Rural Shelburne aims to keep its quaint character

By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 5/03/2003

Fearing that more than 2,000 acres of farmland could be sold to developers, officials in this town nestled in the Berkshire foothills want to ensure tht its quaint lifestyle is not threatened.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]A committee is discussing possible land-use restrictions. No specific proposals have emerged, but farmers say any new bylaw to control growth would diminish their chances to sell their parcels.

"Farmers are very concerned about any change that would jeopardize what they see as their financial ace in the hole," said Terry Dun, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. "We just don't want to see farmland turned into strip malls along the Mohawk Trail," said selectwoman Christine Baronas.

State law gives communities the right of first refusal on farmland. But officials say the town can't afford to buy the remaining five dairy farms.

Longtime residents say it's easy to see why many town residents want to protect Shelburne's rural character. Built by the Deerfield River, Shelburne still has the look of a 19th-century village.

Each year, about 30,000 tourists flock to the Bridge of Flowers, explore the 450-million-years-old Glacial Potholes, and drive along the Mohawk Trail, a scenic state highway. The former trolley bridge over the river was converted into a perennial garden and footpath in the 1920s. It features hundreds of varieties of flowers, vines, and shrubs. This week, the 400-foot bridge was covered by tulips in bloom.

The Glacial Potholes, a rock formation carved in the riverbed, offer a unique natural attraction a short walk from downtown. Ranging from 6 inches to 39 feet across, these geological wonders eroded into the rock during the last ice age to create natural swimming holes.

Realtors say families seeking a more rural setting are trading homes in Springfield and Pittsfield for houses in Shelburne. This week, the MLS Property Information Network listed four single-family homes for sale, including a three-bedroom Victorian on Warren Avenue for $198,000. A four-bedroom Victorian on Masonic Avenue was listed for $229,900, a Cape for $345,900. and a four-bedroom Colonial on 12 acres for $449,000. There was only one multifamily listed, a two-family contemporary on four acres.

Crime rates are low. In 2001 (the most recent data available), there were nine larcenies, two burglaries, five aggravated assaults, and one car theft.

The Mohawk Trail School District finished 98 out of 212 districts in last year's MCAS test scores, according to a Boston Globe ranking. A majority of 10th-graders scored advanced or proficient in English, but 15 percent failed math, and 38 percent scored in the need-improvement category.

Thomas Grillo can be reached at

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 5/03/2003.
© Copyright 2003 New York Times Company
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