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MER Update: Westinghouse, “Victorian” Crook Street Lamps, Lenox

On a snowy evening this past February, Lenox welcomed back its historic 1913 Westinghouse streetlights with a gala celebration. It was a Currier & Ives moment: women in feathered picture-frame hats and bustles and men in frock coats, stand-up collars, and cravats gathered in the village center, a gray winter day dissolving into a snow-frosted twilight. Someone stepped forward and flipped a switch, and the murky street was aglow with soft white light cast by a row of newly-installed streetlights. But the flashing cameras recorded the event on computer chips rather than glass-plate negatives, and the horsepower of the vehicles lining the street was definitely not the single-digit variety.

Listed on Preservation Massachusetts’ Most Endangered Resources list in 2003, the Westinghouse streetlights have a distinctive saucer-shaped reflector suspended from a scrolled bracket. Of the original set of 149 donated by George Westinghouse, only a couple dozen remained intact after the town replaced most of the fixtures with cobra lights in the 1980s. By 2003, only seven of those were still functional. According to the Berkshire Eagle, the PM designation was a turning point in the campaign to get the lights replaced. The new lamps are replicas of the originals, except for the globes, which have modern energy-efficient bulbs.

Lenox resident Marcia Brown fought to get the lights restored almost from the day they were removed, and speakers from State Representative Smitty Pignatelli to Selectboard Chair Linda Procopio Messana paid to tribute to Ms. Brown’s dedication. In costumes borrowed from Shakespeare and Company, members of the Historical Commission gave the illumination ceremony and reception a turn-of-the-century atmosphere.

At the reception that followed, ZBA Chair Pam Kueber also credited the Selectboard, Town Manager, and strong support from Lenox residents for bringing Ms. Brown’s dreams to fruition. Residents voted $100,000 in CPA funds to supplement $25,000 raised by the Historical Commission and $1.2 million in town funds for the project. The reproduced streetlamps will be added to several village center streets as part of an overall beautification program that will include landscaping, sidewalks, and other amenities.

Several storeowners expressed their hopes that the new lighting will make the town more welcoming to tourists and encourage visitors to stay later in the evenings for shopping and dining. Some felt that the push for the Westinghouse streetlamp restoration had given impetus to the other downtown improvement plans. The excitement of local merchants was testimony to the role that small details like streetlamps can play in reflecting a community’s character.

– On February 27, 2010 The Berkshire Eagle quoted Circuit Rider Michele Barker in an article by David Pepose titled “Illumination for Lenox.” Unfortunately, the article is no longer available through the Berkshire Eagle’s website, but it is available through ProQuest Database. Please contact your local library for information on how to access the database.

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