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Boswell Seeks Change
Photo: Hemera
Norwich, Connecticut — The gritty, lower section of Boswell Avenue is a small neighborhood fighting to outrun a citywide reputation for its crime. Massive homes divided into multi-family units at the mouth of the street give way to non-descript tenement buildings farther up the block. Some houses have fresh paint and fenced-in yards with gardens. But blight is no stranger on the street's lower end, where the charred remains from a fire at 61 Boswell Avenue are piled high across from a boarded, white structure at 60 Boswell Ave. that was condemned by the city last year.

The residents -- established and new, American and immigrant, students and blue collar workers -- vary as much as the street's physical character and often stay to themselves. But most neighborhood residents, city leaders and police share a sense the street isn't defined by last weekend's fatal shooting of 19-year-old Sean Hill on the corner of Boswell and Lake Street.

"Despite the extremes of the neighborhood, there is a respect here," said Roselyn Harris, who moved with her husband, Calvin, and two children back to her childhood home on lower Boswell Avenue four years ago. The Harrises are a spiritual family. Matt, 14, and Sarah, 13, are home-schooled and the whole family attends Norwich Seventh-day Adventist Church. Roselyn said she was inspired to take over her parent's house on Boswell Avenue when her family was looking to downsize from a middle-class neighborhood in Plainfield.
"We live here with a trust that God is bigger than a shooting," she said. "There's not fear."

Crime statistics and residents' stories confirm the area has come a long way in a decade.

Shedding Yesterday's Stigma

Roselyn Harris said the area is for people "either in transition or this is the best they can do." She said her family prays often for the neighborhood and its residents, but they've found if expectations in the neighborhood remain high, then people often live up to them. "The street does have a stigma to it, but I don't think it's a fair stigma," she said. "The neighborhood is in transition, but it's not ever going to hit bottom like it was."

Linda Scott, 64, who has overseen the street's neighborhood crime watch for years, trims branches from trees in front of her bedroom window to keep an eye up and down the street. She said police and watchful residents help the neighborhood. "It was really bad when I first came here," said Scott, who moved to Boswell Avenue 17 years ago. "I kind of ignored it and finally I got tired of it."

"Years ago, they'd be hesitant to go out, especially at night. There'd be drug dealers out on the stoops," said Les King, who lives on Boswell and owns rental properties in the lower end. "It's been eight to 10 years since it was very bad. Now everybody is comfortable here."

Ed Martin, the city's blight enforcement officer, credits King with helping turn the neighborhood around.

"He was the one who took a risk down there. He invested in that area," Martin said. "At one time, the banks wouldn't even touch that place. They wouldn't give out loans for any property over there."

King, vice president of the Norwich Property Owners Association, attributed the neighborhood upswing to an increase in home ownership. Of the 27 homes in the first stretch of Boswell Avenue, 13 are listed as owner-occupied, according to city land records. King said homeowners take more pride in their properties and improve the overall appearance of the street. They also fight more against crime.

Nowadays the Harrises are some of the most active on the street. They've led cleanup efforts and collected coats or other items for the needy residents of the street and have found the spirit of pitching in is contagious.

"A lot of people, in a quiet way, do what they can for the neighborhood," Roselyn Harris said.
Click here to read more about Boswell Street.

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By Dorothy Schneider. Excerpted from norwichbulletin.com. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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