Town Crier

For the past 70 years, Wilmington has operated under a charter called the town manager plan. To date, the town has had 10 men in that position, plus a few others in temporary status.

The new charter greatly reduced the number of elected officials and set some new priorities. It es­tablished Wilmington’s reputation as a town fo­cused on growth. The post-war years saw rapid growth, but many towns had made no preparations for it.

The Wilmington charter is called a strong town manager plan. In one court case, the manager’s action was challenged by the chief of police. The chief lost. In his remarks, the judge re­ferred to the town manager’s power as being “of tsarist proportions.”

When the charter was adopted in 1951, the sel­ect­men hired a local man, Harry Deming, for about a month. He had been the town accountant and also the bookkeeper at the Har­riman Tannery for many years.

In April 1951, the first professional manager took the reins. He was Dean Cushing, who had been town manger in London­derry, NH. His task was to put the new charter into operation, bringing all boards and personnel to­gether. The new five-member board of selectmen delegated control of the daily operations to the manager. One priority was to attract new industry. During his tenure, Nation­al Polychemicals and Raf­fi & Swanson landed on Eames Street, and the Char­les River Breeding Labs on Ballardvale Street. Cushing remained on the job for nearly three years, moving on to become manager in Gloucester.

Joseph Courtney be­came manager in May 1954. He served as assistant to the city manager in Medford for three years. He was manager during the planning of I-93 and was responsible for there being four exits in town. He was also largely responsible for Avco (now Textron) building a large research complex on Low­ell Street.

During Courtney’s term of office, an attempt was made to roll back the town manager plan and put the town back under the old charter. The advocates of this became known as “The Termites” and their slogan was, “Joe must go!” But in the town election, the proposal lost, 1,057 votes in favor, with 1,426 opposed.

On March 8, 1956, the Town Crier headline read, “Joe stays.”

Two years later, Joe did go, accepting a State House position as co-director of the Audit of State Needs. He later became a professor at Boston University, and then a lawyer.

The town assessor, Al­fred Calabrese, took over on April 1, 1958. On July 7, he was hired on a 3-2 vote by the selectmen. Probab­ly his greatest achievement was landing a shopping center, Wilmington Plaza. When the DeMou­las supermarket announ­ced plans to build in Wil­mington, George DeMou­las credited Calabrese with providing the encouragement that helped in the decision.

Calabrese is best re­membered for blocking gravel trucks on Andover Street during the construction of I-93 and 125. He had the Highway De­partment dig a ditch across the road. Once it was filled in, he then blocked the road with his car. That action was his downfall. Barely a year after he was hired, he was gone. He left at the end of July 1959 to become the chief assessor in West­port, Connecticut.

Cecil Lancaster became manager in August 1959. He is remembered for a massive blunder, resulting from a simple mistake. A firm named Insultab bought a piece of land-locked land at the dead-end of the roadbed of the old Salem and Lowell Railroad. In spite of some serious negative points, Lancaster pushed the matter through Town Meeting.

Insultab would build the road and the town would install a water main, paid for by “betterments.” This left two uninterested, un­involved abuttors on the hook. It was named for former police chief Harry Ainsworth.

With the water main installed, the plant built and road named, the In­sultab company found itself at a dead-end. Lan­caster had neglected to register the land-taking in the Registry of Deeds. Ownership of the road reverted to former owner Bob Evans.

It was during the Lan­caster reign that Sweet­heart Plastics came to town, building a large plant in a wet area near Wilmington Center. The primary access was over the rickety Burlington Ave­nue bridge.

In Sept. 1962, the selectmen voted to renew Lan­caster’s contract for three years. On Oct. 1, he said that he would but was refusing reappointment because he was accepting an offer from Haverhill. Then on Oct. 3, he ap­peared before the town clerk to be sworn in for another three years. He did leave two weeks later, on Oct. 17, 1962.

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