Letter: Jones History Can Still Be Preserved With A No Vote And A More Modest Renovation

Photo: Flckr.com. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

My heartfelt applause for all who participated in creating the soon-to-be-inaugurated Amherst Writers Walk. What a long-overdue and appropriate program for our town. Access to writers’ residences is sometimes offered for special events, such as garden tours, but only on specific dates and often with a fee. And we do have other lauded historical sites that one can otherwise visit, as with the Emily Dickinson House. 

As we increasingly become known only as the town in which the University of Massachusetts’ main campus resides, it is important that visitors be introduced to and have a chance to appreciate the area’s many families, farms, native environmental sites, and businesses–even former factories–that have contributed to our history.  After all, Amherst was a town before the University arrived, and many of us have no affiliation with the school.

It’s interesting that Destination Amherst (the plan by the BID to make Amherst a tourist attraction for Bostonians and New Yorkers) is including the “new” Jones as a tourist attraction. The library trustees have also recently begun touting it as a tourist destination because it will be net-zero (that is, after demolishing 40% of it at our expense), and, supposedly, it will be historically preserved.

The latter claim is ridiculous since only the current fiction room will remain intact. In the front portion of the 1928 original building, most stairwells will be dumped, woodwork removed, and walls demolished and/or relocated.

As someone who has had the good fortune to travel a bit, I believe strongly that historical attractions draw visitors to a place. An oversized and very costly library is not what will bring people into our town. Nor will the substantial demolition and subsequent expansion result in any trickle-down increase to our tax base, as claimed. People generally don’t travel to a community to visit its library, unless it has particular historical or architectural significance, which, in this case, will literally be demolished.

So, “good on ya” to the creators of the Writers’ Walk.  But am I the only one who sees a contradiction in valuing the house where Robert Frost once lived while destroying his resident history at the Jones Library?  It is my hope that a less-expensive, though smart and necessary, update of the beautiful, adequately sized Jones Library building that we already have will be saved by the No votes in the November referendum. 

Sean and Rita Burke

Sean and Rita Burke are residents of Amherst

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