Enfield Village Association
A Short History
In 1999 the Enfield Town Manager, Steve Griffin, responding to public concern over the long term deterioration of the central business district, invited the regional planning commission to conduct a charette to address the problem. Members of the public gathered to consider the plight of downtown and to develop a plan to reverse the trend. They walked along Main Street and gathered in Whitney Hall to share their observations and make recommendations. They reported that they had seen fine old buildings that had once housed businesses and professional offices, since abandoned to sub-standard housing and in a general state of deterioration. The townspeople came up with a number of specific recommendations. Near the top of the list was the establishment of a non-profit development corporation that could raise private funding and acquire real estate for rehabilitation.
Griffin picked up the idea for a community development corporation. He had the Town Attorney draw up articles of agreement and by-laws for the new corporation. He assembled a group of local business people to serve as incorporators and on January 26, 2000 Enfield Village Association (EVA) was born. The purpose was “to serve the inhabitants of the Enfield, New Hampshire area by fostering the growth of economic development, commercial, employment, housing, cultural and recreational opportunities in the downtown area of the Town of Enfield through: 1) the establishment and continuance of educational programs focused on preservation of historical and cultural resources, 2) the development of community resources to combat deterioration, 3) to lessen the burdens of government by creating a public/private partnership to address the above purposes, and 4) the acquisition of real estate to rehabilitate, preserve and dedicate to the above purposes on a not-for -profit basis to the corporation.” The original bylaws required that one member of the board of directors would be a town selectman, and Irene Read served in that capacity for several years. The requirement was eliminated at the request of the selectmen in 2011.
The first EVA event was a downtown cleanup, on MAY 20, 2000. Lots of volunteers showed up, including some downtown residents. Don Roberts and his crew hauled away truckloads of trash. Downtown property owners, however, were notably absent. Reversing years of deterioration wasn’t going to be easy and the board realized that they needed help. Nancy Dutton, who was then chair of the New Hampshire Division of Historic Resources, suggested the New Hampshire Main Street Office as a place to start. There followed a series of meetings and seminars, learning about the Main Street Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in which New Hampshire and 40 other states participated.
In the 1980’s the National Trust, concerned that central business districts all over the country were dying, and with them their historic buildings, established the Main Street Program to combat downtown deterioration. Drawing on the experience gained in helping hundreds of towns across the country, the program offered free consulting services to towns who could demonstrate a willingness to make the effort. The goal of downtown revitalization through historic preservation matched EVA’s goals, but towns were admitted to the program only on a competitive basis, and the standards for admission were tough to meet. At the time there were seventeen New Hampshire towns in the NH Main Street Program. To be accepted a town had to demonstrate broad community support, including pledges of financial support adequate to support a full time program manager and related office expenses for at least three years. Enfield was smaller than the smallest New Hampshire Town here-to-for accepted to the program. The EVA board persuaded the Main Street Office to entertain an application supporting a part time, rather than full time program manager. and set out to raise $90,000 in support of a three year operating budget. As required, a distinct Enfield “program area” was designated, along Main Street from the Lutheran Church to the intersection with Route 4.
In January, 2001 a public forum was convened in Whitney Hall to engender support for the Main Street application. Dave McIntire, local architect and EVA vice president, prepared a visual plan of the downtown, centered on the river crescent from the Copeland Block to the island at the Leviston House, as it might appear with infrastructure improvements, additional parking and a new river walk. Doug Smith, EVA president, described the benefits and funding challenge of the Main Street Program to a large and enthusiastic gathering of Enfield residents. Flossy Courtemanche headed a campaign which raised about 40 letters of support and $120,000 in 3-year pledges, including a $30,000 pledge from the Town of Enfield. Becky Powell assembled a team to prepare the Main Street application, which was delivered on March 29, 2001. In June Enfield became the first small town in New Hampshire to be accepted into the new “Village” Main Street Program. Hilde Ojibway became the first program manager.
As promised, Main Street consultants came to town, conducting visioning sessions, helping to refine the mission, describing what works and what doesn’t. They imposed their committee structure, forms, procedures, reporting requirements and measurements for success. They taught the board how to recruit, motivate and train volunteers.
The EVA board embraced the Main Street approach to revitalization. They agreed on a vision of Enfield Village in the future and wrote a mission statement. They developed programs and events designed to build community pride and to encourage owners to improve their properties within the downtown program area. Cleanup day became an annual event. Sweat Treats and Hometown Holidays were introduced. A Walking Tour brochure and Business Directory were produced. A series of $500 facade grants were awarded to property owners investing in improvements. In 2003 the first Enfield Farmers’ Market was organized by EVA and in 2004 the Shaker 7 road race was established(revived) as an EVA fundraiser. An effort to track the value of new investment within the program area was introduced. In their annual reports during the years 2002 to 2006, presidents Nancy Smith, Sharon Carr and Lee Carrier could point to increased business activity and private investment downtown, strongly influenced by EVA facade grants and projects like the flagpole and the mothers’ garden. In 2006 the Enfield Board of Selectmen extolled EVA’s accomplishments in a proclamation naming September 20, 2006 “Downtown Revitalization Professionals Day”.
At about the same time as the downtown revitalization effort was getting underway the State Department of Transportation(DOT) was making plans to rebuild the bridges on Main Street. As required by law they brought in the State Division of Historic Resources to identify any historic properties which could be impacted by their plans. A DHR survey of over 200 properties in the central district identified 193 properties of historic significance. Members of the EVA board persuaded the Town to establish a Heritage Commission, charged with watching over Enfield’s cultural, natural, recreational and historic heritage. An Historic District was delineated overlapping the Main Street Program Area. The Heritage Commission, chaired by Meredith Smith, got the entire historic district named to the National Register of Historic Places, adding to the” sense of place”, and opening up the opportunity for federal preservation assistance.
EVA became involved in consulting with the Department of Transportation on the designs for the new bridges, roadway and sidewalks, raising money for decorative lampposts and persuading DOT and the Town to add features like trees and simulated brick sidewalk paving. EVA hung banners on the new lampposts and began a program of seasonal decorations. By 2004, when the bridge project was completed, the look of downtown had been vastly improved.
Although the acquisition of real estate for rehabilitation was a driving force in the founding of EVA, the Main Street Program preached a different approach to revitalization: community building through events and programs. A non-profit, dependent on charitable contributions, was advised to conserve its resources while encouraging other private investors to take on capital projects. Nevertheless, on two occasions in its first 15 years, the EVA board has felt compelled to take the initiative, raising capital to acquire and renovate real property. The first was the Leviston House at 78 Main Street, acquired in May of 2002. It was an historically important landmark within the program area which had suffered fire damage, was vacant and in danger of being lost. The site included the remains of an early tannery, an island, and almost half of the frontage along the river crescent. With EVA controlling this property the river walk could become a reality. $75,000 in private funding was raised to purchase the Leviston House. Donations of materials and contractor services were received and volunteers contributed many hours to the renovations. The plan was to create office space on the first floor and two residential units on the second and third floors. A parking area was created for public access to a nature trail on the island. Adequate funding was never achieved, however, and the project bogged down. In 2009 the entire parcel was sold with the building only partially renovated, leaving the EVA board with mixed feelings on the wisdom of property acquisition. The end result, it must be said, was very positive. The new owner finished the building to a high standard, saving an historic structure. EVA’s treasury was enriched by the sales proceeds, an indirect result of the capital campaign and volunteer effort, and Main Street gained a thriving new business, managed by a resident entrepreneur.
In 2012 EVA undertook its second renovation project, the Greeley House. Built in 1823 for David Greeley as a plank house, the building at the corner of Shaker Hill Road and Main Street, in the heart of the historic district, had once been owned by the Shakers, who housed their mill manager there. Later it became the Town Clerk’s office and telephone exchange. In 2012, as a private residence, the building had fallen into disrepair, had been taken in foreclosure, and stood vacant as a blight on downtown. The bank auction had failed to produce a buyer. When the bank eventually put it on the market for less than the land value, the EVA board, fearing that the building would be destroyed, bought it for the asking price of $40,000. A capital campaign, augmented by a bank loan and a tax credit grant, provided funding to convert the building into a permanent home for EVA and a single family residential rental. At this writing (January 2016) the building is well on its way to completion. EVA occupies the office space and the single family residential unit will be ready for occupancy before the summer rental season. As the project nears completion at a cost of between $350 and $400,000, a final capital campaign is planned to retire the bank loan.
Written by: Doug A Smith, 1/12/16