Although I now live in Falmouth, I was a resident of Troy, New York, for 40 years—as recently as 2008. I was, therefore, quite interested in Troy Clarkson’s impressions of Troy in his column, “Lessons from the Fall of Troy,” on August 8. Not surprisingly, he was struck by Troy’s present appearance of a fallen grandeur, and he drew from this a lesson for Falmouth. I concur with much of what he said, I but would change the emphasis and draw a different lesson for Falmouth.
Like many former industrial cities of New England and the Midwest, Troy lost a succession of its industries over the 19th and 20th centuries. Could Troy or any of these other cities have successfully retained or replaced their lost industries? It is impossible to know. But what distinguishes Troy from many cities with similar losses is its magnificent buildings—blocks and blocks of them—that Mr. Clarkson was rightly impressed with. Much of it is still an almost intact 19th century city with office buildings, storefronts, brownstones, churches, et cetera, all with the fine architectural details of their eras. At least two different major films have used parts of the city for their sets.
There surely are empty storefronts and empty stories in various buildings, as Mr. Clarkson noted in his column. But there are fewer such vacancies than there would have been 25 or even 10 years ago. The grand architecture has always drawn some people to want to have businesses or townhouses in Troy, and over these last two decades it has drawn an ever increasing number. Five different people whom I have known have moved into townhouses or large apartments in historic buildings during the last eight years, and I have seen new businesses, especially restaurants, in such buildings each time that I have gone back. Even though the industries and wealth that built the city have long departed, the buildings left behind have made possible its revival and continue to do so.
I am not sure how the majority of Troy’s buildings were spared from wrecking balls—sometimes by luck, sometimes by plan, and surely through the two educational institutions Mr. Clarkson mentions. But in addition a very important step was taken a number of years ago when the city itself determined that historic buildings should be saved and conserved, even when they did not yet have an immediate prospective buyer or tenant who would preserve the main architectural features of the buildings
For me, Troy’s lesson for Falmouth is clear: the importance of preserving historic buildings. It is these that provide the visual character of the town, the “feel,” which can be hard to articulate but which affects visitors and residents deeply nevertheless. So, the efforts, the protests, to save buildings like the Elm Arch Inn are not nostalgic folly but investments in the present and future of the town. Historic preservation needs to have the priority here that it has come to have in Troy.
Jack L. Easterling