I thought about making the title: “Ugly Survives” or something along those lines. The Montgomery Building has been purchased, again, and may finally be repurposed as “mostly market rate” apartments.
The building was abandoned in 1989 by the company whose name it still bears, and has passed through a series of questionable hands since then. The promises of apartments and possible retail have been bandied about, described as laughable, dissected and pronounced impossible and openly mocked by political leaders, emergency service providers, real estate folk and ordinary residents, for years. Suddenly, the possible resurrection of this eyesore is part of the revitalization plan of the town in which I live. Everyone seems to think it’s a great idea today.
Don’t get me wrong. I wish Beacon Communities nothing but success. I would like very much for the plans to rejuvenate Windsor Locks’ downtown district to succeed. These guys might have a chance. Some of the obstacles in the path of the previous owners have been removed: A number of buildings that would have required expensive demolition, succumbed to (a suspicious) fire. The renovation of the Windsor Locks Train Station seems to be making slow progress. AMTRAK and the Connecticut State Department of Transportation have agreed to move the passenger “terminal” from the siding at the south end of town to a siding just north of the old station. Recently, a few new retail businesses have appeared in the plaza opposite the train station and, thereby, opposite the Montgomery Building.
I’m not sure how the town and the new owners plan to address the challenging egress issue. The convenient fire that demolished the hazardous-waste-laden buildings proved that having a single entrance to the island makes emergency response untenable. We lost a great deal of fire-fighting equipment when our firemen had to abandon their attempt to contain that blaze. Nothing has been said, so far, to indicate that AMTRAK has dropped its opposition to a second grade level crossing of the Windsor Locks Canal, north of today’s only entrance to the island.
The Town can certainly be forgiven its attempt to put a substantial piece of real estate back on the active tax rolls. The developers can be forgiven, perhaps even admired for their desire to come into Connecticut and make a few bucks. The fact that the remaining bits of building are the ugliest portions of a once successful and interesting industrial park, was mostly established before any of these people were born.
The term “industrial park” is particularly appropriate in this case. When the Windsor Locks Canal was originally constructed, it was planned that, in addition to transportation, the canal would provide water power for industries on the island between the canal and the Connecticut River. One of the sources I reviewed made the comment that “the area that would become known as Windsor Locks was Connecticut’s first planned industrial park.”
Several businesses bought 999-year water leases from the Connecticut River Company and set up shop on the portion of the island north of what was a ferry crossing and is now the CT-140 bridge. Dexter (now Ahlstrom) occupies the southern half of the island. The most famous among the industrial operations on the north side was the Eli Horton & Son Company, operated by the machinist who invented the “universal lathe chuck.” The company operated for over 100 years, but Montgomery bought the complex in 1981.
The Montgomery Company, by contrast, survived by being nimble and being able to adapt to changing markets and new possibilities. The company originally made cotton warp (yarn) and enjoyed great success with that product line as well as sewing and thread products. Soon, they realized that metal that had been rolled foil-thin, could be wound in with the cotton. These decorative “tinsels” were eventually recognized as being good conductors for use in a variety of equipment, as electricity became more popular. The Montgomery Company needed to expand, and did so, on a couple of occasions by absorbing their neighbors. Unfortunately, in almost every case, they destroyed the then existing building and expanded with one that better suited their plans.
That wasn’t a bad idea in 1904, when the southern 2/3 of the brick portion of the building shown here was added. In 1920, when the reinforced concrete portion was added, aesthetics had clearly taken a backseat to economics. Between the destruction carried out by the Montgomery Company and that achieved by the fire in 2006, the bulk of the interesting buildings on the island were lost.
Today, the eyesore that remains challenges even a hopeless optimist like me. I look at this building and I am reminded of the scene where Donna Reed breaks a window in the Old Granville House in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Little known fact, Donna actually threw that rock herself. I digress, but her wish came true and George and Mrs. Baily eventually moved into that house. Maybe, just maybe I’ll be around to see people move into the Montgomery Building.
This post is part of the fun series: Thursday Doors, brought to us by Norm Frampton. Check out Norm’s page for a link to the other doors and the link to add your own door.