Courcelle building: A history
The change in ownership of the Courcelle Brothers Army Reserve building on North Street Extension, where the city is in the process of acquiring title in order to establish the Recreation Department in suitable quarters, brings to mind the events in the 1950s when the place was originally established.
The field along the street stretched from the property fronting North Main Street to the back of properties on Bellevue Avenue. It was owned by an out-of-state couple whose real estate dealer was Dan J. Healy. The Army Reserve people came to town and negotiated with Healy’s real estate office, which was located on Merchants Row.
Healy was also Rutland’s mayor, and when the property negotiations were being finished, Healy apparently told the Army people that he would oversee any paperwork that was needed to take place at City Hall. But when city officials approached the Army people about such things as property transfer notices and possible building permits, the Army people said: “The mayor is taking care of all that.”
That was a red flag to local political people opposed to the mayor. Alderman Howard W. Douglas had an ingrained suspicion of Irish politicians, and Healy made no secret of his pride in being blue-collar Irish. Another person often critical of Healy was Alderman Joseph R. Paul.
The Army remark about Healy “taking care” of permits and such may have been innocent, but the wording allowed bad interpretations to be made. Here was the head of city government about to make some money when the federal government bought the property he was agent for, and it was made to sound as if he was going to make sure that nothing at City Hall would interfere with that transaction.
Some of Healy’s opponents never used the word “corruption,” but they acted as if they thought that’s what it was.
Then there were the neighbors, especially owners on Bellevue Avenue who had been able to look out from their back on a peaceful field, and now they learned that an Army building was being considered for that field. They took their worries to the Board of Aldermen, and Healy’s critics on the board saw to it that they got good mileage out of the situation.
It soon became clear to the Army Reserve that things were not going as smoothly as had been hoped, so a colonel was dispatched from Boston to try to allay the fears being expressed. He soon looked very bemused at what he heard in the course of several long special meetings of the board.
Some neighbors spoke of the fear of the noise of Army trucks rumbling next to their houses in the middle of the night. Another neighbor asked how many tanks would be stationed at the spot and whether they would be used in practice.
Still another said: “I don’t want cannon going off in my back yard.”
It was obvious that the word “Army” in the term “Army Reserve” turned their minds to regular Army activities such as target practice and vehicular operations. They didn’t realize that the building was intended for periodic training of individual units.
The Army colonel tried to reassure everybody. There would be no cannon going off, he said, and there would be no tanks in the place. Any use of trucks would be minimal and always in the daylight hours if at all. The building was intended for drilling personnel, not for exercising military hardware.
Healy’s opponents on the board kept the hearings going as long as possible, but in the end they could do nothing to stop the process. Permits were granted, and the building, named for two brothers who had died in wartime, entered into a peaceful period. Mayor Healy, who had snorted in derision at the suggestion of corruption, said his commission for the sale of the property was not very large and continued as mayor for a number of years. But the situation made for a very active summer in the aldermanic chambers.
Kendall Wild is a retired editor of the Herald.