, in newspapers and on-line. CAD-CAM technology has changed manufacturing, requiring fewer but better educated employees with the skills required of today. We are fortunate to have training programs at Greenfield Community College and the Franklin County Technical School to provide this. There are nearly 500 thousand square feet under roof and $28 million valuation in the I-91 park. Most of them would like natural gas, not available there, but they built anyway. Other Greenfield companies could not be accommodated in the park because of land limitations and, they relocated to neighboring towns.

About theaters — think how much entertainment has changed since the old days. One can get hundreds of movies on cable, dish receptors, iPads and Netflix. Yet we have seven screens at Garden Cinemas and all the newly released films. This is more than the three or four theaters in bygone days.

Retail — there is no doubt that on-line shopping and Amazon have made it more difficult for brick and mortar stores to compete, in the USA and worldwide. Local retailers become more fragile every day. I want a downtown that is not filled with second-hand stores, pizza shops, and empty storefronts, so “Shop Local” rings true to me. I walk the walk and talk the talk. If I can’t get in Greenfield (or occasionally another downtown), I probably don’t really need it and can go without it.

I recently retired and downsized and, like many of you, am living on a limited fixed income. I have perhaps ordered five or six things on-line, but that’s it. It is not Amazon supporting our local kids’ sports teams, our churches, our arts organizations or our schools. It is our local businesses and residents who do it. Please support them as best you can.

We live in today’s world of instant gratification and results, but we are giving up human contact when people text each other in the next room, commonly done. We have to adapt.

As Shakespeare penned in his play, “The Tempest,” “What’s past is prologue,” and we owe it to the next generation to provide for them the best that we can.

We have a bit of a tempest within ourselves about the proposed library. I am in favor because Greenfield needs to grow to increase the local economy. A library is a vital part of any community, and I urge all who have been against it to reconsider their positions. Try watching the film “Field of Dreams— with its now iconic catch phrase: “If we build it, they will come.”

There are no guarantees, but it is our best shot at future prosperity. Timing is everything, and the time is now, and there may not be a better opportunity for decades. I hope the City Council will consider carefully what I have documented and will vote to support this important issue and move it forward. I love Greenfield and I hope you do, too.

Ann Hamilton lives in Greenfield and was executive director of Franklin County Chamber of Commerce from 1983 until she retired in 2016. She continues to be active in volunteer work and interested in local conversations and issues.


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