Around Amherst: Grant will help assess accessibility for historic Strong House

The Amherst Historical Society's Simeon Strong House, at 67 Amity St.

The Amherst Historical Society's Simeon Strong House, at 67 Amity St. JOHN PHELAN/VIA WIKIPEDIA

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-20-2024 3:47 PM

AMHERST — A $30,000 Cultural Facilities Fund grant is going to the Amherst Historical Society to create an access plan and conditions assessment for the 1750s Simeon Strong House at 67 Amity St.

The Historical Society, aiming to make one of the oldest homes in town more accessible, was among 88 recipients across the state to receive grants this year from the program, a collaboration between the Massachusetts Cultural Council and MassDevelopment.

“This grant from the Cultural Facilities Fund of the Massachusetts Cultural Council is a welcome supplement to funding from the town for this critically important step in maintaining the Simeon Strong House for the future and to making it accessible to all visitors,” Gigi Barnhill, president of the Society, said in a statement.

The museum houses the collection of the Amherst Historical Society, with more than 7,000 items, including an original Emily Dickinson white dress worn by the poet, and currently has on display the Cambodians in Amherst exhibit.

The age of the house, built in a Georgian style by Nehmiah Strong, continues to present challenges for full accessibility and viewing of objects in the collection. In addition, the will of Sarah Emerson, who left the home to the society in 1916, stipulated no changes be made, and her second floor bedroom remains as it was the day she died.

The society previously got money from the town’s Community Preservation Act account to do a structural conditions report and an accessibility plan. The additional grant from the state will be part of the next step in making the first floor of the building fully accessible, while respecting the history of the house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Historical Society is working with Kuhn Riddle Architects on these plans.

Demolitions approved

A mostly underground, entirely concrete structure in the woods at 107 Blue Hills Road, believed to be associated with early to mid-20th-century agriculture, can be demolished and not preferably preserved.

While members of the Historical Commission, including Chairwoman Robin Fordham, said there is probably something historically significant about the building, the mysteries of its origins and use remain.

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Fordham said the concrete floor, walls and roof make it look more like a commercial root cellar, rather than one used for a home. “It’s a curious structure,” Fordham said.

Any barns, fruit stands and other remnants of agriculture have largely disappeared from Blue Hills and Northampton roads, though were likely prevalent a century ago.

Commission member Hetty Startup said “it could have an intriguing story,” but if it was just a root cellar for families, there are questions why there is a cupola on top of a buried building.

“I’m struggling with that notion that it’s totally an unknown structure,” said commission member Pat Auth, observing that no one seems to know when it was built, who owned it and what its purpose was.

Homeowner Aliciamarie Hansen said she and others went to special collections at Jones Library, examined deeds and property taxes, and couldn’t uncover its origins. She said the building is unsafe for children and pets that may be in the yard, and she’d like the removal expedited.

Senior Planner Nate Malloy said it would be great to have more information, such as when it was built and the farm it belonged to, but that could be challenging since the agricultural history for farms off Northampton Road is limited.

The commission also gave developer Joel Greenbaum the right to knock down the home at 68 McClellan St., to be replaced with a colonial reproduction designed by Kuhn Riddle. He said the worker cottage is from a previous era and is “pretty far gone.”

“I like fixing up old houses — I’d rather fix up an old house and turn junk into something nice than build new,” Greenbaum said.

Paint stewardship

A resolution adopted by the Town Council is supporting state legislation that would reduce toxic waste going into landfills by through so-called paint stewardship.

The idea of is to ensure paint recycling, with the that legislators should “take whatever actions are necessary to pass the Paint Stewardship bills into law, including voting favorably out of any and all committees.”

Farm stand approved

Because it will be in the town’s right of way at 822 East Pleasant St., a new wooden farm stand, 5 feet wide by 12 feet long with a shingled roof and solar panel, is getting approval from the Town Council.

Eli Meir is doing business as Carrot Corner Farm and will have the structure out in spring, summer and fall, with a solar panel to provide electricity to a small refrigerator inside it. In addition to the farm stand, there would be an accompanying handmade wooden sign next to a parking space for it.

The structure will be rolled away for storage in the winter months.

Farewell for fire chief

Retiring Fire Chief Tim Nelson will be feted by town officials, Fire Department staff and community members, and colleagues from the Civil Air Patrol on Friday at 4 p.m. at Courtyard Marriott, 423 Russell St., Hadley. Light refreshments will be served.

Then, at 6 p.m., a “toast and roast” for Nelson will take place at The Amherst Public House, 40 University Drive. RSVPs for both events can be made on the town’s website.

More openness

Amherst resident Ken Rosenthal recently told the Town Council that it should allow all Zoom participants to be seen and identified by the public, which would likely cut down on the amount of time dedicated to public comment, since people would know if they might say the same thing as someone else.

“This is not impractical, it’s done in many places,” he said.

Meetings

MONDAY: Town Council, 6:30 p.m., Town Room.

WEDNESDAY: Planning Board, 6:30 p.m.