Community Profile

Oakham residents collaborate
for good of all

Oakham at a glance
Incorporated: 1762
Population: 1,794
Area: 21 square miles
Distance from Boston: 56 miles
Tax rate: $13.33 per $1,000
Form of government: Three selectmen, open town meeting
Median house price: $165,400
Public schools: Oakham Center Elementary (K-6); Quabbin Regional Junior-Senior High School in Barre
Nearest hospital: Worcester
Library: Fobes Memorial Library

By David Maloof, Globe Correspondent, 9/01/2001

OAKHAM - Spend some time in Oakham, and before long you hear tales of people banding together to help others out — or perhaps keep unwanted others out. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

To some extent it's a typical small-town situation. But it appears to be particularly intense in Oakham, a town of few businesses, innumerable trees, and modest changes.

Kevin Norcross, general manager of the Quail Hollow Golf & Country Club, described the time townspeople helped extricate a Coca-Cola truck from the snow, and the unsolicited assistance he received with a perc test on property where he was having a house built.

He also told of the golf course's owner giving away Thanksgiving turkeys to senior citizens, and cooking breakfast for snowplow crews coming off their shifts.

"It sounds like it's from something out of `Little House on the Prairie,' "said Norcross, who moved here a year ago from Middletown, N.Y. He also had lived in central New Jersey, among other places.

"Oakham was quite a refreshing change," he said.

The golf course, which opened 10 years ago with nine holes and last year added a second nine, is home to Oakham's only restaurant, a seasonal operation.

Just down the road is the incipient Longview Estates subdivision, which is owned by Oakham Sand & Gravel and will offer, according to John Amidio, six-bedroom Colonials typically costing about $350,000.

Land is relatively inexpensive in Oakham. The Scott Road development, which is well underway, has lots remaining that range from 3 to 15 acres, typically costing around $75,000, according to Lisa Dawson of Steeplechase Realtors in Princeton.

Homes must be at least 2,400 square feet, but tend to be 3,000 to 3,500 square feet, according to Dawson. Oakham is without town water and sewer.

Christy Benoit took an unusual route to buying an unusual home on Scott Road.

A 1770 center-chimney Cape with an L-addition dating from about 1840 had been offered by the development landowner, a Boston attorney, to the town fire department for a practice burn. When Danielle delaGorgendiere, a sixth-grader at the Oakham Center School, heard about it she wrote a letter to the selectmen. The subsequent newspaper coverage, plus an opposing petition, eventually convinced the landowner to sell the house instead.

That was good news for Christy Benoit.

"It was a house I'd admired for many years," she recalled just days after passing papers on the house.

"I was very upset when I heard it was going to be destroyed, and I took pictures of it, so I could build it somewhere else. I drove by it every day, and one day I was taking my son to preschool and I saw the sign saying it was for sale. I slammed on the brakes, took down the phone number and called from my cellphone."

Benoit, who will be doing extensive renovations on the home, also praised the supportive atmosphere in town.

"Every time I've called anybody with a question, they say, `Oh, if I don't know, so-and-so knows. Call them,' " she said.

While the community may be close in some ways, people buying new homes can't easily chat with neighbors over a fence. The town requires a minimum three-acre lot size and 300 feet of road frontage, which — along with the fact that about 30 percent of the town's land is owned by the MDC — means that development opportunities are somewhat limited.

According to Kevin Norcross, "The things that I hear are `Let's not develop. Let's not bring anything in.' "

In recent weeks residents have been fighting the plans of the Public Inebriate Program Foundation of Worcester to establish a sober living facility on a former farm on Lincoln Road.

According to Ellenor Downer, editor of the Barre Gazette, PIP had purchased the property and began building without following required procedures. A petition was started opposing the plans.

The project is now on hold, and eventually a two-thirds town meeting vote approving a bylaw change will be needed before the project can continue.

One ongoing change has been a steady tax rate increase, from $8.58 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 1991 to $13.33 per $1,000 this past year.

Downer, who has served as a selectman and town clerk, attributed this in part to the town's share in helping finance renovations at the regional junior-senior high school.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 9/01/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
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