Partisan committees are fresh start in Webster  
Friday, March 30, 2012

WEBSTER ¡X Write-in candidates were named to a 10-member Webster Democratic Town Committee during the presidential preference primaries March 6.

Donald Bourque, a candidate for state representative, led the field with 14 tallies. Others named were Matthew Fitton, 10 votes; Sean Collins, 9; Francis Carbonneau, Nancie Zacco, Mark Dowgiewicz and Todd Zuidema, each with 8 votes; and Ann O'Connell, Lisa Fitton and Deborah Keefe, each with 7 votes.

The new panel seems to have a Democrat Bourque for 18th Worcester District state representative line to it.

Now, the group has to file organizational information with the state office of campaign and political finance, the state elections division, the town clerk and the state Democratic party. Then the group will have legal status. Webster had political town committees, both Democrat or their predecessors, and Republican from times after the Civil War, but partisan policies withered in recent times.

The party of 10 registered Democrats is a new beginning.

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Research into the March 4 fire that damaged the so-called Howard mansion on School Street in Webster shows that the property had varied uses over more than 100 years.

Prentiss Howard, a native of Westport, N.Y., was treasurer of the Chase Woolen Mills in Dudley's Chaseville village for probably 20 years before John T. Chase, owner of the mill, died in January 1898.

The industry was acquired by the American Woolen Co., and Mr. Howard became the agent in charge of the mill.

He decided to build a new home shortly after assuming his new duties, purchasing a lot on School Street, and engaging architect John F. Kilgore of Worcester and local contractor Emory W. Towne to build the colonial-style mansion. Occupancy was in 1900, and it was said to be ¡§one of the most attractive homes in Webster.¡¨

The dwelling featured a third-floor billiards hall, within a specially fashioned roof line, reflecting one of Mr. Howard's interests. He was also a great lover of horses, said a report published when the mansion was first occupied. His stable at the rear of the dwelling had all the latest conveniences of the time for the care and treatment of horses.

The Webster Lodge of Elks was a subsequent owner of the property, and the stables were enlarged and modernized, creating a meeting hall. A kitchen was added, giving the organization facilities to accommodate large crowds. A bar and lounge was installed in the basement of the main house and connected to the hall by an enclosed walkway.

The Elks Hall was used quite frequently as a Red Cross blood collection center, often on a monthly basis. The late Arthur La Brie, a Cushman's bakery route manager, brought the
Elks and the Red Cross together. It was a highly successful program.

The building was also used as an emergency dining facility during the flood that inundated large sections of the town in August 1955, and meals were served three times a day for a couple of weeks or so and managed by one of the flood victims. YD-Restaurant on Lower Main Street was closed by the rising waters, and chef Jimmy Muzea went from meals for paying customers to free meals for people left homeless by the flood.

The property had earlier served as a funeral home and as a medical suite. The Elks probably had occupancy of the mansion longer than anyone. It was developed for housing units in recent times.

While the fire caused significant damage, superior construction helped contain the loss, and firefighters from the several towns that fought the blaze were credited with a ¡§good stop,¡¨ according to Webster Fire Chief Brian Hickey.

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The late Edmund Spahl installed a sign reading Ed Spahl & Son on the Thompson Road garage that he ran with his late wife, Rose, when their son, Richard Spahl, was born in the 1930s.

It was a prophetic piece of signage, delayed by Richard's growing up and automotive training years, but it flowered as young Richard worked with his parents in developing and ultimately running the garage on the corner of Lake Parkway.

The sign never changed: The business was ¡§Ed Spahl & Son¡¨ until Mr. Spahl retired at the end of 2011, the sole owner of the garage, and it's still there.

Change was constant, annual with different improvements in automotive offerings. It was one of the things that kept Mr. Spahl in frequent attendance at automotive schools. The garage also changed, but the real change was in its surroundings. ¡§Everything went by the garage at some time or another,¡¨ he said, ¡§even military convoys and railroad trains.¡¨

The train's a stumper because there aren't many people hereabouts that remember when a railroad with service to Providence and other places curled from downtown to North Village, and ran behind East Main Street and cross lots to Thompson Road.

The freight and infrequent passenger service cut behind Beacon Park and an undeveloped area at Union Point, making visibility a long up and down the road matter from the Ed Spahl & Son garage. Interstate Highways, motels, lake developments, other garages and other businesses came along to make most of the Richard Spahl years a ¡§small window¡¨ to the outside.

His long range view allowed visibility to areas off of Route 16.

¡§They built an 800-foot (communications) tower up there, and I didn't know it,¡¨ says Richard. ¡§Then, when the signals came on, I drove up there to see what I had missed.¡¨

The garage has only been closed for three months, but Richard Spahl still unlocks the garage most Saturday mornings: ¡§The guys still bring coffee and have a discussion.¡¨
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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