Thursday, June 28, 2012

Along the Lines

The tie job switched locations again last week, moving south from Beverly to Everett.  

Beverly, though a city, is suburban in affect. Most houses are single-family, spaced apart from each other by healthy patches of grass. The houses along the coast are large and well-maintained. The estates along the shore in the section of the city known as Beverly Farms (John Updike lived there) are even more impressive. The old shoe factory has been converted into offices, shops and class space for North Shore Community College.

Everett sits on the banks of the Mystic River, urban to its core. From the streets of West Everett, where our new yard is located, the Boston Skyline is visible even on a cloudy day. The houses in this neighborhood are multi-family, built shoulder to shoulder dense, patches of worn earth as common as grass. The faces on the sidewalks, waiting at the bus stops and in line at the convenience store for butts and scratch tickets run the gamut of fleshy hues, milky to olive to umber to ebony.

The two cities share an industrial legacy, as do many cities in Massachusetts, from Haverhill to Fall River. They also share in the legacy of industrial decline. 

Pictured above is the old Charleston Chew factory in Everett, empty more than a decade now. There have been a fair amount of these abandoned, boarded-up structures on the other side of the fence from the tracks these past two and a half months. To keep with the confectionery theme, for a few weeks in Lynn we passed the long brick building left to rot topped with a weather sign barely reading "Home of Fluff!" Also in Lynn, we passed a large empty lot across from the GE property. I assumed this was a defunct parking lot until my brother-in-law informed me the lot I was looking at every day had been until five years ago the site of GE's gearbox factory. 

Manufacturing in the northeast was replaced by the rise of the tech and financial sectors and growth in health care and higher education. Massachusetts lucked out, to put it cynically, or the state put itself in a position to be lucky, with the power of positive thinking. Either way, many Bay State citizen's woke up one day to discover their brainpower had become more important than the skill and strength in their hands. The railroad was able to adapt by switching priorities: moving people over transporting materials.

Still, the skeletons of the former age putrefy above ground, in plain sight. Because of the previous connection between the economic model of generations past and my present employment, I am afforded a first hand view of the open-air graveyard.


  1. This subject is so close to my heart, and...where are they making Fluff now?! I always enjoyed buying it because I knew it was made here. That's disturbing. At any rate, you know I spend a lot of my time in gateway cities, and usually dealing with things that are reminders of just how much we used to make here (in Fitchburg alone: baby carriages, shoes, yarn, furniture, textiles, clothing, paper, machine tools, firearms. And the HNE collections warehouse is in an industrial section of Haverhill; it was once a shoe factory, as were most of the other buildings).

    It's such a waste, honestly. I've been watching a mill revitalization project in Leominster on French Hill for a couple of years now, and like most of the old mills, it's being turned residential. But what I want to know is where the people in those apartments are going to work? This isn't a city where most people commute to Boston for white-collar jobs. We're far enough out that if you can afford to live closer, you do. I'm so troubled by our manufacturing loss. Fitchburg, particularly, is a study in wasted resources, and it's mostly because the major highway is now 2 and not 2A. Leominster gets the economic development and Fitchburg has whatever it can scrape from the college and a poor, relatively uneducated working class. It is a heartbreaking place.

    1. That we don't make those particular items in this state anymore doesn't bother me as much. It's that the manufacturers, state and federal government never took any steps to figure out what could be made here in their place to assure the working class citizens of cities like Fitchburg, Fall River and Lawrence have access to the type of jobs that provide a decent living and, maybe, an ladder into the middle class. Large global economies like Germany and Japan made the transition by finding increased productivity through technology, not at the expense of workers. I know the state is pushing biomedical manufacturing, and that's fine, but people don't realize the reason evergreen solar went belly up, instead of expanding to places like Fitchburg or Weymouth of Springfield, is because the Chinese government subsidized their solar industry to the tune of a 100 billion dollars specifically to keep American companies out of the market. Government action on the behalf of workers isn't weakness or a sin against God-Capitalism, it's an investment by the commonwealth in the commonwealth.