Signs of the Times Abound in Webster  
Thursday, July 9, 2009

Add “Available” to the growing number of “For Sale,” “For Rent,” and “For Lease” signs in area storefronts, on commercial buildings (even a bank), on a couple of Cranston Print Works properties in East Village, and on just about everything caught in failure on Cudworth Road in Webster.

Home Depot added to its regional clout in recent times, placing one of its outlets in Oxford, just down the interstate from its place in Auburn, and Moore’s Lumber Yard and Building Center on Cudworth Road, just an exchange south of the new Home Depot in Oxford, folded its competitive tent. No one from Moore’s said anything about the overwhelming force of competition, but a sign on their Webster property at the approach to the Oxford Industrial Park says: “Available.”

The message is similar at the North Shore Recycled Fibers Webster plant on the same road, directly across from the Webster transfer station. “Available” paints recycling as a troubled industry.

The same line appears on signboards about the former Webster Lodge of Elks building, shuttered because of a significant dip in membership, and at the entrance to Goya Park, where a sign says a “Trucking Facility (is) Available.” The “A” word also introduces a realtor’s pitch for the Towne Paving Co. property, though there’s nothing to suggest the business is included.

Finally, there’s an old-fashioned “For Sale or Build to Suit” message on a parcel with a P & P General Contracting contact. Cudworth Road isn’t that long, maybe a mile and a half or so, but it is unique because it hooks to I-395 near both ends.

The pain in all of this extends from Cudworth to Route 16 and the three-way intersection with Routes 12 and 193. “Available” has been posted on the big Cranston Print Works Co. parking lot and a company owned dwelling in the intersection. The so-called “company house” provided guest accommodations for designers and buyers when “striking samples” was part of the sales process when Cranston was a commission printer. What’s depressing is a glance across to Cranston’s former production plant, and the likelihood that it, too, will probably be made “Available.” It wasn’t too long ago, it seems, that 700 workers kept print goods rolling around the clock!

Attendance wasn’t anything to shout about, but the Dudley Historical Commission deserves plaudits for the dignified and historically correct rededication June 28 of the town’s Revolutionary War, Civil War and Spanish-American War memorial on the Dudley Hill Common.

It was an impressive ceremony, what with participants in period dress for a repeat of the care that went into the original dedication 100 years ago. So, a salute to all who attended and participated in any way, and especially Historical Commission members Edward Bazinet (chairman), Joseph Antos, Michael Branniff, Robert Ducharme, and Raymond Stockley.

Dudley has lost all of its domestic automobile agencies in recent times, probably because they weren’t selling enough cars to satisfy Detroit sales quotas. Dodge was the last to go, and now there is none, discounting import tags.

There wasn’t a short-term outlet in the bunch, unless you go way back to 1947, when the late J. Otto Bayer tried to develop a Tucker Automobile agency, buying stock in the then new company, even building a specially designed garage with a service lift flush to the floor. It was an interesting story. Bayer Motors became the region’s Tucker agency, authorized to take orders for not-yet-built automobiles.

Company founder Preston Tucker had a car plant in Chicago, and the owner of his Dudley dealership decided to pay an unscheduled visit. Denied access, Mr. Bayer found a way to get into the factory. He discovered an empty building with chalk marks and painted lines showing where machinery was going to be placed.

Otto Bayer returned to his Dudley business, concentrated on the Pontiac and Cadillac vehicles he was selling, moved an American Motors line into the garage he built for Tucker, and subsequently added a tire center. This was recounted by one of his sons, John C. Bayer, after the Tucker Automobile story became a hit movie in 1988. It was about the man who was going to sell the finest, most luxurious motor car ever built.

Now, the former Bayer Motor properties are for sale, including the one where the agency was going to sell and service Tucker automobiles. J. Otto Bayer was an astute businessman. He may have been taken with Preston Tucker’s dream, but he was smart enough to build a bigger and better automobile business, one that became a three generations dealership once he saw the chalk and paint lines on the floor to Tucker’s Chicago auto plant.

Dudley native Marilyn (Dunham) Labbe, now of Moosup, Conn., spent days in the Manuscript Department at the New England Historical and Geneological Society in Boston some years ago, researching a gift for her hometown.

Ms. Labbe was at the Boston research center in the first place because of her interest in local history through membership in the Killingly Historical Society Inc., a well established group with its own Northeastern Connecticut research center in Killingly. “It’s become my second home,” Ms. Labbe said when she telephoned on a recent evening.

Ms. Labbe was looking into something else when she came across some very old copies of cemetery headstones in her hometown. It was an exciting find, she says. The information in the Boston research center was copied in the first place by a George Maynard, possibly before Dudley and Oxford were partitioned to form the town of Webster. This seems likely because the Maynard contribution includes “an old cemetery near the railroad on the west side of the lake,” meaning the little cemetery off Birch Island Road in Webster that people hereabouts have been talking about in recent months.

Ms. Labbe’s gift to Dudley was to copy the George Maynard manuscripts, and to leave them with the town clerk as keeper of municipal records. Her telephone message was to alert me to the Robinson family cemetery, now in Webster but originally within Dudley. The information confirms records researched by local historian Esther E. Stocklin, who found names of those buried in the old graveyard off the headstones, as copied for Lydia Slater by the late Ralph Hill in the early 1930s. Miss Slater’s mother was a Robinson.

Incidently, Ms. Labbe is currently involved with the Killingly Historical Society’s in-depth study of the Civil War, apparently as Northeastern Connecticut was involved.
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Telegram & Gazette

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