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: Aug. 2-8

Enjoy 18 different art shows featuring work by more than two dozen accomplished regional and student artists in Pittsfield's bustling Upstreet Cultural District during the First Friday Artswalk and all month long! 
 
In most venues, artists will be present from 5-8 p.m. A free guided tour begins at 5 p.m. at the Intermodal Center @ BRTA, 1 Columbus Ave.
 
The Lichtenstein Center for the Arts will host HAPPY, an abstract art show by Jesse Tobin McCauley for the month of August. There will be an opening reception during First Fridays Artswalk from 5-8 p.m. The exhibit runs through August 31.
 
Kids and teens, pick up the August 2nd Scavenger Hunt flyer for a chance to win a prize! Grab yours at the Artswalk table in Crawford Square, 137 North St., during the Artswalk or print one from the website.
  MUSIC & NIGHTLIFE
Berkshires Jazz brings five of the most popular regional bands to the stage for the 2019 Berkshire Jazz Showcase, on the Pittsfield Common from 12-5 p.m. The wide-ranging lineup for this jazz extravaganza includes Gina Coleman and Misty Blues, Paul Green and Two Worlds, Andy Wrba's Berkshire Jazz Collective,
First Take with Mary Ann Palermo and the Kyle Murray Quintet. FREE.
Hancock Shaker Village welcomes Berkshire Opera Festival as they pay homage to American opera by composers such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Carlisle Floyd. The recital, "Ain't it a Pretty Night," will feature soprano Caroline Worra, tenor John Riesen and pianist Lynn Baker will explore this essential part of the musical fabric of our country. 7:30 p.m. $18-$25.
Plus...  
FRI WordXWord Festival: Crosstalk at Tyler Street Lab | FRI Grahm Sturz at Hotel on North FRI Blue Light Trio at Rainbow | FRI Anthony Luchi at Rusty Anchor | FRI Sawyer Country at Proprietor's Lodge | FRI Karaoke Night at Friends | SAT WordXWord Festival: Accomplice[d] at Berkshire Museum | SAT Orin Swift Cellars Wine Tasting at Hotel on North | SAT Melissa Brinton at Rusty Anchor | SAT Jason & Trev at J. Allen's | SAT Uncensored Comedy Show at Uncorked | SUN Country Dance w/Spurs USA at Italian American Club | SUN-MON Marilyn Maye at Barrington Stage | MON Jazz Night at Mission | TUE Wintergreen at Springside Park | TUE Open Mic Night at O'Laughlin's | WED Live on the Lake: Generation X at Onota Lake | WED Gruppo Mondo at Rainbow | THU Deja Again at Mazzeo's | THU Abandoned Building Brewery Beer Dinner at Hotel on North | THU The Picky B's at Mission
  FAMILY FRIENDLY

Based on the Oscar-winning DreamWorks animated film, Shrek The Musical is a Tony Award-winning fairytale adventure featuring all new songs from Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie) and a side-splitting book by David Lindsay-Abaire. Shrek brings all the beloved characters you know from the film to the stage and proves there's more to the story than meets the ears. The Colonial Theatre through August 9. $35 and up.
 
Plus...
ONGOING Hansel & Gretel at Berkshire Museum FRI WeeMuse: Adventures at Berkshire Museum FRI Designing with da Vinci at Berkshire Museum FRI Yoga for Kids at Berkshire Athenaeum FRI-THU Parenting Classes & Play Groups at 18 Degrees (formerly Berkshire Children & Families) SAT WeeMuse: Art Lab at Berkshire Museum SAT Health & Wellness Fair at 18 Degrees (formerly Berkshire Children & Families) SAT Chow Time at Berkshire Museum SAT Designing with da Vinci at Berkshire Museum SAT Child & Family Yoga at Onota Lake 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 Cones with a Cop on The Common MON Stardust Cafe at Berkshire Athenaeum MON Swan Lake Dance Intensive at Cantarella School of Dance MON Auditions for Magic Tree House Kids at The Colonial MON+ KidsAct! at Barrington Stage TUE WeeMuse: Littlest Learners at Berkshire Museum TUE Designing with da Vinci at Berkshire Museum TUE Princess Songs & Popsicle Party at The Whitney TUE Project SpaceCRAFT: Planet Pinch Pots at Be TUE Screening of Monsters vs Aliens at Berkshire Athenaeum WED Little Gardeners of the Galaxy at Berkshire Athenaeum WED Uncharted Wild Animal Show at Berkshire Athenaeum WED Tie Dye on the Terrace at Berkshire Athenaeum | WED Creative Healing Workshop w/Funky Phoenix 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 Story Time at Berkshire Athenaeum THU Lego Lift Off at Berkshire Athenaeum
  WELLNESS
SAT Outdoor Yoga & Zumba at Onota Lake
 
Join Rachael from Berkshire Yoga Dance & Fitness every 1st and 3rd Saturday (June through August) for outdoor yoga and Zumba classes at Burbank Park on Onota Lake. Yoga begins at 9 a.m. and Zumba at 10:15 a.m. Come to one class or both! $10 suggested donation per class. Rain cancels.
Plus...
FRI-THU Various Classes at Berkshire Running Center | FRI-THU Various Classes at Berkshire Family YMCA | FRI-THU Various Classes at Berkshire Yoga Dance & Fitness FRI-THU Various Classes at Radiance Yoga | FRI-THU Various Classes at Berkshire Salsa FRI-THU Various Classes at Pilates Fit | SAT Sunrise Yoga on the Deck at Rusty Anchor | SUN Guido's Great 8 Road Race | TUE Summer Fit Training at Berkshire Yoga Dance & Fitness | THU Outdoor Yoga at Onota Lake
  PERFORMANCE
ONGOING If I Forget at Barrington Stage
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