Troy's Take: General Flanagan's Idea, The Time Has Come

Troy ClarksonAmy Rader Photographer - Troy Clarkson

Sometimes, a good idea sounds even better when considered against the backdrop of a little local history. On Wednesday, as I enjoyed the ebbs and flows of the sea of humanity that passed before me at the Falmouth Village Association’s super-successful arts & crafts festival, I listened intently as two longtime locals, who have seen more than 160 years of Falmouth history between them, shared their perspective on Falmouth, its people and its history. 

Phil Stone and Andy Dufresne have been cutting hair in Falmouth, and with it, listening to ideas and sharing stories, for a combined 120 years or so, and have been living in Falmouth for even longer. As I manned my booth at the street fair, selling books and sharing stories with passersby and Phil (who doubles as my Dad), Andy stopped by to say hello. What unfolded was as fascinating and interesting as the people highlighted in the book I was selling (no wonder Andy and Phil are both in there).

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They took me and a few other Falmouthites who noticed their familiar faces from the barber shop on a vivid ride down Main Street, from the days during World War II when Phil’s dad, Frank Stone, opened Stone’s Barber Shop and uniformed troops were plentiful as they visited from Camp Edwards to the post-war boom in town in the 1960s and early ’70s, when the level of activities at nearby Otis was at its peak and Main Street was bustling with night clubs, restaurants, and new Chevrolets sold by Harvey Clauson, to today’s varied and thriving retail and restaurant mecca. 

The theme of their delightful verbal tome of Falmouth history was change. They noted again and again how many establishments have come and gone and how a few institutions, including their family-owned barber shops, have withstood the winds of change and the tempests of time. Longtime Falmouthite Bob MacDougall stopped by at one point and shared his reminiscence of pulling together a few redeemable bottles at his family’s boatyard to obtain the 12-cent admission to the Falmouth Theater where the Carpet Barn is now (look closely enough at the building and you can still see the name engraved on the façade).

He shared wonderful wartime stories of his mom doing her part and manning a set of binoculars near Great Pond to scan for enemy craft. I soaked in decades of Falmouth history and local color in a few minutes, briefly pondered how fortunate I am to be able to share moments like that, and thought about a similar conversation that may take place at the Falmouth Village Association’s street fair in a few years—or a few decades. What will be the change that those vendors, family and friends fondly recall (or lament)?

As I looked around, I saw a village thoroughfare booming with commerce, and I listened to the din of buying and selling creating a symphony of success for the dozens of vendors—and for our community. I saw an already thriving downtown rocketed into the next dimension of accomplishment. Then my thoughts turned immediately to General John F. Flanagan Jr. The late general, a successful businessman, professor, author, and former chairman of Falmouth’s Transportation Management Commission, was roundly criticized for his vision of a Main Street looking just like it did this week. When he proposed making our downtown thoroughfare pedestrian-only in the summer months, many (including this scribe) offered jeers and catcalls, even calling this plan “outrageous.”

Like many ideas with their basis in bold and avant-garde thinking, the change represented by such a radical proposal was just too much to handle. Like the change that created so many wonderful memories for Andy and Phil, though, this change’s time may have come.  Indeed, after my lesson in history from Andy, Phil, and Bob MacDougall, I now know that Gen. Flanagan was right. The time has come to seriously consider closing Main Street to vehicular1 traffic in the summer. The opportunities this would present for additional retail space, additional civic space, and additional economic and cultural activity are only limited by the imaginations of the people bold enough to pursue it. 

Last week, an editorial on this page lamented the lack of parking and the lack of a comprehensive vision for our downtown. The physical infrastructure improvements have been made—resulting in the success that allows us to contemplate the next generation of enhancements. With a pedestrian mall on Main Street, parking could be diverted to Lawrence School and Mullen-Hall with the already successful trolley service making stops along its route to accommodate shoppers. The newly expanded mega-lot on Palmer Avenue created by the Steamship Authority could also be a great source of additional downtown parking to accommodate our new configuration. The pieces are in place to make it work. All it will take is someone to believe it and support it. 

A generation ago, a group of forward-thinking public servants embraced change and transformed our village from a dying downtown into a flourishing destination. It’s time for a new generation of leaders to do the same by embracing the change sought by Gen. Flanagan. 

(Mr. Clarkson may be contacted at votetroy99@aol.com and followed on Twitter @TroyClarkson59.)

 

Correction, July 18, 2014, 12:47 PM: 1. Changed the word pedestrian to vehicular in this sentence.

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