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September 25, 2016
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The new town square

Anyone driving through the village of Hancock, NY (my home town), has undoubtedly noticed the fresh, green grass of the new town square. You’ll see the new bandstand and a new pavilion, too, and as of last week, the newly planted trees and a wrought iron archway, which proclaims “Town Square Hancock New York, Gateway to the Upper Delaware.”

Perhaps the greatest improvement of the new town square, however, is the stretch of green lawn that replaces the cracked pavement of what was the parking lot of the former Great American grocery store. That parking lot, plus another across the street, created a sea of asphalt that constituted the center of town throughout my childhood. The new park is a welcome antidote to the old Carly Simon song about paving paradise to “put up a parking lot.”

The construction of the town square has been a long and long-suffering project of the Hancock Partners, Inc., a community organization dedicated to revitalization of the village, with support from the Hancock Area Chamber of Commerce and local government.

The Hancock Partners worked to purchase the Great American lot, secure funding and mitigate unforeseen obstacles. An environmental review found underground contamination at the site that had to be remedied. Contention also arose when the property, now designated as a public park, was removed from the village tax rolls. The Partners and most people I’ve talked to, though, feel the improvements far outweigh any loss of tax revenues and will in fact contribute to economic stability.

The town square project, which has been underway since 2004, has been an even longer dream for town improvement. In fact, Jerry DaBrescia, a project leader, told me that my own father used to talk about the idea back when he was part of the town planning board in the 1970s.

Project cost is around half a million dollars primarily funded through a loan, county and federal grants and local charities. The square was designed by landscape architect David LePro, himself a 1962 graduate of Hancock Central School. The local engineering and surveying firm of Jacobs, Hunt & Associates was also central to the project.

This summer, the Hancock Partners also completed another long-planned project, the Hancock Fitness Trail. The mile-long hiking trail was developed to improve pedestrian safety and comfort as well as access to the downtown business district.
The community’s churches held a blessing for the town square on July 18. It is wonderful to finally see the project in the home stretch. It is a delight to see people enjoying the new park; there are little kids clambering on the steps of the bandstand and riding bikes on the new sidewalks. Concerts, barbeques and a farmer’s market are just a few of the events in the planning for the new town square.

The following poem is by Kristin Barron:

The Closing of the Victory Store
(Aka Charlie’s Great American)

It was a trick mirror
that made the towering peak
of oranges
I put my small, moist hand
on the abrupt glass
where the oranges left off
and the mirror began.
Touched the sleek eggplant,
grapes, melons.
There was a barrel of walnuts
to plunge my hands into.
Asparagus in spring, great beehive
Hubbard squash in fall.
I remember their colors
like a drink.
But best of all was the cardboard banana tree
golden and green
with silver hooks to hang the bananas
for the ladies to pick—

The store is gone now
I roamed the aisles
in its final days
for half-priced diapers and chocolate.
The defunct vaudevillian
shell of a store
with wincing lights
looted shelves
and the banana tree
still in its corner
so sad and stark
for all the world just Easter grass and crepe paper.
(May 2006)