Despite its attractions, town has lost many jobs

By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 5/10/2003

The town has one of the lowest tax rates in the state. It's housing prices are reasonable, and its schools attract families who can't afford to live within Interstate 495. That's the good news.

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The bad news is that Dudley, a Worcester County community overlooking the Quineboag Valley on the Connecticut border, is hemorrhaging jobs.

Last month, Ethan Allen Inc., a manufacturer of home furnishings, closed its plant, one of three of its US plants to be shuttered. The Stevens Linen division of Toltec Fabrics, which dated back to 1846, also ceased operations here recently. The closings at the town's biggest employers took many by surprise.

Dorothy "Dee" Mann, a selectwoman, said that while eyewear maker Gentex Optics recently expanded its plant in Dudley, town officials have formed a committee to determine how to attract other businesses.

"We have precious little commercial tax base," Mann said. "And if we ever needed more revenues it's now."

In its early days, Dudley thrived on about 200 poultry and dairy farms. But farming diminished in the mid-19th century as mills sprang up along the Quinebaug and French rivers.

Samuel Slater, father of the American industrial revolution, owned mills in Dudley and in nearby Webster. Today, several former mill buildings are vacant, and just a handful of farms remain. Most residents commute to jobs in Worcester, Boston, Hartford, Springfield, or Providence.

This week, the MLS Property Information Network listed 33 single-family homes for sale: a three-bedroom ranch on June Street, for $189,900, and 18 other homes that were listed for less than $300,000. A new four-bedroom Colonial on Susan Drive was listed at $344,900.

Three multifamily dwellings were listed, including a $194,900 duplex, a $269,900 three-family, and a $465,000 remodeled five-family. There were two condominiums available at Stonegate on Wysocki Drive: a one-bedroom for $54,900 and a two-bedroom for $94,900.

Town Meeting has approved a $5.7 million renovation to turn the former West Main Street Elementary School into the new Town Hall that will house the Police Department and a senior citizen center, as well as town departments. Construction is expected to begin this year. The former Town Hall will house the library.

Dudley is home to Nichols College, which offers four-year programs in business and teacher preparation.

Students from Dudley and neighboring Charlton attend Shepherd Hill Regional High School. Last year, a majority of 10th-graders scored advanced or proficient on the MCAS English exam, while 40 percent need improvement on math, and 13 percent failed the test.

Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@hotmail.com.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 5/10/2003.
© Copyright 2003 New York Times Company
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