Petersham: Nichewaug demolition commencing

  • Crews have begun the demolition of the Nichewaug Inn and Academy in Petersham. In June, voters gave final approval to hire Stamford Wrecking Co. of Trumbull, Conn., to undertake the work. The total cost of the project is $721,000, which includes $621,000 in borrowing and $100,000 in ARPA funds. Photo courtesy the Rev. Geoffrey Smith

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 8/5/2022 5:40:38 PM
Modified: 8/5/2022 5:37:31 PM

PETERSHAM — Much to the relief of some Petersham residents — and much to the chagrin of others — work has commenced on the demolition of the Nichewaug Inn and Academy. The destruction of the former inn and parochial girls school spells the end of a 15-year saga that commenced when the town took ownership of the property in 2007.

At a Special Town Meeting on June 6, voters approved an expenditure of $721,000 to raze the complex that occupies a prominent position in the center of town. The work is being paid for with $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and $621,000 in borrowing.

The original inn portion of the Nichewaug was constructed in 1899, replacing an earlier structure that had been destroyed by fire. It continued to welcome visitors to the area until 1951, when it was purchased by the Sisters of Maria Assumpta to serve as the home of a parochial high school. A brick addition was added to the original inn. It including a dormitory and other amenities, and greatly expanded the footprint of the academy. The school ceased operations in 1972 and the complex was finally vacated by the Sisters in early 1980s.

Since then, the Nichwaug has changed ownership a couple of times as developers considered the feasibility of renovating and reusing the buildings. However, the steady deterioration of the structures made such an effort cost prohibitive. When no further interest by private developers was shown in the complex, the town decided to purchase the property.

For nearly 20 years, a group known as Friends of Nichewaug tried to find ways to save the landmark, which was included in the Petersham Historic District.

In May 2021, the Nichewaug Inn and Academy Committee conducted an external tour of the complex for the public and discussed several ideas for the possible reuse of at least part of it. Proposals ranged from the creation of senior housing to creation of a senior/community center. A community survey found that some residents wanted to see the property transformed into an area for passive recreation.

However, at a public meeting in October of last year, then-Police Chief Dana Cooley and Fire Chief Dana Robinson argued vigorously for the complete demolition of the Nichewaug. Robinson said his department would have a difficult time fighting a fire there, noting that water would need to be shuttled to the site in tankers. For his part, Cooley said his officers had responded to alarms at the Nichewaug approximately 100 times during the preceding decade. On several occasions, officers found intruders in the inn portion of the complex.

“What I would like to see happen,” Cooley told the meeting, “is I would like to see the building come to the ground. I would like to see a nice big lawn there, then we take a step back and take a deep breath, then say, ‘What do we want to do with that property?’”

That, ultimately, is what Petersham voters decided to do at the meeting in June.

Now that the demolition of the Nichewaug has begun, Robinson told the Athol Daily News recently, “It’s a tremendous burden off my shoulders that I’ve been living with for the past 10 or 15 years, that’s for sure. It certainly was a living nightmare there because, no matter what we did, there was no way we could put enough water on the common to put out a fire in the short term. Most of our efforts probably would have gone into protecting exposures rather than fighting a fire in the building.”

Robinson said his team had been called to the Nichewaug on occasion “primarily as backup to assist the police with searches.”

He also noted that while an alarm alerting police to break-ins had been installed, there was no fire alarm system in the building.

“We would have been relying on neighbors to notice something, and a fire probably would have had a pretty good start by the time we got there,” he said.

Town officials expect demolition of the buildings and the grading of the property to be completed by some time in September. The only structure to remain standing is a garage that is not attached to the Nichewaug and which the Fire Department uses for the storage of equipment. The demolition is being done by Stamford Wrecking Co. of Trumbull, Connecticut.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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