GLOCESTER – Al Costantino wants to give the antique Purple Cat trolley to the town. The trolley was previously a part of the Purple Cat Restaurant in the center of Chepachet Village, and was recently uncovered when the building surrounding it was torn down to make way for a new complex.
At a recent Glocester Town Council meeting, Costantino offered to give the trolley to the town and move the antique from its current location to somewhere else in town at his own expense. He suggested a possible location might be behind the town pavilion on Putnam Pike, located across from the liquor store near the center of Chepachet Village.
Right now, explained Costantino, the trolley is in a location on Route 102, inside a building where it is dry and safe from the elements. He said before moving the trolley from its original location as part of the Purple Cat Restaurant near the center of the village, he reinforced the basic structure and took other necessary steps to preserve it for future renovations.
Unfortunately, he said, the renovations he planned on would take a good deal of time, possibly years, and due to his age and other obligations, it’s a project he said he can no longer take on. Those obligations include finishing a project currently underway at the former Purple Cat location, encompassing several buildings and other major construction, which has been in the process for a couple of years so far. Costantino originally planned on placing the trolley in front of the new ice cream parlor, but he notes there was not enough room.
The building, he said, is part of the town’s history and should remain in the town.
“There’s a lot of history to that trolley,” said Costantino.
Costantino presented an article from an old newspaper clipping explaining that the trolley was once used to transport mill workers from Woonsocket to Pascoag. The mill shut down in 1927. Kevin Lavoie’s grandfather bought that and another trolley, and moved them to the Chepachet location, opening it up as the Purple Cat Restaurant in 1929. One trolley was used for the kitchen. The other became a lunch counter. Costantino produced a picture of Kevin’s father, Ken “Skip” Lavoie, sitting on one of the stools as a 5 or 6-year-old after it opened. Ken and his wife Rose Lavoie subsequently operated the restaurant from 1964 to 2007 before closing it. Ken Lavoie passed away in 2018 and Rose Lavoie passed away in 2017.
Rose Lavoie was an active member of a variety of organizations and committees in town, including serving as president of the Glocester Heritage Society, and was a founding member and past president of the Glocester Business Association. She earned numerous awards and recognitions for her efforts and involvement in the town, and was selected as Citizen of the Year in 2012.
Costantino explained that the trolley was actually built by the Watson Trolley Company, of Springfield, Mass. The company built trolleys from 1902-1907. Shoreline Trolley Museum in East Haven, Conn., he said, restores trolleys like the one in question.
“My thoughts are: I put a lot of money into that trolley,” said Costantino.
That involved carefully removing the building that had been constructed around it in order to preserve the trolley during demolition. Then to move it cost $4,600, he added. It would cost another $4,600 to move it back.
“There’s a lot of work to do there,” said Costantino. “It’s a project that might take a few years to do. It might take two years, three years, five years (to restore it). The history of it, it has a presence in this town.”
He suggested that the town construct a concrete slab behind the town pavilion where it could then be placed and enclosed for future renovations. Costantino offered to pay the cost of the move back.
Councilor Walter Steere asked Costantino if he could give an estimated cost for the renovations.
“I don’t know,” responded Costantino. “I’ve never done that before. I could see where you could spend $50,000.”
He suggested contacting Shoreline Museum for a more accurate estimate. He also suggested possibly finding retired craftsmen in town or offering parts of the project to high schoolers who are taking trade classes.
“I think it’s a really cool idea to somehow save this, to preserve it, as, obviously, a big piece of history of Glocester,” said Town Council Vice President Stephen Arnold. “History is meaningful for a lot of people here in our community. I appreciate you bringing this idea forward.”
Arnold added that there are many unknowns, however. He suggested looking into grants, contacting the local historical society and pursuing other avenues for help.
“I like the idea of it,” he said. “I don’t have a flash on the execution of it as we sit here right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was $100,000. You’ve got to have the right people working on it.”
Costantino suggested making the previously mentioned concrete slab big enough for workers to work on it and building a temporary building around it so it could be worked on in the future, even if that takes several years to organize and/or fund.
The council made no decision, but agreed to reach out to local groups for help or suggestions to restore and/or at least preserve the trolley for renovations in the future.
“I would hate to move it for $4,600 back to an area where it would just crumble, if it wasn’t going to be maintained,” said Arnold. “I do love the idea of preserving it somehow.”