Memorial Beach Holiday Display Eludes Controversy  
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ed Patenaude So Iíve Heard


Letís go back a ways to see how Webster got religion, as claimed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union. A local Chamber of Commerce sponsored Christmas decorating programs in town for many decades, until costs caught up with the group.

James M. Hetherman, who died just weeks ago, took over the activity, using decorations donated by the Chamber. Mr. Hetherman, who was the townís parks director, promoted all kinds of attractions, even leasing live reindeer two or three times. A Nativity scene was always central to the town display.

Jimmyís ingenuity and drive brought a two-pronged approach to the program some years ago. Activities associated with the downtown were transferred to Memorial Beach and dubbed Winter Wonderland. Santa Claus met with the children, goodies were distributed, including hot cocoa and Christmas cookies. Displays were set up, horse-drawn wagon rides were available and a bonfire capped every evening.



Kevin Esposito, now director of town parks and cemeteries, revitalized Winter Wonderland this year, relying on volunteers and donations. It was a lot of work and the hope is to carry the program into next Christmas. As in recent years, the Nativity scene remained at Town Hall , maintained by volunteers.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Civil Liberties people apparently see town Christmas efforts as separate, with one for fun and the other a government endorsement of religion. If this is so, it happened because of a desire to make Christmas special for area children.

Such an indictment!

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Iíve been around long enough to remember when Horatio Nelson Slaterís East Village mansion, a big three-story dwelling with a porte cochere and stables, and surrounded by hillocks, was sacrificed to commerce.

It wasnít the only Slater property lost to the retail rush. Samuel Slaterís original Mount Zion farmhouse was torn down for a gasoline station, and two other dwellings were moved for storefronts. Samuel founded the Slater mills dynasty, and it prospered under Horatio Nelson, a grandson. The years also claimed other East Webster properties, and five buildings were demolished in the last year, including the first two cottages built on Slater at East Main Streets after World War II.

The Henri Brodeur home on East Main at Slater Streets has given way to a new building, Macís auto repairs and convenience store, and a new Taco Bell-Kentucky Fried Chicken has taken form on the former Andyís Restaurant and Emile Authier lots between Stoughton Avenue and the other corner to Slater Street. Also, work is moving along on an auto parts store at Racicot Avenue. Developers paid a reported $625,000 for side lots and the right to raze the cottages.

The parts place will sit across from Walgreenís, the newest of three pharmacy-plus buildings in that vicinity, which also has CVS and Rite Aid. This suggests that some lots along the east end of East Main Street are worth more than the dwellings that sit on them, and gives rise to speculation about nearby sections to Worcester Road and Thompson Road with access to Interstate 395.

Private money shouts this by the millions.

Cedar Shopping Centers of Port Washington, N.Y., posted a notice recently saying it had agreed to buy the Price Chopper Plaza on East Main Street for $17.75 million. Price Chopper, with a 58,545 square foot store, will add 6,500 square feet in retail space, the notice says.

Interestingly enough, the strip mall purchased by Cedar Shopping Centers is on the site of Horatio Nelson Slaterís one-time mansion, where retail life ignited in East Village with construction of a Nu-Way Supermarket.