Hell’s Acres, The North End, Springfield, Massachusetts
“YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN,” WROTE THOMAS WOLFE. “WELL, I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN THE SIXTEEN ACRES NEIGHBORHOOD OF SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS. THEN, AFTER COLLEGE, I GOT OUT OF DODGE AND LIVED IN BOSTON FOR 21 YEARS, ONLY TO RETURN IN 2007, WHEN MY CAREER BROUGHT ME BACK HERE. I DON’T LIVE IN THE OLD ’HOOD’ NOW (MY NEW DIGS ARE IN WILBRAHAM), BUT I WORK IN THE ACRES. IT ISN’T EXCLUSIVELY ABOUT GROWING UP—AND RETURNING TO—THE SPRINGFIELD AREA, I CAN’T SEEM TO ESCAPE IT. OR CAN I?” – THOMAS WOLFE
For me, I actually was born in the North End of Springfield and grew up hanging out on the streets of the neighborhood which came to be known as the “Brightwood” section of the city. It was working class, poor mixed with those more fortunate. At the same time there was a community feeling. One in which you knew just about everyone on the street and perhaps spent time at their house or walked through their yard as a shortcut on the way to school, or to church, or on the way to a friends house nearby. The stores that once were, no longer exist or if they do they are almost unrecognizable. In spite of the physical changes, with the influx of new residents through the years, there is still something special about walking down Main Street in that part of the city that draws you back, as in the words of Thomas Wolfe, who once worked as a first-time reporter for the local newspaper. I understand what it means when he says he “can’t seem to escape it. Or can I?” It has changed. It has its challenges. But, there still exists a community feeling there from what I see when photographing there. There is always danger – that exists in practically every city in the country. It existed while I was growing up there. And, especially where populations have economic difficulties or preconceived notions exist toward certain populations in segments of the city. In photographing in what was once referred to as “Hell’s Acres” I found the people more pleasant than are thought to be by those people whom live outside the neighborhood or the city itself.
This is a beginning body of work, one that I should have begun 40 years ago. One thing that I’ve had the advantage of understanding is its social and physical transformation, from what was once a mix of ethnic peoples of varied cultural backgrounds mostly made up of Irish, French Canadian, and others living there since the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, to what is primarily a Latino community now. This is a beginning and ongoing project.