Angry Letters about Pot Holes in the Berkshires, 1930s-1990s

Berkshire Eagle, 2/28/1970

Complaints about pot-holes go back a long time. In 1861, courts fined the town of Adams, Mass $300 in damages from its roads. This formed the early precedent of being able to sue one’s town for pot holes, which most Massholes believe they still have today, though this was mostly eliminated by legislation in the 1920s-30s.

The Berkshire Eagle cites dozens of tow truck calls daily in Pittsfield, despite a crew of 40 working on the roads – March 1936
“The streets are in the worst condition I’ve seen in years,” griped North Adams Councilor Lawrence Belouin, in May 1953
Maynard Leahey of the Transcript jokes that North Adams should embrace the supposed benefits of having the biggest pot holes around. March 1956
Informal survey by the Eagle concludes potholes are “ubiquitous,” but “not as numerous and dangerous as critics claim.” Feb 1970
Fil Baker said a bomb crater bigger than those he had seen in WWII wrecked his car in Williamstown. March 1972
Samuel Smith of Hancock argues for more investment in America’s ailing roads – March 1972
Heather Harty tells of “monster holes” on her West Street commute. April 1987
Athur Phinney of Lenox suggests that saving a bit on property taxes may cost more in the long run. February 1990

We know the problem of road maintenance is nothing new under the sun. We also know that- like so many modern municipal problems- it was made worse by the decisions of our forebearers, during “the good old days.” Our roads and other faulty municipal services show the consequences of how toxic the American dream became to communities in the 50s and 60s- its misguided aspirations of suburban sprawl and urban renewal robbed our towns and cities of critical density and efficiency. Nearly 25% of Pittsfield’s 200 miles of road were built after the city’s population already peaked and began to decline. Dozens more miles of suburban asphalt were added even as it lost nearly 1/3 of its population, and with it the tax base to pay for their upkeeep.

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Author: Joe Durwin

Berkshire-based writer Joe Durwin's "These Mysterious Hills" has run on a semi-regular basis for over than a decade, first in the former Advocate Weekly (2004-2009) and iBerkshires.com (2010-2015), along with his local history column Sagas of the Shire. His work on lore and mysteries of the region has also been featured in Fate Magazine, Haunted Times, the North Adams Transcript, as well as William Shatner’s “Weird or What” on the SyFy Channel, Jeff Belanger's "New England Legends," MSG Films’ “Bennington Triangle,” and numerous other programs for public television and radio.

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