Community Profile

Beneath Groton's idyllic surface, real-world problems

Groton at a glance
Incorporated: 1655
Size: 32 square miles
Distance from Boston: 46 miles
Public transportation: MBTA commuter rail (Littleton, Ayer)
Population: 9,989
Tax rate: $19.35
Median house price: $300,000
Public schools: three elementary, one middle, one elementary (two prep schools)
Form of government: Board of selectmen, administrative assistant
Nearest hospital: Deaconess-Nashoba Hospital (Ayer)
Industrial pollution, troubled teenagers plague pastoral town

By Alice Giordano, Globe Correspondent, 8/04/2001

GROTON - When Leslie and Greg Sheldon decided to leave behind their longtime Oak Square home in Brighton for the quintessential New England experience, they searched some 30 different communities before landing in this western suburb of Boston. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

"It`s kind of odd; there's a cattle farm and five churches right on Main Street right along with two prominent prep schools and a fine-dining restaurant," said Greg Sheldon, an economic and technology consultant who runs his business from home with the help of his wife.

The Sheldons, who have lived in Groton for a year, said their two children, 11-year-old Maureen and 13-year-old Thomas, sometimes miss the conveniences of city living, but because of MBTA commuter rail stops in nearby Ayer and Littleton, and access to four major highways, Boston isn't that far away.

Groton, the largest town in Middlesex County with a population of 9,988 spread over 32 square miles, is about a 52-minute commute to Boston by car and about an hour and 10 minutes by train.

Both Lowell and Nashua, N.H. are less than 15 minutes away. It seems like little time for the vast difference in culture between these cities and this land of apple-picking and berry farms — not to mention the real estate prices.

The median price of a single-family home here is $300,000 with a plentiful inventory of lesser-priced homes.

MRM Associates, a longtime realty firm in Groton, had a current listing, for example, for a two-bedroom, two-bath antique Cape with a large yard, enclosed porch, second-floor office, formal dining room and views of the Nashua River for $219,000.

MRM's owner, Margaret Roberts, a native of England who moved to Groton in 1964 to raise a family, says as old a town as it is — settled in 1655 — it is only now outgrowing its longtime standing as a bedroom community.

"It's really one of the last hurrahs for New England families looking for a community that is all about family," she said.

Among its surprises are a thriving performing-arts theater, a community golf course, a soccer camp, a fine wine shop, and a natural food store.

Groton is also home to Lawrence Academy and the Groton School — President Franklin D. Roosevelt's alma mater.

It's hard to believe that such renowned institutions are found in a town that doesn't even have a traffic light, but Groton also still takes its trash to the dump, runs an old-fashioned swap shop, and has its own electric company.

Even town politics has a pastoral appeal, with officials that include an earth removal inspector and a weed harvester committee.

The heart of the Nashua River Watershed, Groton is a haven for canoers and wildlife lovers, and it is a stone's throw away from Nashoba Valley wine vineyards in Bolton.

The town also hosts a huge homespun celebration in September called GrotonFest.

But not everything is idyllic in Groton.

Earlier this year, results of a study were released showing that local teenagers are consuming alcohol and participating in sexual activity at a higher rate than the state average.

The town also is contending with water and soil pollution from heavy metal contaminants in a residential area known as the Gratuity Road neighborhood.

The contamination was caused in the 1980s by the manufacture of circuit boards. Its cleanup was supposed to have been taken care of with a settlement made in 1991, a secret deal that became public last year.

However, the contamination has migrated up to a quarter-mile from the former plant and the settlement — handled by the same lawyer portrayed by John Travolta in the movie "A Civil Action" — excludes the company from any responsibility for cleanup beyond the hazardous waste site.

Groton now wants the matter reopened.

"We feel like we were sold out," said Groton's planning administrator Michelle Collette. "We're still dealing with a real slug of contamination on that property."

But Leslie Sheldon says when there is a problem in town, "The Groton community is quick to take care of their own."

An interfaith council formed by all the churches in town, immediately, she said, came out with a program in response to the survey results of alcohol use and sexual activity among local teenagers.

The town also appointed a committee to preserve and reclaim what is probably its most celebrated offerings, its network of forest trails that wind through such nature refuges as the 2.5-acre Snake Hill, where environmentalists are still camped out taking inventory of turtles, birds, and other creatures as part of a statewide wildlife census.

The town appointed the committee after residents pointed out that developers were not living up to their promises to preserve the trails that fell within their housing projects.

These days, Groton also is preoccupied with building new schools and finding a spot to put a bandstand that a 92-year-old lumberyard owner recently donated to the town.

Leslie Sheldon, who once commuted between Brighton and Dorchester as a grant writer for St. Margaret`s Hospital, has found a few new interests of her own that were impossible to pursue in Brighton.

"I go outside at night and I look up and I watch the stars, she said. "Groton has an unbelievably large sky filled with stars — how can you not love it here?"

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 8/04/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
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