Strathglass Park Preservation Society seeks volunteers, support to continue improvements

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RUMFORD — Despite an off year last year, the Strathglass Park Preservation Society continues to seek volunteers and funding for revitalization work started in 2011.

Vice president and board member Phil Blampied said Wednesday via email that the society “is still viable and functioning” despite the lack of help from Rumford’s current administration.

“We have about 100 people donating to us because they agree something should be done about Strathglass,” Blampied said.

“Because they have given money, they would certainly be listened to if they wanted to chime in about what we should do next, and if they would be willing actually to get physically involved, it would be fantastic.”

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He said the second level of volunteers would be Strathglass Park owners and tenants and the third level would be anyone in the community willing to help out.

The “first good step would be to come up with the $15 to join as a member, and then any help from that point on would be great,” Blampied said.

According to the society’s winter newsletter, the group remains viable, having re-elected its incumbent officers on Jan. 10. Additionally, all of its corporate filings are current and it has more than $1,600 in its treasury.

The newsletter provides a list of 10 easier-to-do projects, such as organizing a contractor volunteer day with skilled tradesmen, and to clean up the blighted, weedy and overgrown areas of the park that borders Hancock Street.

Another project that the society is considering but hasn’t committed to doing yet is to create a “hall of shame” for tenants and owners who are letting their properties deteriorate, Blampied said.

An additional four projects are included but will require more funding and volunteer involvement, like acquiring and rehabilitating the town-owned, “dangerously deteriorated half duplex at 24 Erchles St.”

Blampied said he started the whole Strathglass Park revitalization project “as a part of the greater economic development effort the town is doing.

“I don’t own real estate in Strathglass Park and I knew nobody there until I began prompting the owners to organize,” he said.

After years of organizing and fundraising, Blampied said many of the society’s plans came to fruition in 2011.

The park’s gate was repaired and re-lit, part of the wall was remortared and saved from crumbling, the historical place marker signs were erected, and a booklet giving guidance on maintaining Strathglass buildings was distributed to owners and many others.

The movement ran into a wall of opposition last year, from town officials to a few “disgruntled” property owners, he said.

“It is a stated goal of the town of Rumford to attempt to revitalize Strathglass Park,” Blampied said of the Comprehensive Plan. “What we’ve done is the first significant improvement, however modest, since the effort in the 1970s to get the park on the National Register.”

Blampied said the town initially recognized this and assisted the society in 2011.

“Last year, however, due to the bad judgment of several of the people in the administration, the town developed a new and inaccurate view of what the (society) is,” he said.

“The town decided that it was a private club, and an attempt by Phil Blampied to aggrandize himself, and that the work the (society) was doing had nothing to do with the goals and responsibilities of the town government,” he said.

Blampied said that if Rumford’s administration doesn’t want the society to continue revitalizing Strathglass Park, “then they should step up to the plate and get started doing it themselves, starting with the dangerously dilapidated half-duplex they themselves own at 24 Erchles St.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, Town Manager Carlo Puiia lauded Blampied for his efforts to improve the historic district. He said the society has low membership because many people left over its politics.

Blampied said if he’s perceived as an obstacle to continued progress, he would gladly step aside.

“But someone else — the town? — better step up to replace me,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s a countdown as to when various duplexes start to turn into piles of rubble and the town loses one of the greatest assets it has for climbing back out of decline.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

History of Strathglass Park

“Strathglass Park was one of the first planned communities in Maine.

“It was built by the entrepreneur Hugh J. Chisholm as laid out in his 1891 “Plan for Rumford Falls.” Around the turn of the 19th century hundreds of immigrants were streaming into Rumford to work in the paper mills. Chisholm established the Rumford Real Estate Company in 1901 in order to build housing for many of the employees.

“In 1902 construction of Strathglass Park began. The park was named after Chisholm’s country estate in upstate New York, and designed by New York City architect Cass Gilbert. Gilbert and Chisholm traveled to Scotland together, and following their visit Gilbert designed fifty-one duplex houses, four single-family dwellings, and nine apartment houses, all constructed of brick.

“For many years Strathglass Park was home to mill employees, many of whom were managers. However, following World War II, Strathglass Park began to fall into decline. Several factors can be attributed to this deterioration, including the sale of the Oxford Paper Mill in 1967 to the Ethyl Corporation. Prior to the sale, the Oxford Paper Mill paid for the Strathglass Park maintenance program. Today, with that subsidy long gone, the ornate brick facades and slate tiled roofs are in disrepair, and many original architectural features are missing.”

— Strathglass Park Preservation Society

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