Opinion: Old People, New People

by | Jan 14, 2022

I’m always a bit amazed where some of Facebook threads lead. My recent zot there about EG real estate being sold by the cubic inch—post office boxes—developed a life of its own and a collateral thread about new people versus more established residents grew alongside.

Let me state my thoughts on the latter. I might have been one of the first to see the changing of the town as new people moved in. Especially below the Hill. I got into an argument with the kid who worked on the pink house on King Street. He took issue with an article I wrote in the Pendulum regarding new people buying houses and fixing them up but making them so expensive afterwards that the tenants couldn’t afford the rent. Yes, the Hollow and Harbor residents were being forced out of their long-time apartments by absentee landlords. 

It took a while but I eventually observed another side to the story. It wasn’t that people were being evicted, it was because the next generation had moved on and when mom and dad died, no one was ready to take over the house. So the foxes moved in. Mostly out-of-towners were investing in our real estate but it was a more logical progression. No one else was here to buy them when they came on the market.

What was happening became even clearer when the side of the Masonic Building at the corner of Church Street and Main, well, the brick north wall began to bulge out and the building was becoming unstable. There was an expensive repair required and the town government back then was more likely to knock it down and put in a parking lot. But it was propped up and stabilized at the expense of the residents, I guess. I don’t know if it’s rental apartments or condos. 

Then the steeple on St. Luke’s church started to list to starboard and became unstable. East Greenwich was falling apart and the generation that was supposed to prop it up, paint it, put in new windows, and fix the wiring, had moved to the plats or out of town completely.

Fact is, if new people were not willing to spend money to buy these old barns and make them livable in the present and for the future, we would have lost a lot more old buildings than we have.

Sure, we regret the old Town Hall, the OLOM church buildings, and some of the houses that added a bit of old-time “class antiquity,” if you will, even if they were a bit dilapidated. The town was old when we were young. It had been through the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War. There was no money around to fix them up. 

I hate the term Hill and Harbor. To me it’s the Hill, Hollows and Harbor and it’s usually been the Hollows that got seedy through neglect and lack of investment.

Our beloved old folks weren’t forced out, they died off. The next generation had moved on. What moved in were first speculators, absentee landlords who collected rents and put up cheap paneling to cover the horsehair plaster walls. Next came real people who liked the place, learned to love it, and they spent fortunes insulating walls, painting, remodeling, and installing better windows and, believe it or not, indoor plumbing—making them more livable than they were when we lived in them. The Hill, mostly. Finally came the vultures who want to raze everything still standing and build cookie-cutter condos over every inch of East Greenwich they can get their hands on… and every buyer needs a seller.

Sure we loved them the way they were, but we didn’t know any better. And when we finally found out, we’d moved on. The Historic District Commission held them off for a long time but now the foxes are in the henhouse and we have an invasive species of condominia taking over. 

It’s not new people versus the more established inhabitants, it’s the changing of the guard. Do as I do: delight in the past, in what we had. Feel bad it isn’t here any longer. What happened to this town was we outgrew it and now it has moved on. Life is funny that way.

Local curmudgeon Alan Clarke cares far more about East Greenwich than he lets on.

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10 Comments

  1. Donna RICE

    THANKS Alan.

    Well written, and you said it all. Now you know one of the reasons why we moved to Florida

    Cliff and Donna(Wilson)Rice

    Reply
  2. Mark Thompson

    “The town was old when we were young.” Wise column, Alan.

    Reply
  3. Pam Wingren

    This is a powerful essay! Thank you. I look at the old homes and buildings with wonder and awe at how spectacular they are. Daily as I pass them I wonder about the history behind the walls. This town is beautiful and full of history.

    Reply
  4. Marie Hennedy

    Amazing how fast the new people get old, too! In ’67 I read in long-time EG Librarian Martha McPartland’s History of EG that folks will listen to you, after about 35 years. Before I knew it we’d been on Marion Street for 52! And we’re all so blessed that the young family who bought our house not only love it but are giving it even more TLC.

    Reply
  5. camille speca

    As one who participated in the conversation on Facebook, I will reiterate the sentiment I hoped to express there. Simply put, many of the prior homeowners in town didn’t want to spend the time or money on fixing and repairing the buildings that were falling into disrepair. When I moved to EG from NYC nearly 20 years ago, Main Street was nothing like it is now, but slowly it became more vibrant with each new business and each new restaurant. Why did this occur? Because people invested their time and money here. Every single home on my block has been renovated, and most of the homeowners are non-natives. They (we) have put our time and our money into preserving these homes and investing in the community. Why all the animosity from the locals? Don’t begrudge those that stepped up to the plate and helped to make EG the desirable place it is today when many other decided to sell or move away.

    Reply
    • Christopher J Lamendola

      Camille, I think you take Alan’s perspective much too personally. Sometimes change is good and sometimes change is not in the best interest of a Town. I have to agree with Alan that sometimes overbuilding and allowing every postage stamp to be built on is not in the best interest of a Town with such historic relevance. Many families can’t afford to live in the town their families grew up in. It starts with good leadership and understanding of the history of East Greenwich which I believe Alan was being sentimental and giving a “little” perspective. Some call him a “curmudgeon”. If you think EG being the restaurant and entertainment capital of RI is great, so be it. It’s your right to have your opinion. Don’t begrudge those who have a different perspective, it’s not attractive.

      As to investing your time and money into your and your neighbor’s home is fantastic. You speak of “community” and putting your and others hard-earned money into stepping up to the plate and help EG become desirable. Residents looking after residents. I know a few residents who decided to live in EG and step up to the plate, invest in their community, invest their life savings to live here to only have their homes destroyed while the politicians were defrauded, made aware, close their eyes and refuse to do anything about it. The “community” and politicians are silent! You call EG a “community” but I will take Alan’s perspective over yours any day of the week. I actually respect his perspective over your “vibrant” comment any day of the week. I believe you should feel fortunate!

      Reply
      • camille speca

        Chris, change is inevitable, like it or not.

        Reply
  6. James Gorham

    Forgive my ignorance, but what is the “Hollows”? This article is the first time I ran into that term.

    Reply
    • Alan Clarke

      Well there are two hollows between Main Street and the railroad tracks, Chicken Hollow and McGiveney’s Hollow. To people who grew up in East Greenwich these two historic districts have special significance. Chicken Hollow is the area that you are most familiar with because it takes in the former Tar Tar Ucci building, recently razed, and the former Fischell residence. McGiveney’s Hollow is the large hole between Union and Bridge Streets along Marlborough Street. It is the reason that one cannot drive Marlborough Street from Division Street to Rocky Hollow Road unless in a Jeep or ATV. Oh yeah, Rocky Hollow is another hollow in the district so it’s three hollows. I forgot that one. I know I have the support of many old-timers who considered themselves left out of the loop when the village area was named The Hill and Harbor District. They said “What are we in the hollows, not part of this town??” There is a lot of area east of Main Street not considered the Harbor.

      Reply
  7. EG native

    Actually Camille Speca East Greenwich was definitely definitely definitely much more of “A COMMUNITY “ 20 years ago 30 years ago and 40 years ago and so on !!! Main Street was just as vibrant then in my opinion even more so than it is now !!!

    Reply

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