Willie, West & McGinty, one of the most popular acts on vaudeville, arose from local performers who appeared on the second-floor stage at the old town hall in Bradford in the early 20th century. “The act was a carefully calibrated and timed ‘ballet’ of inept workers creating a shambles instead of the building they were supposed to construct,” according to one commentator. Selectman Jim Bibbo says the local stage helped develop scores of similarly talented people.
By Ray Carbone
BRADFORD – On the heels of the planning board’s recent “visioning” session that allowed residents to talk about how they’d like to see the town develop, Jim Bibbo, the chairman of the selectboard, is starting a Bradford economic development group.
Bibbo says he’s been interested in economic development on the state and regional levels for many years, and now wants to help the town develop its own ideas.
“We are just beginning to pull together to do this,” said Karen Hambleton, the town administrator. “We decided to call it ‘community development’ because we want to build community within the community (of the group).”
The new, unofficial committee, which has only met twice, currently numbers about 10 people, Bibbo said. The group is working with Jared Reynolds, a Merrimack County community and economic development specialist who works for the UNH’s Coop Extension.
“When it was a theater there were people who went on in their (theatrical) careers from Bradford,” Bibbo noted. “There was Willie, West & McGinty. They were a trio, like the Three Stooges… And there’s Will Cressy who was on vaudeville and wrote hundreds of skits for other performers.’
Selectman Jim Bibbo
Community planners have long advocated for sound economic development plans. A good one can help stabilize the town’s tax base while insuring growth that maintains the community character that residents enjoy.
“The town needs to grow,” Bibbo explained. “Our tax bases isn’t that large. There’s not a lot of business as compared to other towns.”
At the planning board’s visioning meeting last month, residents talked about their hopes for a business revival in the village with more tourism-related enterprises and other enterprises. Growing the town while maintain its rural and historic character was also discussed.
The meeting was aimed at providing input as the planning board begins updating the town’s Master Plan. The new unofficial community development group will also work with the town’s previous official functions, Bibbo said. “The committee is going to have to stay within the Master Plan,” he explained.
The selectman said he has no specific goals for the group, and that he wants it to chart its own course in the coming months. The members will begin working on a vision statement and goals as they move through the committee’s initial growth stages.
Bibbo expressed optimism about plans to continue developing the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail through Bradford, and would like to see repairs on some of the sidewalks on West Main Street.
In addition, he’s been a proponent for completing the improvements to the Old Town Hall, and confessed to being disappointed that town voters didn’t support the project moving forward at the annual March meeting. The historic structure can add to economic revival, particularly if the second floor theater is revived. “That would benefit not just Bradford but also surrounding communities,” he said.
“When it was a theater there were people from Bradford who went on in their (theatrical) careers from Bradford,” Bibbo noted. “There was Willie, West & McGinty, they were vaudeville stars. They were a trio, like the Three Stooges… And there’s Will Cressy who was on vaudeville and wrote hundreds of skits for other performers.”
Cressy has another connection to Bradford’s possible economic future, the selectman said. “He owned all the land in back of East Main Street where the community center is now,” he explained. “That’s one of the projects we’ve put in to the state, to put a road back there that would run parallel to Route 103.”
Right now that property is part of a Brownfield Project, which means it has pollution problems that need to be resolved before any construction project can be begin, Bibbo said.
Anyone interested in joining the new committee is encouraged to contact Bibbo or Hambleton, the town administrator, at (603) 938-5900 or email@example.com
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 17, 2018.