Cranston as Commercial Site  
Thursday, August 18, 2011

Proposed plans for East Village Square, a shopping center at the shuttered Cranston Print Works Co. plant in East Webster, sit on a display easel in the Webster Planning Board’s Town Hall office.

This confirms that things are in process. Last I knew, the Conservation Commission had an inspection scheduled, probably because the major outlet to Webster Lake runs through the factory, feeding Mill Brook and the French River.

The neatly drawn plans show four commercial properties, including one large enough for a supermarket or a box store, and something like 300 parking spaces. There’s a strong appeal to history, with the town’s tie to Samuel Slater’s Green Mill, the first in the United States, at an anchor point in the Routes 12, 16 and 193 intersection.

Access to Interstate 395, right behind the Cranston property, is the incentive to commercial development. Cranston, as a cloth-printing plant with a number of subsidiaries, including a trucking company, has been one of Webster’s corporate greats since 1936.

The move to commercial activity shouldn’t change its standing.

There was a time when the Webster Times’ corporate address read Webster and the newspaper was published from a hot lead shop behind the Vito Block on Main Street.

This was probably four decades ago. The newspaper got separated from its printing business to eventually become an element in the weekly chain developed by the Southbridge Evening News, and the printing shop was converted for apartments. The housing was probably OK, but it didn’t provide the best view in town.

The apartments went down the tubes with the Vito and Kindler blocks. The buildings were condemned by the town and will be torn down to create space for Webster’s new police station.

An environmental problem blocked the sale of the properties. The old print shop had two stories, with an overhang to the printing press and stereotype room at the back of the building.

A stairwell from the second-floor composing room divided to a pair of asbestos-clad melting pots. One reclaimed the lead slugs produced by the print shop’s five linotype machines, and the other provided a flow of lead for the page forms attached to its tubular press.

Frankly, I suspected that remains from lead shards had worked their way into the subflooring, creating a minor environmental irritant, but no, there was a fair-size oil spill in the same general area, said town zoning agent Theodore Tetreault. He described it as about a 4-foot circle.

The back-end overhang was removed to open access for the heavy machinery required to remove the imbedded spill. The source could have been an auto repair shop run between printing and apartments or could have occurred during dismantling of the old printing press. It doesn’t matter. Demolition of the downtown properties might actually be under way by now, meaning a timely start to the town’s new police station.

“This will be my final comment about Freddy Cozzens,” Charlotte Brisbois said in a recent e-mail from her new home in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Unfortunately, I was away for the better part of a week and misfiled Ms. Brisbois’ thoughts. “How many remember having their ice skates sharpened by him in the shed next to his house on Eddy Street for 10 or 15 cents?” she asked. “Freddy could cut a sharp figure on skates down at the lake, at the pumping station.”

The late Mr. Cozzens ran a live shiners (bait) shop for years and became the “who” to identity of the shop owner. The question floated through this corner for several weeks.

Ironically, Francis “Lolly” Walkowiak, once Webster’s DPW director, mentioned skate-sharpening in his response to the bait sales line. Like Ms. Brisbois, he said Mr. Cozzens cut a sharp figure on ice skates.

In regard to our recent poll tax discussion comes Jay Lamy of the Melbourne, Fla., area, once a newsman with the Webster Times and editor of another newspaper.

Says he: “I never paid one, but I distinctly recall hearing about the poll tax years ago. I was a Dudley kid at the time, so my recollections may not jibe with those of Webster residents, if your assumption of the tax as a local option is correct. But, I saw poll tax bills, heard about it in school, and maybe even got sent to the town hall to fork over the cash, just like Don Wayman did. As a matter of fact I distinctly recall (dimly, to be sure) an article in the (Webster) Times which well may have been written by you, yourself around the time of the passage of the Twenty-fourth Amendment in 1964, which banned the tax.

“The amendment was part and parcel of the Civil Rights Era, you may recall. The tax was widely regarded as a device to suppress the Black vote in the south.

“The article was in an interview with a local tax collector (it must have been Billy Zajac) in which he mentioned the elimination of the poll tax would cause the town no harm because the tax cost more to collect than it brought in. The reason I recall it (I would have been 15 at the time) is that even at that age I thought it was really dumb. Why the hell collect a tax if you’re losing money on it?”

Allowing the academic year that Jerry Fels served as acting president of Nichols College, Debra Townsley, the outgoing president, has already served a year as president of Peace College in Raleigh, N.C., and it’s been a rough 12 months, judging from reports.

Let’s pick up from a story published a couple of weeks ago in a Raleigh daily: “Some alumnae and students at Peace College in Raleigh said they are suspending or canceling donations to the school in light of the administration’s decision to change the college name and admit male students next year.” My interpretation says next month.

A photograph shows the school’s new identity: “William Peace University.” The reason for the move seems simple: Need. Continuing strictly as a women’s college isn’t economically feasible, says a “why” graph with comments by Ms. Townsley.

This isn’t to suggest anything because I haven’t any depth on the Raleigh situation. However, we know that Ms. Townsley had a nice run as president at Nichols College.

So, to do a current events, Mr. Fels, the retired CEO and president of the Commerce Insurance Group, Mapfre, deserves plaudits for the job that he turned in at Nichols.

Also, let’s offer a hearty welcome to Ms. Susan West Engelkemeyer, the seventh president of Nichols College and recent dean of the business school at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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