Norman Rockwell's town wrestles with growth
By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 10/26/2002
"I came to see the Norman Rockwell Museum, fell in love with the Berkshires, and never left," said Irsfeld, now chairman of the Board of Selectman. "I decided I didn't want to live with 8 million people anymore, so I sold my house, bought a 14-acre farm, and moved my family here."
Today, Stockbridge is struggling with growth, as more people move to this lovely village nestled in the heart of the Berkshire valley, about 118 miles as the crow flies from New York City and from Boston.
"New Yorkers with lots of money are willing to pay anything to get out of New York," said Irsfeld. "That puts tremendous pressure on our housing stock. Realtors are knocking on doors, asking residents if they want to sell. To New Yorkers, our prices must seem like a bargain."
The median price for a single-family home reached $317,500 for the first eight months of 2002, up from $235,000 last year, according to The Warren Group. But the data tell only half the story.
This week, 38 single-family homes were listed for sale on Realtor.com from $149,900 to $2.7 million, including a dozen under $400,000. There's a 52-year-old three-bedroom ranch on 2.6 acres for $199,900, and a two-bedroom Cape built in 1969 on three acres for $375,000.
But 22 of the homes are priced above $500,000. That upward pressure on home prices has locked out younger buyers and the children of longtime residents. In response, town officials want to boost the supply of affordable housing. They hope to purchase a 17-acre site near the town dump to develop low-cost homes. Any expenditure to buy the property would require Town Meeting approval.
A controversy erupted following a recent proposal by a developer who purchased 100 acres for a 16-home subdivision in the Glendale neighborhood. While town officials say the developer can build some of the homes by right, they insist he must get approval to build a 4,000-foot road to enter the site.
"The reason people come here is for the open space, but we're watching it get nibbled away," Irsfeld said.
Tourists are drawn to Stockbridge for its cultural attractions, including the Norman Rockwell Museum, which boasts the world's largest collection of the artist's work. Rockwell lived in town from 1953 until his death in 1978 and used town residents as models in his vivid portraits of small-town America. Rockwell's career spanned more than 60 years and left a legacy of images that helped define American identity throughout the 20th century. Worth seeing until March 2 is the exhibit "Inside Story: The Magazine Illustration of Norman Rockwell," which includes Boys' Life and Saturday Evening Post illustrations.
And of course Brooklyn-born Arlo Guthrie, who gained fame with his 1967 album "Alice's Restaurant," has long called the Berkshires home. In 1991, he bought the Stockbridge church made famous in the film that Alice's Restaurant inspired; today it houses the Guthrie Center, a music hall, community space, and interfaith church.
In addition, there's Chesterwood, the museum and studio of Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial. Nearby in Lenox is Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Berkshire Botanical Garden is an oasis that includes 15 acres of landscaped gardens featuring vibrant annuals and perennials, plus a woodland trail.
Thomas Grillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 10/26/2002.
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