Forty years ago, Chris Kervick would finish up his Hartford Times paper route and linger a bit longer on Main Street, where he’d visit the shops and stop for a soda.
Today, as first selectman of Windsor Locks, he is determined to bring back the thriving Main Street he once knew, before it was deemed past its prime and taken down in 1980, about the same time the Main Street Amtrak boarding platform was moved to an outdoor platform a few miles south.
Kervick’s vision is taking a giant step toward solidification as the Waterside Village Shops on Main Street get set for the replacement and relocation of the public sidewalk in front of the strip plaza. That project—which Kervick said is expected to start next spring—will partly bring back the pedestrian-friendly Main Street of his youth.
An even bigger step comes in about a year, when crews break ground on a brand new train station in downtown Windsor Locks. It will be built right next to the dilapidated old station, which was first constructed in 1875, abandoned in 1971 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, according to the Save the Station committee's application to the National Register.
Kervick credits former First Selectman Steve Warwick with spearheading the effort to revitalize Windsor Locks' downtown through the last decade. But, it wasn’t until two years ago, when the Connecticut Department of Transportation announced $5.75 million in funding to revamp the 62-mile commuter rail line from New Haven to Springfield, that the dream became more attainable. That initial grant, along with other state and federal funding, will go toward improving and building new stations along what is now called the CTrail Hartford Line, Windsor Locks included. The entire CTrail project is budgeted at $769.1 million, according to the CTrail website.
Meanwhile, grassroots efforts to raise awareness for the renovation of the old station has gone on for decades. According to Windsor Locks Historical Society president James Roche, “it was a slow and painful process dealing with Amtrak.”
He recalls the efforts of the now disbanded Windsor Locks Preservation Association, a nonprofit that lobbied to purchase the station for four or five years before “throwing in the towel” in early 2011. Small groups of volunteers continued the effort through late 2014, when Amtrak finally agreed to sell the structure to the town for $1—under the condition it could not be a working train station or a restaurant. (Instead, the historic station will be reused as an auxiliary building offering cultural exhibits and restrooms.)
“I don’t know what finally made Amtrak agree to the sale other than the ‘gentle persuasion’ that was constant with our letters to the governor, DOT, other government officials, and the constant offers to help with any problems,” said Roche, himself one of the letter-writers.
With roof work on the historic station just completed, brick repair is next. Along with grant funding, Windsor Locks Middle School students have organized Heritage Fairs to help support the project. On Labor Day townspeople came out to clean and tour the station. With strong hopes for securing another state grant in the very near future, the outside of the building could be finished in a year, according to Kervick.
In the meantime, Main Street merchants are optimistic that a redesigned venue will increase business. Phase one, which is about to start, will make the Waterside Village Shops more accessible to pedestrians and cars.
“It’s going to make a world of difference,” said Cindy Ann Liquori, who grew up in town and owns Cindy’s Soap Cottage in the complex. She said business there is much slower than at her second shop in East Windsor because cars cannot pull straight into the plaza parking lot from Main Street. According to Liquori, people see the shops when they drive by, but don’t realize they have to turn onto Spring or Church Street to get to the parking lot entrances. So they keep driving. That will all change when the Waterside sidewalk project brings the sidewalk closer to the shops and provides access to the parking lot from Main Street.
“I’m going to hang in there,” said Liquori.
For years Waterside Village accommodated a single restaurant. Now most of the ten units are filled, said Kervick, adding that “people are moving in on the promise of things getting better . . . I call them the believers.”
Currently, he said there is not enough commercial space on Main Street to accommodate the number of inquiries.
Meanwhile, a very short walking distance from Main Street another project commences as Beacon Communities LLC takes on the cost of renovating the abandoned J.R. Montgomery Co factory to 167 mixed-income residential rentals— a $62 million project.
When Beacon Communities signed on a year ago, Thacher Tiffany, its director of development, told the Hartford Courant that the planned relocation of the train station was a major catalyst for the Montgomery Mills project, adding, “Having residents in the building will really help serve the train station and Main Street.”
Fees for the Montgomery building permit, fire marshal review, and sewer connection were paid for on Monday. In time, when all the renovations are complete, the residents of the repurposed thread mill will be able to walk to the new Main Street Train Station and, just like Kervick finishing up his childhood paper route, visit the shops and stop for a soda.
“We really spent 40 years mourning the loss of our downtown,” said Kervick. “All the stars are aligned to get back something that’s reminiscent of what we lost.”