Undiscovered no more
With a new highway, tiny Plympton is facing big changes
Plympton is the smallest town in Plymouth County, so small it has only one traffic light. Residents say it is an undiscovered gem, a place rich in forests, cranberry bogs, and horse farms.
Still, most folks welcomed the relocated section of Route 44 that opened about two years ago. What they didn't count on was how the highway would make Plympton more accessible for criminals as well as new businesses.
The town recently had its first armed robbery in two decades. And home burglaries - while still low by any standard - are on the rise, said Matthew M. Clancy, police chief in the town of about 2,700 people.
With seven home burglaries in just the first two months of this year, the number of burglaries is way ahead of the average rate of the past three years.
On the plus side, a soon-to-be-built industrial park off Route 44 is expected to pump much-needed commercial tax dollars into town coffers. Other businesses may follow.
All told, Plympton is a study in the tradeoffs that accompany progress.
And residents had better brace themselves for more of the same, said Peter Forman, president of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. It's inevita ble whenever a somewhat-isolated area gets train lines or a new road.
"Plympton will grab a lot of people's attention," he said. "They need to be prepared."
Before the highway opened, Plympton was an inland island, a sleepy town stuck in the hard-to-reach middle of a triangle bordered by routes 3 and 24 and Interstate 495. It was hard to get there and, once there, hard to get to main highways.
But then, in December 2005, the last section of Route 44 was completed. The four-lane, limited-access highway connected Route 3 and I-495 and turned a slow trip to Route 3 into a snap.
The highway - along with nearby commuter-rail stations that opened a decade ago and the possibility of a casino in neighboring Middleborough - make some uneasy about what the future holds.
Ask customers inside the five-table Village Cafe, the town's Main Street restaurant (steak bombs, $7.25) about the future, especially about the possibility of a casino, and the worry is evident. To them, the highway makes a casino more likely in the region.
"That highway is a wakeup call to us," said Gail Briggs, a horse farm owner and member of the Open Space Committee.
"Plympton is one-of-a-kind, a gem," she said. "My family was all from Hanover, which was Plympton 30 years ago." Now Hanover "is on the verge of becoming Quincy."
While residents applauded the commercial prospects the highway may bring, they also worried about growth and damage to the environment in a town in which all residents still get their water from wells.
The town is nice the way it is, said Jean Fries, owner of the cafe. And look what happened to other nice communities on busy roads, she said.
"Plymouth is practically a city," she said. "We don't need to get big."
Gayle Peck, a real estate agent with Compass Realty, predicted that the new road will boost residential sales - a good thing, in her view. "Plympton will only grow," she said, citing the town's "feel of yesteryear" and the tight-knit community.
As the town changes, Clancy, who has been with the Police Department since 2003, wants to reorganize the department, which has been operating the same way for decades.
Over the next five years, he wants to add four patrolmen to the six full-time officers he now has, and create positions for one sergeant and two corporals. Currently, he is the only ranking officer.
There is some resistance, a sense that such expansion is not needed.
"People want to compare us to Western Massachusetts towns to judge the size of the department for our needs, but we are surrounded by suburbia," Clancy said. "The growth in surrounding towns is significant."
Route 44 opened up the town to criminals from communities along Route 3. Before it opened, Clancy said, he never dealt with the Marshfield police. "Now I've done it four or five times in the past years," following leads on burglaries and drug crimes.
"The sky hasn't fallen. This hasn't turned into the OK Corral," he said. But more crimes mean the officers spend more time on investigations and less time on more routine police work, such as traffic enforcement, he said.
"We aren't providing the type of service we should be providing in a small town."
Love or hate the new Route 44, there is no going back. It already has changed the patterns of commerce.
Selectman John Henry said he now shops more at new stores in Plymouth. "Personally, I find it very convenient," he said. He also noted the road means less local traffic, as cars leave the secondary roads for the highway.
Henry said life in town should not change much - unless a casino is built in Middleborough. That will mean increased traffic and strains on the school system; and, if critics are correct, the need to employ some of the additional police staff that Clancy envisions.
Matt Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.