Looking Back at Irene: The Spruces

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The Spruces Mobile Home Park remains the most obvious — and disheartening — victim of Irene.

Some 300 people were forced to evacuate as the waters of the Hoosic River spilled over the banks into the low-lying park.  

Nearly two-thirds of the park's residences have been removed or abandoned, its mostly elderly population scattered.

Envisioned as a middle-class retirement community, it had become one of the few affordable areas in Williamstown as the cost of real estate rose exponentially around it.

The disaster has sparked greater efforts in Williamstown to find and promote affordable housing — including the creation of Higher Ground, which started as a loose group to help residents, and town meeting approval of an affordable housing trust.

But that can't replace lost homes, or memories.

Barbara Fisher, who lived with her late husband, David, on Emerald Lane  for 16 years, spoke of the good days when neighbors would get together and go for walks around the Spruces.  

"I would take David in his power chair. He had pulmonary fibrosis," she explained. He died on July 15, and his widow feels that the stress of losing their home hastened his death. "He was a worrier," she said, "and took it very hard."
 
After the Spruces flooded and the couple needed a place to stay, a friend took them in. But, "it's hard living in someone else's space," Fisher said.

It was on a shopping trip with a friend to Hillside House in Pownal, Vt., that she found a new home.

"We talked and laughed about how I was looking for furniture when I had no place to put it," said Fisher. "Becky Armstrong [one of the owners] came up to me and said, 'We have a house for rent next to the store.'"

"It's lovely and in a pretty location, but it just isn't the same as living in the Spruces," she said. "I miss the nice neighbors. We were a community."
 
Jean Plankey, a widow who lived alone in her mobile home on Nutmeg Street, considers herself "lucky" because her son from Florida was visiting her when Irene hit. 

"He got my car out before it was flooded. The water came from every direction. We were ankle deep when they boated us out," she recalled. "The first few days after the flood were horrendous. The first time they let us into our homes two or three days after we were evacuated, I only had to take one look to know it would not be inhabitable."

All that she was able to salvage were a few pictures and an address book.
 
Now Plankey is renting a two-level apartment in Pine Ridge Valley in North Adams.

"It's nice but I miss my home. I lived in the Spruces 20 years, and knew everyone. I still love the mobile home style of living, everything is on the flat, and that's especially good for good for senior citizens like me," she said. "Everyone I meet who used to live in the Spruces says they miss their home and neighbors

"If want a good cry all I have to do is look at my empty lot at the Spruces. It's as if no one ever lived there."
 
Tom Richards, 70, lived in his car or Good Samaritans until an apartment became available at Franklin Court in North Adams. A few months later, he moved to Rock Manor Mobile Home Park.

"It's half the size of the Spruces, and there is no pool or rec hall, only roads," he said. "But I like mobile home living, you get to meet people."
 
"What still hurts the most is missing the people I knew at the Spruces. What fun we had! A big group would meet near the pool at night," Richards said, and then added with a laugh. "We would make S'mores. In colder weather, we would meet at the recreation hall. In the library, there were recliners for us old-timers. I wanted to live at the Spruces for the rest of my life."

Despite the devastation he still sees signs of life at the park when he visits a friend there.
 
"A tree that I used to take care of on my lot on Nutmeg Street is coming back."

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Cultural Pittsfield This Week: July 12-18

Next Thursday, July 18 is 3rd Thursday: Food & Drink!
July's 3rd Thursday celebrates the city's cuisine, with more than a dozen food vendors popping up at the celebration, along with the two dozen brick-and-mortar restaurants that dot North Street. There will be almost 100 vendors in all! 
 
3rd Thursday's presenting sponsor, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, will be offering FREE snow cones at Palace Park. The Boy Scouts of America will be bringing its rock climbing wall, and Berkshire Yoga Dance & Fitness will offer FREE Zumba in Park Square. 
 
Entertainment will be provided by Berkshire Bateria, Jacob's Pillow and Music in Common, plus enjoy a sneak peak at Barrington Stage and Ragtag Theatre's  Hansel and Gretel and Berkshire Theatre Group's Shrek The Musical. 5-8 p.m.
CALLING ALL ARTISTS!
 
The Let's Go Pink Art Exhibition is a cancer awareness exhibit that will be on view at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield throughout October, 2019. The opening reception will be Friday, Oct. 4 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. as part of that month's First Friday Artswalk. A portion of all sales will benefit two local organizations: 20% of sales to BTG PLAYS!, 15% of sales to BMC Integrative Health Program's intuitive painting class for cancer patients, and the other 65% to the artist. Submissions will be accepted until Friday, Sept. 6. All artists will be notified of acceptance on or before Sept. 9. For more information, please email the Let's Go Pink 2019 team at auntsessy1@gmail.com.
  MUSIC & NIGHTLIFE
 
100 Years of Nat King ColeCelebrate the centennial birthday of the unforgettable Nat King Cole with timeless songs and intimate stories told and sung by two-time Grammy nominee Clint Holmes, accompanied by award-winning pianist and vibraphonist Christian Tamburr. Mr. Finn's Cabaret at Barrington Stage Company. 
Plus...  
FRI Blue Light Trio at Rainbow | FRI Hunks: The Show at The A | FRI Lita Williams at Hotel on North | FRI Karaoke Night at Friends | FRI Jessica Wilson at Rusty Anchor | SAT Food for Thought Dinner w/Simon Winchester at Hancock Shaker Village | SAT Rock 'n' Roll Dance Party at Polish Falcons | SAT Jason & Trev at J. Allen's | SAT Dan Gingras at Rusty Anchor | MON Berkshire Athenaeum Book Club at Hotel on North | MON Jazz Night at Mission | TUE Green Drinks at J. Allen's | WED Live on the Lake: Shyne at Onota Lake | WED Gruppo Mondo at Rainbow | THU Lady Di & The Dukes at Mazzeo's | THU Fabrizio & The Fever at Rainbow | THU The Picky B's at Mission
  FAMILY FRIENDLY

Explore the science of YOU during this annual celebration of science, invention and sensory fun! Explore the brain, transform into a germ, follow the life of a sneeze and more. Don't miss the grand finale at 7:15 p.m. Berkshire Museum. FREE, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
 
Plus...
FRI WeeMuse: Adventures at Berkshire Museum FRI Yoga for Kids at Berkshire Athenaeum FRI-THU Parenting Classes & Play Groups at Berkshire Children & Families | SAT Pop-up Play Day at Berkshire Museum | SAT Chow Time at Berkshire Museum SAT Designing with da Vinci at Berkshire Museum SAT Sensory-friendly Screening: Incredibles 2 at Berkshire Museum SAT da Vinci After Hours at Berkshire Museum SUN Discovery Tank Program at Berkshire Museum | MON Exploring Our World at Berkshire Museum MON Kindergarten Countdown at Berkshire Athenaeum MON Star Lab at Berkshire Athenaeum MON Stardust Cafe at Berkshire Athenaeum MON+ Learn to Code at Miss Hall's School TUE WeeMuse: Littlest Learners at Berkshire Museum TUE Designing with da Vinci at Berkshire Museum TUE Circus Minimus at Berkshire Athenaeum TUE Project SpaceCRAFT at Berkshire Athenaeum TUE Screening of Wall-E at Berkshire Athenaeum WED Little Gardeners of the Galaxy at Berkshire Athenaeum WED Solar System Paint & Snack at Berkshire Athenaeum WED Gallery Scavenger Hunts at Berkshire Museum THU Farm Friends at Hancock Shaker Village | THU Exploring Our World at Berkshire Museum THU Designing with da Vinci at Berkshire Museum THU Lego Lift Off at Berkshire Athenaeum THU Story Time at Berkshire Athenaeum
  WELLNESS
SAT Restorative Yoga w/Live Music at BYDF
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