, Recorder Article: Saving Heath’s historic district
By DEL VIARENGO
Published: 5/4/2019 1:33:20 PMI understand that there is some consideration of destroying the Heath Town Center by moving all town activities now situated in Sawyer and Community Halls, to the vacant former elementary school building on Jacobs Road — a pastoral but isolated spot several miles north of Heath Center. I think that this evacuation of the historic center would cost current and future Heathans a sense of how precious gathering around a New England village green can be.
In 2004, when I was chair of the Heath Historical Commission, we began the process of applying for Heath Town Center to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. Considerable work ensued to document the history of each building.
Since the late 1700s Heath Center was established as a civic focus. Arthur Krim, on behalf of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, visited Heath, and wrote, “Heath Center emerges as a classic New England village of the Federal period.” Speaking of our founders, he says, “Though modest, they did create a city on the hill during a period of prosperity between 1785 and 1835 … fortunately the town common has been preserved in near original setting as a white clapboarded village green.”
About 100 Heath residents and visitors came together on the Town Common on July 26, 2008, to celebrate the inclusion of Heath Center in the National Register of Historic Places, a distinctive honor.
In a brief talk that opened the festivities, Heath’s own Professor Michael Coe stressed the importance of stewardship: nourishing our architectural, cultural, and historical heritages. Jointly sponsored by the Heath Historical Commission and the Heath Historical Society and organized by all of their members, the celebration was planned as an ice cream social which included Heath Bar crunch. The owners of the 29 properties included in the district received certificates.
My successor, Margaret Freeman, arranged for placement of the signs on each village road that indicate the boundaries of the district.
If the Sawyer Hall and the Community Hall are abandoned and the town offices are moved elsewhere, we will leave behind our remaining historic structures, the Old Town House, our one room school, the Heath Union Church, the Veterans’ Memorial, the homes, and the Village Green as forlorn witnesses a tragic cultural decision to destroy Heath’s heritage.
I urge my fellow citizens to weigh this significant, intangible cost versus perceived, but in my mind, questionable benefits.
Thank you for your consideration.
Del Viarengo has lived in Heath since 1990, is a painter, and has served on the Heath Cultural Council as well as serving for eleven years as chair of the Heath Historical Commission.