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The bridge, the church and the barber shop
By Dave Sellers
Take a close look behind the Madsonian at the two remnants of the historic iron truss bridge that handled the threads of traffic loads, bikes and runners for nearly 100 years. Three things of note to consider: 1. That the chunks of steel once measured, calculated and set in place with rivets of steel are now tangled unrecognizable elements of that crossing, They remind one of the end of the war, the crash of huge engines, the result of massive explosions. What took thousands of hours to design, manufacture to precision and erect with care to last was ripped apart by another fierce machine in six hours. 2. That when the road bed of layers of asphalt was finally torn off the base steel elements, and the bridge structure exposed, the bridge was in excellent shape and didn’t need to be torn down. 3. How did the decision to replace it come to be the rule of the day? That may never be determined. Similar to finding who decided to tear down Penn Station in NYC, or the beautiful stone post office in Montpelier. Who knows? We note, however, that our local heroes Bob Burley and Arthur Williams saved the Pavilion Hotel in Montpelier so it is repurposed to celebrate the power and care of an earlier day.
The Church on Route 100 is at the cusp of the grave or is it to be repurposed to last on Route 100 along with the icons placed there by our forefathers (and more likely the foremothers as it seems that men are more likely to tear down something as women are more likely to nourish something to life): the spectacular Joslin Memorial Library, the Masonic Lodge, the Federated church and pastorage, and across Route 100 the church and the IOOF hall, now the Valley Players. This is the core of historic Waitsfield and one of the icons is waiting to be placed in service for the public once again. It will never be a church again; the current private businesses have luckily been able to keep it in good enough shape for a permanent public configuration and the public offices are the perfect use.
We all know that times are tough, money is hard to find, and whatever we have is easily spent on the endless piles of needy chores. But our civic pride, our common core, our collective memory of the past (that is now the present) cannot be determined by balance sheets or comparisons of prices. It seems sensible to move the town offices into the old church as it is and gradually over time bring it up to snuff. There are dozens of volunteers who would roll up their sleeves as they did and are still doing after the flood. I recommend that the town grasp the last chance to have that beautiful church for all of us, take a deep breath and gather all our strength to put it back to a prideful centerpiece for our town and the visitors who flock to see how we did it.
Like the bridge, Frank’s Barbershop is gone, downed by the flood at the hands of a higher power (unless you think that global warming is caused by us). The bridge was brought down by ourselves intentionally. Now what?
The little building that anchored the street for more than 100 years is gone and the tiny little spot of land on the river is now in the public domain. This is good. Especially when the public domain is seen as belonging to us. It is ours. So how do we decide what to do? Is it the planning commission, the select board and a consultant expert hired by the town, or is it us to decide?
A good example of what and how to do is being set by the city of Burlington as they ponder the fate of the old Moran plant on the lake. This is 10 years of pondering without direction… until now—the city has decided to hand it over to the citizens. They have announced an RFC. This means a formal request for concepts (RFC). And, in their wisdom, they are asking for concepts submitted in two paragraphs.
So, I suggest that the select board issue a call for concepts. Are there any ideas out there that we can all consider? I suspect that those who drive, walk, bike, or swim by will have the best shot at imagining something that we all will love and cherish. Let’s see what is out there and do it with the excitement and joy of imagining a special future on the edge of the river.
Sellers lives in Warren.