The incongruous lions: Rt. 2’s trailer park and its overseers

“What’s the deal with the lions?” That was my question the first time I drove past The Spruces mobile home park on Route 2, and a question I’ve pondered each time I make the drive from Williamstown to North Adams. What’s the deal with the lions? I thought I’d find out, so I paid a visit to The Spruces on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

The first thing I noticed was that, at The Spruces, residents can’t decide which holiday to celebrate. Scarecrows threaten, polar bears prowl, flamingos fla-ming, flags wave and a Bo-Peep peeps from miniature front lawns. But none of this statuary compares to the monoliths at the entrance.

The lions, 15 feet tall and weighing one ton each, stand sentry at the gates of the mobile home park. They are, in every respect, monumental. Curiously, no one at the park seems to find them unusual or out of place. The lions are there because, well, they’re there. Where else would they be?

In the case of these statuary lions, they could be many places – in fact, they have been many places. These are not lions born (cast, molded, carved?) to guard a mobile home park. These lions were made for ostensibly nobler purposes.

Created in 1905 to commemorate Robert Fulton’s 1809 steamship trip up the Hudson, the lions later migrated to Albany where they stood guard at the front of the State Capitol. This gig ended in 1951 when they were placed in storage. There they stayed until 1965, when then-owner Albert Bachand bought them to guard the grounds of his mobile home kingdom.

I asked Mabel Klein, secretary of The Spruces for 48 years, what had possessed Bachand to install the lions. “I guess Al always had his eyes open for something new,” she said.

The Spruces, in its golden days, claimed many wonders, including a photography workshop and pool parlor. But by far the most glorious was the Whispering Fountain. The tiered fountain played soft siren songs and glowed a rainbow of colors – the 1960s equivalent to a laser light show. Tales of its grandeur spread throughout the Berkshires. Bachand writes that, after one rainy season, a woman called, “blaming the Whispering Fountain for putting so much moisture into the air that it caused the recent deluge.”

The fountain lured many visitors who would park along Route 2, clogging traffic. “Well, they weren’t supposed to do that,” lamented resident Roger Rivers. State police claimed that the spectacle was disturbing the peace and after failed negotiations, Bachand dismantled the waterworks.

The Spruces have been in a bit of an uproar lately. The Postal Service has announced plans to change its current door-to-door mail delivery to a “cluster mailbox” in a central location. Residents complain that older homeowners will have trouble lugging their canes and walkers along with their parcels and packages. The North Adams Transcript quoted a statement from the tenant’s association that described the decision as “cruel and unusual punishment” against those “whose only crime is that of getting older.”

“It doesn’t seem like [the park’s governing body] gets much of a say in these sorts of things,” said resident Rolland Harris, rocking under the shade of his sea-foam green mobile home.

Nationwide, the trend of discriminating against mobile home parks has reached a fevered pitch. Once accepted as a placid, if low-rent use of real estate, parks have found existence leading up to the 21st century to be slightly more perilous. A number of Florida communities allegedly on the upswing have re-zoned in ways some say discriminate against trailer residents, while the specter of governmental action looms over those who don’t keep their ‘houses’ in order.

But this doesn’t stop most residents from enjoying what The Spruces community has to offer. There are plans for projects that could restore the park to its former glory. “The new owners are trying to spruce things up,” grinned manager Grace Kegresse. She didn’t have to wink.