Former Spruces Resident Gets Assist in Home Demo
Arthur Smith of North Adams and formerly of Williamstown's Spruces Mobile Home Park, left, meets with Williams College alumni who on Saturday helped him dismantle his former home. See more photos here.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Arthur Smith can tell you some stories, but he is not the kind of person to dwell on the past.
Smith, 85, spent six good years as a resident of the Spruces Mobile Home Park. On Saturday afternoon, he said a final goodbye to his home on Riverside Drive with a big assist from volunteers from Williams College alumni in town for the school's Reunion Weekend.
Like scores of other residents of the park, Arthur and Mary Smith left the Spruces shortly after 2011's Tropical Storm Irene, the straw that broke the camel's back at the flood-prone park.
"I bought this place in March of 2005," said Smith, a retired printer who moved to Williamstown from Dalton. "It was in terrible condition, so I went through the whole place, replacing windows and doors and everything else. My wife I and I didn't move in until September of 2005. That's a long time, but I wanted it right.
"Then we were only here about five weeks when there was a flood, and they made us vacate the property. And we had to go to the school and spend the night at the school.
"That was a preview of things to come."
Smith and his wife bought a North Adams duplex for themselves and Smith's sister, who also lived at the Spruces. The moved within weeks of Irene and ended up in a house that needed even more work than the home they left.
"I paid cash for the house, but then with everything was wrong with it, so I got a [$30,000] home equity loan from [Adams Community Bank]," Smith said. "When you're 80 years old, it's a little difficult to go to the bank and try to get a 30-year mortgage. They look at you and start laughing.
"When I say the house needed repairs -- the furnaces, the plumbing, the electrical. I had to have a whole new entrance put in. It goes on and on and on. ... But it was a good house that had good bones. My father was a builder, so I knew the structure was good. I bought the place at a low price, and I've probably spent close to $50,000 on it now, but it's beautiful."
Talk to Smith a while, and you might think he would start thinking he had bad luck where housing was concerned. But you would be hard-pressed to find someone with a more positive outlook on life.
"If you cry about everything that's ever happened unhappily in your life, it can make you sick," Smith said. "Think positive. Always think positive. No matter what happens to you, think there's going to be something better.
"It's good for your health. That's why I've lived this long."
Some of that positive energy was returned on Saturday as perfect strangers showed up by the carload to help dismantle Smith's house, which, like all the others in the park, must be removed as the town gets ready to close the Spruces and return the land to its natural state under the terms of a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.
The Spruces cleanup was one of three community services projects being held Saturday afternoon in conjunction with the reunion.
Williams alumni also performed cleanup work along the Hoosic River and sorted donations that came in under the college's end-of-the-school year "Give It Up" donation drive.
The work at Smith's house was conducted under the direction of Paul Austin, the president and project manager for Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.
Austin said demolition work is not totally outside the norm for Habitat, which is better known for its construction work. Just a few years ago, the nonprofit gutted a Main Street home in Williamstown that now is completely restored, and it currently is working on a restoration in North Adams.
Austin said Saturday's project was spearheaded by Higher Ground, the nonprofit started by local churches in the immediate aftermath of Irene to assist residents impacted by the storm, including everyone at the Spruces.
Smith's house was a dry run that may be replicated to help other park residents tear down their homes to comply with the order to vacate, Austin said.
The end of the park saddens Smith, who called the Spruces a "tight-knit" community.
At one time, he knew everyone in the park. And they knew him as the bicycle guy who would ride four times a day throughout the park.
The local newspaper did a story about him when he logged 5,000 miles on his "one-speed, retro" bike, and it was preparing to do a second story on him when he hit 8,000. But Irene got in the way of that milestone.
"There was a family down here on one of the corners who had a beautiful garden, a vegetable garden," Smith said. "I'd be riding through the park, and I'd go past, and the man would be standing there holding a bag for me -- maybe squash, maybe tomatoes. It was nice."
Looking at the shell of the house he put so much time and effort and money into, Smith was wistful for a moment, but then instantly pivoted to the bright side.
"It's like losing an old friend, really," he said.
"Today is my last responsibility on this place. When they finish up today, I have no busienss over here. I'm really retired."
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