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.