By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Region – Chris Skelly, as director of Local Government Programs at the Massachusetts Historical Commission, brings unique perspective to the role.
“Growing up in Northborough had an enormous influence on my interest in historic preservation,” Skelly said. “[With] its old buildings, farmland and stonewalls, Northborough made history come alive for me. I could see it everywhere. By experiencing local history around me, it inspired me to want to learn more.”
During his childhood in Northborough, Skelly remembers riding his bike, and playing hide-and-seek, whiffle ball and kickball near his house on Warren Drive. He attended Northborough Public Schools from kindergarten to his 1984 graduation from Algonquin Regional High School.
During high school, Skelly ran cross-country for Algonquin Regional High School, which also helped fuel his love of history.
“I sure wasn’t fast but it was a wonderful experience for me, he said. “I’d run many of the back roads through Northborough, sometimes even up Ball Hill if I was feeling energetic. I think going slowly along all those windy, back roads gave me time to appreciate and contemplate the history I was seeing around me.”
Skelly said that was not interested in studying history in high school, but his parents helped feed his interest by trips to Old Sturbridge Village. He also remembers his parent’s copy of the 1966 Northborough bicentennial anniversary book. “As a kid, I liked comparing the before and after photos and imagining what it must have been like to live back then. Actually, I still like doing that when I look at old photos,” he said.
In 1989, Skelly earned a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture in Syracuse, N.Y., from the State University of New York College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry. Next, Skelly lived in Bethlehem, Pa., where, he said, “the vastness of that historic, industrial landscape captivated me.
“When I came back to Massachusetts, I had a special fondness for the mill towns of Massachusetts, an interest that remains with me today.”
Four years after completing his bachelor’s degree, Skelly earned a master’s of regional planning from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
During his career, Skelly has worked as a transportation planner, neighborhood planner, and instructor at UMass. He has been with the Massachusetts Historical Commission for the past 18 years. In his current position, according to Skelly, he works with all of the cities and towns in Massachusetts, providing technical assistance in historic preservation planning.
“I offer lots of training and answer lots of questions,” he said. “I try to encourage local communities to do historic preservation planning so that they can grow and, at the same time, keep those unique aspects of their community.”
Skelly works with the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, including Northborough, Westborough, Southborough, Marlborough, Shrewsbury, Grafton and Hudson.
“For a while there, Northborough did not have an active local historical commission,” he said. “I was very happy to assist in getting a commission reactivated.”
The local commissions are part of town governments, appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Skelly explained that they seek to preserve a town’s uniqueness as it grows and changes.
Skelly has lived all over Massachusetts: Northborough, central Mass., Cape Cod, metro Boston and now, in the western part of the state.
“I like the way I’ve covered the whole state,” he noted. “It gives me a great perspective. I love all the cities and towns of Massachusetts, each one is unique, each one has its own special character.”
Still with a connection to Northborough, Skelly said, “I still stop by … when I am in the area – usually Chet’s Diner – for an early morning breakfast.”