Affordable Chicopee features blend of historic, high tech
By Teri Borseti, Globe Correspondent, 2/12/2000
At Landry, Lyons, Stearns & Yerrall Better Homes And Gardens Real Estate in the center of town, Dan Sheehy has been selling everything from big, old Victorians to duplexes and condos for the past five years. He said that because of the area's affordable prices, he's constantly busy.
"A lot of people who live here commute to work in Hartford, Conn., which is about a 25-minute ride. Quite a few others work in either Chicopee or Springfield. Chicopee is also in good proximity to the Mass. Pike," he said.
Most of Chicopee's 23.91 square miles are pretty well developed and while house shoppers may not be able to find many houses on big lots, Sheehy said they can get a lot for their money.
The diverse urban community was home to the area's first cotton mill, which opened in Chicopee in 1828. In the beginning, many women from surrounding towns, including West Springfield, Belchertown and Holyoke, were recruited to fill the labor positions. The workers lived in supervised boarding houses owned by the corporation and until 1845, they made up the bulk of the work force.
Chicopee became more diverse as Polish and Irish immigrants went to work in mills that produced a variety of metal products. Eventually French Canadians also were recruited to work in mills that produced farm machinery for western farmers. In 1832, there was an influx of Irish immigrants who came to Chicopee to work on the canals and helped construct the Connecticut River Railway.
In 1939, the Northeastern Air Force Base was built and was an active air base for many years. In 1987 part of the facility, now called Westover Air Reserve Base, was converted into two industrial parks and a municipal airport. While it's still home to the military, the base is now also the location of several large manufacturing companies including Avery Dennison, Inc. and Leonische of America.
Like many other former mill towns, Chicopee has worked to revitalize the old, brick buildings and today many of them offer businesses a wide variety of office and industrial space at affordable prices.
At the Chamber of Commerce in the downtown area, Gail Seklecki said the buildings serve as affordable locations where young businesses can incubate while they grow.
"The town is changing. We're seeing more light industry and high tech these days. Chicopee is trying to maintain its historical look while working to modernize and make way for high tech," she said.
The busy downtown area is surrounded by the old brick buildings that run along the Chicopee River. A historical district in the center of town is home to Elms College, a 100-year-old Catholic college and the Holy Name Church, which was the first Catholic church in western Massachusetts. There are also several well preserved, stately homes from the city's past.
Because housing in former mill towns often reflect the housing hierarchy of the industrial age, the city's real estate market is able to offer houses, apartments and condos to fit everyone's size and budget.
Sheehy sells at least 25 properties a year that range in price from $50,000 to $200,000. His current listings include a three-room condo for $35,000, a town house for $90,000 and a three-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath Colonial that listed in the low $80,000s. He recently sold a ranch house with a finished basement and one-car garage on a quarter-acre of land that listed in the low $130,000s. Sheehy said investors are starting to come into town to purchase duplexes that sell for about $110,000.
When asked to name the nicest property he has listed, Sheehy said he had a magnificent eight-room Tudor with three fireplaces and 3 1/2 baths, situated on almost a half-acre of land in a desirable section of town. The house was listed at $289,000.
"Condos are hot again, too. When I get one listed, it goes right away," he said.
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 2/12/2000.
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