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Main Street Great Barrington, a year ago in May. What a difference a year makes.

Notes, footnotes & queries

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By Wednesday, Apr 15, 2015 Life In the Berkshires 4

Given the demolition of Great Barrington’s streetscape – in the name of a $5.4 million rural renewal project — it may be hard to recall how glorious was the Main Street allée of blooming Bradford pear trees that would herald the arrival of spring.

A Bradford pear tree remnant blooms in Fuel Coffeeshop.

A Bradford pear tree remnant blooms in Fuel Coffeeshop. Photo: Robin Curletti

Robin Curletti, co-owner of Fuel Coffeeshop on Main Street, remembers. And before the remains of pear trees were fed to the wood chipper several weeks ago, she preserved five branches, placing them in buckets of water where they now adorn Fuel’s entryway. They’re thriving. Blooming, and now leafing out.

“When I was a kid, I heard about how upset people were when the previous line of trees were chopped down,” she recalled. “There was one fellow – Shelly Farshaw – he owned a toy and bookshop — who hugged a tree in protest, trying to prevent it from being cut down.”

And if Robin has her way, these pear tree survivors could have a long life. She intends to find a tree in the downtown district to graft them to, so that they will continue to bloom and shower their blossoms — just not on Main Street.

So if you want to see a trace of Barrington of Greatness’s faded glory, the living branches are on display at Fuel.


Actually, it may be good for your health to duck into Fuel – or some other store – to catch your breath. The pavement on half of the main drag has been removed, creating a thoroughfare that hasn’t been dirt in a century – or as dusty. As the air become clouded Tuesday afternoon with dust from passing traffic, people walking the sidewalks were wincing and wiping their eyes.

A jar of earplugs at Fuel.

A jar of earplugs at Fuel. Photo: Hanne Kesten

In response to the construction conditions, Curletti had one answer: With a cup of coffee, you can get earplugs to silence the racket, and she’s stationed a supply of dust masks with a selection of colored markers in a jar by the cash register.

“Design your own dust mask,” reads the tag on the jar.

“It’s important to emphasize the positive,” Curletti advised. “I thank everyone who comes in our shop.”

And when we get to summer’s intense sun and heat – with no shade wherein to take refuge — she can offer sun hats and sunglasses.

But the dust, at least, may soon be less of an irritant.

“We’re told that the street is going to be dug up and paved within two weeks,” she said.

*     *     *

The torso of one of the two Norway maples cut down in front of Great Barrington Town Hall.

The torso of one of the two Norway maples cut down in front of Great Barrington Town Hall.


Blame the Great Barrington Tree Committee.

In a spasm of species profiling, the town’s tree committee designated the two 50-year-old Norway maples that spread their limbs over the lawn in front of Town Hall as “invasive” and to be extirpated, along with the Bradford pears. Never mind that the maples had established roots in the community, you could say.

Workmen sawing into the maples’ limbs explained that the order for their removal had come from Town Hall. But in fact, Barrington powers-that-be were as surprised – and angered – by the trees’ demise as were many passersby who wondered what next the chainsaws would target.

Has the “species purity” movement gotten out of hand, categorizing undesirable plants and animals, even earthworms, as invasive? Next thing you know its adherents will be calling for the elimination of apple trees as an alien species because apples originate in Kazakhstan – where, come to think of it, the Garden of Eden must have once resided.

*     *     *

Dispatch from the energy front: Are the power companies jacking up electricity rates to blackmail consumers into supporting the construction of a natural gas pipeline? Tracy Wilson, executive director of the Berkshire Music School in Pittsfield, thinks so and reports the following conversation with a WesternMass Electric representative:

“I just got off the phone with a rep because our latest electric bill for an apartment attached to Berkshire Music School went up over 50 percent, even though we had tenants in January 2013, and no tenants in January 2014, thus I’ve turned all thermostats down low. The rep told me that rates had gone up by 58 percent.

“She went on to tell me it’s because natural gas prices have gone up, and if we would allow the pipeline to come through, we’d have more  natural gas and prices would come down. So I said ‘You mean we’re being held hostage?” and she said ‘Yes, pretty much’.

“This makes me sick. This is first I’ve heard of the 58 percent rate hike.”

*     *     *

In 2009, volunteers gathered at curbside across from the Brown Bridge in Great Barrington to raise money from passing cars for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.

In 2009, volunteers gathered at curbside across from the Brown Bridge in Great Barrington to raise money from passing cars for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.

Ahhh, the good old days, when the general public – even in Great Barrington – enthusiastically and without reserve supported public education, teachers and the programs at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

Six years ago, in the winter of 2009, the Berkshire Hills School District was facing a crisis. The state had unexpectedly reduced its transportation reimbursement, leaving the district no choice but to let some teachers go.

The community, however, came to the rescue, raising thousands of dollars to maintain the district’s academic programs. And they did so, in part, by standing by the side of the Main Street by the Brown Bridge, asking for donations. And people contributed, stopping their cars to hand the volunteers a few dollars – or more.

So whatever happened to that spirit and commitment to our public schools?

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4 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Dennis Gibbons says:

    “Blame the Great Barrington Tree Committee.” It would have been responsible to contact us before you printed that. We’ll have to do this in the comment section now. The Tree Committee, at the time of the Main St. Reconstruction design stage, consisted of several industry professionals. In fact a landscape architect, professional arborist and professional horticulturist and another member with a degree in forestry. We certainly had a hand in species selection. Without a doubt we wanted to diversify. Monocultures are problematic for several reasons and that was largely what the Design Team at Walter Cudnohufsky & Associates wanted to do. The Tree Committee weighed in on species selection and worked with the design team to design a Main St. with multiple canopy layers that would last for generations and quite possibly avoid the cyclical nature of single species replacement after mass street tree failures.

    For the record, the Tree Committee was not responsible for the removal of the Norway maples but we were not necessarily opposed to the idea. The design calls for a matching elm to be planted to frame the Town Hall along with our “Heritage” elm tree which is being saved. It’s a good idea and is an historic nod to the once elm lined Main St. That concept could not be accomplished with the Norway maples remaining.

    Years ago, during the planning stages, there were many public meetings at Crissy Farm that community members that wanted to be informed could attend. There we learned of another design for the Town Hall property that was not included in the Main St. Reconstruction. The elms that are to frame the Town Hall are part of that design as are other features that will not occur and may never occur. But the design exists and it could happen some day.

    While I will agree that “species purity” is in fashion, I do not adhere to it. As an ornamental horticulturist I plant with an eye toward “right tree, right place” and try to avoid plant material with invasive tendencies. However, there may be some on the TC that feel differently. I cannot speak for all of them. There are cultivars and non natives included in the Main St. design. Have you had a chance to review the design? Please go to the Town Hall and ask to view the design. A version is posted on the web page but does not include the detailed species list, only the placement. The TC has asked the Town to post the final plans on the page. Feel free to contact the Tree Committee.

    By the way, I grew up on Pleasant St. and love my town. I remember the crabapples prior to the pears. So monoculture after monoculture. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”-Albert Einstein.

    Lastly, let’s try to keep an open mind, be positive and make this a success.

    Dennis Gibbons
    Great Barrington Tree Committee Chairman

    1. Jonathan Hankin says:

      Thank you, Dennis, for your reasoned and cogent address to the hysteria that seems to be gripping many of us. I very much look forward to our new Main Street look with the 93 trees to be planted. In the meantime, I confess, I am also very much enjoying being able to look at the lovely architecture of our street wall that has remained hidden for the twenty years I have lived here.

  2. Paul Gibbons says:

    Before you wonder ….. yes I am Dennis’ father.

    It is always easy to complain and be part of a problem, rather than becoming an informed citizen and part of the solution. I chaired the Great Barrington Finance Committee for 26 years and it was the same scenario. Public meeting after public meeting …… time after time ….. no one (except for a few concerned souls and town employees) would ever show to become better educated about the millions of dollars of their tax money ….. until their tax bills would come.

    Freedom of speech is a precious right for all of us ….. but it does take work to become an informed citizen.

    “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan

  3. George H. says:

    “Professionals” in the industry must demonstrate their superior knowledge and their lofty degrees by insisting that all non-pure objects must be removed. All hail the experts!

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