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Years after a building fire in Fairlee, volunteers are turning the site into park

  • Travis Noyes, of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., front left, and two of his cousins, not shown, purchased Chapman's store in Fairlee, Vt., from their aunt. A fourth joined the group to buy the former Colby Block site across the street where they gathered with family and volunteers Saturday, May 8, 2021, to turn the vacant lot into a park. Noyes and Lynne Fitzhugh, of Fairlee, front right, spread mulch at the lot as Spencer Gregg, of Livingston, Montana, back left, and Craig Tomlinson, of Orford, back left, set posts for a fence. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Daffodils in bloom wait to be transplanted in a flower box on the Colby lot in Fairlee, Vt., Saturday, May 8, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • As part of an effort to create a park on the site of the Colby Block in Fairlee, Vt., which burned in 2007, Fiona Noyes, of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., left, Colin Gagner, 16, of Fairlee, and Libby Pero, of Bradford, prepare soil for a raised flower bed Saturday, May 8, 2021. Three cousins recently took over Chapman’s store from their aunt and a fourth joined them to purchase the Colby lot across the street where there will be a coffee cart, lawn games and murals. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/8/2021 10:06:35 PM
Modified: 5/8/2021 10:06:32 PM

FAIRLEE — Fourteen years after the Colby Block burned down, the plot of land on Main Street is being turned into a park.

On Saturday, volunteers gathered at the nearly half-acre gravel-and-grass lot across the street from Chapman’s Store to plant flowers, paint picnic tables and spread mulch, among other tasks. The group was led by Chapman cousins Berne Traendly, Travis Noyes and Jonah Richard, who along with their cousin Barrett Brown formed Appleseed Development, which purchased the lot about a month ago for $75,000.

“One of our goals is to see what the town needs and wants in the town center,” Noyes said.

The park, known as Chapman’s Place, will include boccie, horseshoe, tetherball and badminton courts; Fairlee-themed murals painted by area artists; and a coffee cart called Chapman’s Elixirs. It will open later this month, with improvements taking place throughout the spring and summer.

“We’re working with what we have a little bit for this year,” said Traendly, who recently took ownership of Chapman’s Store from his mother Aletta Traendly along with Noyes and Brown.

When the cousins were growing up in the area in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, the Colby Block “was a pretty active lot.”

Then in 2007, when a fire destroyed the seven businesses and three apartments that occupied the space.

“We watched it burn from over there,” Noyes said, pointing across the street to Chapman’s.

The structure was never rebuilt. For a time, it was home to a barbecue restaurant that has since moved down the street.

The cousins were inspired to purchase the lot, in part, by Fairlee’s Main Street to Morey project, which is a community-led effort to make the portion of Main Street, aka Route 5, more appealing to residents, business owners and those who are passing through.

“In reading that report it kind of struck a chord with all of us and demonstrated a real sense of seriousness and dedication from the town to activating the village center,” Richard, who recently purchased the building next to Chapman’s and plans to renovate it to include retail space and apartments, said in a phone interview Friday. “We pulled a lot of our ideas and inspiration from the report to guide what we’re doing on the lot or on the site.”

Richard is in the process of relocating to Fairlee after living in New York City area, where Noyes currently resides. Traendly lives in town and Brown is in Hawaii.

“I think it’s mainly our love for the town. We all kind of grew up in the area. We all came back at least in the summer,” Richard said. “We just have a deep desire to see Fairlee be as vibrant as possible, and I think this is one step toward achieving that.”

Miranda Clemson, a member of Fairlee’s Planning Commission, worked to plant pansies in one of numerous raised beds at the front of the park.

“I remember when Colby Block burned. It was just dreadful,” Clemson recalled. “Ever since then, it’s been a big empty space.”

Clemson, who has lived in the area since 1976, is also on the board for Fairlee Community Arts. When its summer concert series resumes on the Town Common in July, there will be food trucks parked at Chapman’s Place. The lot renovation, along with additional businesses coming to Main Street such as the already open Red Clover Bikes and the upcoming Broken Hearts Burger, have made her excited about the future of the town.

“It’s just really nice to see life come back to Fairlee. Pretty soon, it’s going to be a very happening town,” Clemson said. “Fairlee’s always been a great town: It’s not quaint, but it’s got a heart.”

Among the volunteers who turned out were members of the Cohase Rotary Club, who spoke of the importance of doing community service projects in the region and supporting those who are trying to make a difference in the area.

“Fairlee and Bradford are really wonderful little communities with potential,” said Bruce Williams, a member of the Rotary who is also the assistant superintendent of the Orange East Supervisory Union.

He was painting a picnic table, while facing the Samuel Morey Memorial Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River from Fairlee to Orford.

“I’ve driven by here a bajillion times and never knew what was here,” he said. “Now we will know.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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