Monday, November 19, 2012

In the Round

From Dave Brigham:

I spent a recent Sunday in Connecticut with my brother and sister, taking our parents our to lunch for their 55th wedding anniversary. We had a nice time catching up with each other. We realized that the five of us hadn't had a meal together (without spouses, kids, aunts, uncles, cousins) in a few decades.

On my drive back to Massachusetts, I realized I had time to check out some of the potential Backside sites I'd noticed in recent years along Route 84. I was, of course, excited by this prospect.

The first place I stopped was a former sports complex in Vernon, CT. At one time, the facility included multiple softball fields that you could see from the highway. I'm not sure what else was there.

In recent years, though, the place went out of business, and nature has taken over. From the highway, you get great views of weed-choked fields with dugouts seemingly randomly placed in the middle.

Unfortunately, when I got off the exit and drove past the place, I found no good vantage points to take pictures. Bummer.

The next place I had in mind is a vacant filling station and garage in Holland, CT, just south of the Massachusetts border. The property is fairly well kept and easy to access, but the "No Trespassing" signs and the presence of a house directly across the street from it kept me out. Call me chicken if you want.

With my time getting short, I decided to get off just a few miles up the road in Sturbridge, before getting on the Mass. Pike and completing my trip home.

The town was hit by a tornado in June 2011, and on drives through there on Route 84 over the last 16 months, I'd noticed a lot of damage. One of the most obvious targets was a Days Inn on Route 15, which parallels the interstate.

I drove past the motel, but once again was deterred by "No Trespassing" signs and the feeling that I wasn't really documenting the Backside, as much as the Downside of Nature.

Here's a video somebody took the day after the tornado, focusing on the motel and the immediate environs:

On my way to check out the Days Inn, I'd noticed an attractive stone building with a "For Sale" sign on it, and an odd, round building at the back of the parking lot. So I doubled back for a second look.

The stone building, as it turns out, was once a Hebert Candies retail store. At the back of the building's parking lot stand two buildings: one that looks like a cottage, or the office for an old motel; the other that looks like this:

Gettin' around in Sturbridge

In between the buildings stands a large wooden sign with a map of Sturbridge highlighting all the tourist destinations, the most well-known of which is Old Sturbridge Village.

I approached the round building cautiously, unsure if anyone was inside, or whether anyone in either of the two buildings might come out to ask me why I was trespassing. But as I made my way around the little building, I encountered no resistance.

With the sun directly behind me, I found it hard to get a good look inside. Here's the best shot I could get:

Round building interior

I was surprised by the intricacy of the beams and lights. Otherwise, there wasn't much of note in the building. I noticed a chalk board and some boxes and random pieces of furniture. I thought perhaps it had been used recently as a preschool or an office.

I couldn't find out anything online, but I entered into a dialogue with a helpful guy named Wally, who runs the Sturbridge Common blog. He said the place dates to the 1960's, but he didn't know anything more about it.

He asked his readers if they had any clue about the place, and then put up a post about how he thinks the town of Sturbridge or local Chamber of Commerce should buy the site and turn it into a gateway to the town, complete with an information center, gift shop, a restaurant, and a headquarters for Trek Sturbridge, which could offer trail maps, outdoor books, canoes and supplies.

He envisions the round building as a museum featuring Sturbridge history. This post set off quite a lively discussion on the blog about other ideas for the site. Amid all of this, one commenter yielded a bit of information about the round building.

"Many years ago the round building housed what I seem to remember as a place that displayed and sold unusual objects. I think there were exotic, ethnic masks and other interesting artsy things in there."

This person suggested the building be used for a similar purpose if the gateway idea ever came to fruition.

This is one of the things I love about doing this blog: finding out-of-the-way places, learning a bit about their history, and connecting to a larger community.

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