Residents stick together, stay in quiet North Brookfield
By Teri Borseti, Globe Correspondent, 5/06/2000
Town Clerk Sheila Barry Buzzell, for example, said her family has lived in town since 1870, when her great-grandfather immigrated from Ireland to work in one of the shoe factories.
"This area has always been known for farming and shoe factories, and today at Quabang they're still making rubber soles and heels for shoes," she said.
The Quabang Rubber Company is still the biggest employer in town, with at least 250 local residents on its payroll.
The town has about 800 seniors. A group of them usually can be found at the small senior center that is located in a building that housed Howard's Market during the 1920s and 1930s.
It doesn't take much to get a friendly senior to start reminiscing. Thelma Quigley, who was born in the town in 1920, said one of her fondest memories was the opening of the Star Theater during the '30s. It stayed open until the '60s.
"We thought it was a pretty big deal to get our own theater back then. We'd spend the whole day there watching double features. It was great," Quigley said.
Some of the old stores and shops may be gone now, but much has remained the same. Children and adults still play a variety of sports on the Town Common, just as they did when Quigley was a kid.
In the town center stands a big, white Town Hall that was built during the Civil War. Nearby there are several stores and churches.
Although it is small and quiet, the town has had its share of big-time personalities. Actor, producer and playwright George M. Cohan frequently visited his grandparents here. And one of baseball's early greats, Connie Mack, also spent a good deal of time residing in town.
During the summer of 1934 he arranged for an exhibition baseball game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the Quabang Rubber Company team. Natives are quick to note that Quabang defeated the Athletics.
Jim Lovett moved to North Brookfield temporarily 26 years ago because he could afford an apartment here. He never left. Today, the local realtor and builder, who has served on the Board of Selectmen for six years, said one of the things he likes about the town is the way people pitch in.
When the Town Hall needed to be repainted, residents raised the money by holding block parties. They also have been raising money to tear down the former Aztec Industries building where asbestos was manufactured.
"People here stick together and care for each other and their town. This place is the best-kept secret around," he said.
Lovett, who owns and operates Century 21 Toomey and Lovett Realty in Spencer, handles most of the property sales in town. He said that regardless of the real estate market's fluctuations, North Brookfield usually remains stable.
"Right now I'm in the process of building two Capes. They'll have three bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths with a garage under the house. They come with three-quarters of an acre of land, and they're going to sell for $149,900. I also have a new, three-bedroom split-level that's listed at $149,900," he said.
There are only a couple dozen condominiums in town, and when they come on the market they usually list for $70,000 to $90,000, he said.
"Some of the older residents are starting to move to retirement areas or into smaller, one-level ranches, and their houses are being sold to young families moving here from Worcester suburbs. They can get a lot more for their money here. We're located between routes 9 and 122 and for some people that's a perfect location," he said.
Currently the hot issue in town is the need for a new senior center. The Knights of Columbus Hall is being appraised and is expected to be priced at $250,000. Lovett said the seniors are hoping to obtain a federal Community Development Block Grant that would enable them to make the building their new home.
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 5/06/2000.
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