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City Council to vote on future of Thomas Smith House

Date: 8/4/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM - The 18th century Thomas Smith House on North West Street stands structurally sound because of years of fundraising and dedication by the Agawam Historical Association. Additional funding is needed, however, to complete its preservation and finally open the house the public.

The Community Preservation Act (CPA) Committee has approved the appropriation of $100,000 for general contracting, electrical work, excavation and landscaping, masonry, tree removal and septic replacement at the Thomas Smith House. The City Council is currently reviewing the proposal and will vote on it at a future meeting.

"The house is one of the few, if [not] the only, original houses [in town] dating back to the 1700s and it's been completely untouched," Judith Anderson, project manager for the Historical Association, told Reminder Publications.

She added that minimal modernization of the structure - such as electricity, plumbing or heat - has been implemented since being built approximately 250 years ago. The Thomas Smith House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and is also included in the town's and the state's historical inventories.

"With this final grant [of CPA funds, it] will allow us to open the house to public," Anderson said. "This $100,000 will absolutely [complete the preservation so visitors may] know what it was like for someone to live in their own town before industrialization."

She added that upon completion, the Thomas Smith House will be open seasonally - there's no heat in the structure - for tours, cooking lessons on the open hearth and hands-on interaction with various artifacts.

"It's been a virtual time capsule," Anderson said of the structure's lack of modernization. "[The complete preservation of the house grants] the opportunity for the children and residents of the town to see the roots of the town with hands-on precision."

Louis Russo, vice chair of the CPA Committee, noted that at least 10 percent of CPA funds must be used annually for historical preservation. He added that the CPA has previously granted funds for the structural preservation of the Thomas Smith House.

"[One hundred thousand dollars] sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but every dime [of CPA funds] that we've ever recommended be spent has been totally scrutinized before it's sent to the [City] Council," Russo said. "The money that we've already put in [to the house] would be for naught [if the preservation is not completed]. This is protecting our previous investment in that house."

City Council Vice President Cecilia Calabrese said she plans to vote in favor of the CPA's recommendation for funding.

"That [preservation project], to me, is exactly the kind of a project that the CPA is in place to help fund," she said.

A majority vote of the City Council is needed to pass the resolution for funding and will take place at a future meeting.