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Area historical commissions call on residents to save structure

Date: 3/3/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

SOUTHWICK -- Other options to save the Charles Gillett Cigar Factory, however far fetched, have surfaced throughout recent weeks.

If residents do not vote in favor of saving the historic structure with the appropriation of $300,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding at Special Town Meeting on March 16, a surrounding historical society may be able to help.

During an interview with Reminder Publications, Lester Smith, town historian and curator for the Suffield, Conn., Historical Society, said he will lobby for Suffield to retain the structure should Southwick fail to preserve it.

The best [scenario] would be to save the factory where it stands but that is not possible [due to the proposed demolition of the building in order to build a CVS], he said.

The CPA funding would be used to move the 137-year-old structure from 213 to 86 College Highway under the supervision of the Southwick Historical Society, where it will be turned into a museum.

Smith added that if the warrant article is voted down at Town Meeting, he will try to raise funds to move the structure to Suffield. He explained that scenario is doubtful, however.

Quite frankly, I don t want to compete with Southwick because it s a Southwick treasure, Smith said. Whether we could possibly raise the funds in such a short time [before the demolition] is doubtful.

Linda Wonson, president of the Southwick Historical Society, noted that many local historical commissions such as those in Agawam, Granby, Conn., and Westfield are lobbying for the town to preserve the structure.

Anybody who loves history and appreciates the value that this structure plays in this community would not want it bulldozed to the ground, she said. If we can t have it in this town where it rightly belongs, if you love and value the heritage, obviously it needs to be preserved [elsewhere].

Wonson noted that the Southwick Historical Society will host an informational meeting about the factory on March 12 at 7 p.m. at Red Riding Hood s Basket Restaurant, 108 Congamond Rd.

She explained that members of the society will explain the purpose of CPA funding and how it pertains to the Charles Gillett Cigar Factory and the society s goal to use the structure as a museum.

For information regarding the Southwick Historical Society or the upcoming meeting, call Wonson at 998-3018.