Story provided by GrowRumford.Com
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Stowell-Norris
On the hillside above the river valley in Rumford lies a century old, 100-unit housing development that was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 due to its unique character. Consisting of duplexes made of brick in a mostly wood-built region, Stratglas Park is an architectural and historical treasure. It is also a great bargain for real estate investors, with half-duplex units generally selling for under $40,000. But with sidewalks in disrepair, buildings not maintained and many buildings now used for low-income rentals, the Park has challenges that the town has promised but so far failed to address. The Park may be the best real estate deal in New England, but only if an effort is made to clean it up, protect and rehabilitate the park and investors may have to take an active role.
Town in 2005 said it would help revive Strathglas but the effort stalled.
The town of Rumford has something found in few other New England communities: an historic, architecturally-significant, century-old neighborhood. Add that it's on the National Register of Historic Places. Add that homeowners can buy into the neighborhood for under $40,000. Add it all up and Strathglas Park, a section of approximately 100 units on four streets, is clearly one of the primary assets of the community.
But it is a neglected asset, in decline. Streets and sidewalks are not maintained, buildings are in disrepair and many of the properties have been used for low income rentals, creating what might be politely referred to as "social issues", from disruptive adolescents to litter to unleashed dogs.
The paradox presents a challenge to investors and homeowners. It is possible to buy into the "Park" cheaply, but getting a reasonable return on the investment will probably require any investor to get involved not only financially, but in the community as well.
Strathglass Park was one of the first planned communities in Maine. It was built by the entrepreneur Hugh J. Chisholm as laid out in his 1891 “Plan for Rumford Falls.” Around the turn of the 19th century hundreds of immigrants were streaming into Rumford to work in the paper mills. Chisholm established the Rumford Real Estate Company in 1901 in order to build housing for many of the employees. In 1902 construction of Strathglass Park began. The park was named after Chisholm’s country estate in upstate New York, and designed by New York City architect Cass Gilbert. Gilbert and Chisholm traveled to Scotland together, and following their visit Gilbert designed fifty-one duplex houses, four single-family dwellings, and nine apartment houses, all constructed of brick.
For many years Strathglass Park was home to mill employees, many of whom were managers. However, following World War II, Strathglass Park began to fall into decline. Several factors can be attributed to this deterioration, including the sale of the Oxford Paper Mill in 1967 to the Ethyl Corporation. Prior to the sale, the Oxford Paper Mill paid for the Strathglass Park maintenance program. Today, with that subsidy long gone, the ornate brick facades and slate tiled roofs are in disrepair, and many original architectural features are missing.
Because of Strathglass Park’s historical significance and unique architecture, it was listed as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. At present, there is no preservation master plan, design guidelines or maintenance program in place for the Park.
In 2005, a local community activitist, Len Greaney, prodded the town to take action on Strathglas Park. With the cooperation of then town manager Steve Eldredge, a meeting of property owners and renters was held, and a survey was taken of their concerns, to try to identify how the town government might help the area recover.
The meeting and subsequent survey identified specific goals for the local government and Strathglas residents. These included creating a residents' association for Strathglas Park and having the town address infrastructure including broken sidewalks and signage, and enforcement issues including parking, leash laws and better control over neighborhood adolescents. After the meetings and the survey, however, no further action was taken. This month, Greaney is again trying to interest the town government in fulfilling its obligation to the Strathglas neighborhood and has recently contacted the current town manager to follow up on the 2005 survey results.
For investors and property owners, there is an appeal in an architecturally significant and beautiful half-duplex that can be purchased for the price of a mid-priced new car. Whether such an appealing investment can turn into a profitable one may involve the investors and owners spending not only their money, but also the time and effort needed to help Strathglas take the steps necessary to revitalization.