Lowell: a 14.5 square mile urban center of 106,000 people. Erving: a 14.4 square mile suburban Western Massachusetts town of 1,800 people.
It is hard to imagine these two very different localities would have anything in common. However . . .
The photo on the left the Appleton Mills site, in Lowell’s Hamilton Canal District, circa late 2008. The scene on the right is Erving’s Usher Mill site in 2011. Like the mills of the Hamilton Canal District, those at the Usher site were once the backbone of the town, first as a grist mill in 1827 and later as a furniture manufacturer and paper mill, providing jobs and vitality to the town. The complex has been vacant since 1990.
While the Appleton Mills have been reborn as part of the ambitious and innovative $800 million 10-year Hamilton Canal District redevelopment led by the city in partnership with Trinity Financial, the people of Erving are still struggling to find a plan to revitalize their old mill complex along the Millers River.
Last week, Erving Town Administrator Tom Sharp and two members of the Usher Mill Re-Use Committee, Jeanie Schermesser and Sarah Vega-Liros toured the Appleton Mills with the city’s Urban Renewal Project Manager Craig Thomas to learn about what was done here and see the possibilities for their own town.
“It’s (the Usher Mill redevelopment) a catalyst for the revitalization of the town where we live,” said Schermesser, who is an artist. “We would love to make it more of something than it is.”
In the spring of 2011, 130 artists moved into affordable housing units in the restored historic Appleton Mills. Our friends from Erving were intrigued by the re-use because there is a large and growing artist population in their neck of the woods and they said they could appreciate how having artists living in the area would be both a cultural and economic boost.