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‘The end of an era’: Iconic billboards to be taken down Saturday morning

by | Mar 28, 2024 | Featured: News, News

Hayden Rowe billboards

These two billboards on Hayden Rowe Street are slated to be removed Saturday. PHOTO/JERRY SPAR

Two old billboards on the former Connelly Farms property, on Hayden Rowe Street just north of College Street, will be removed early Saturday morning, signaling “the end of an era,” according to an advocate for their stay.

At its March 5 meeting, the Historical Commission voted 4-1 for their removal. The billboards were referred to as “iconic” rather than historic by chair Michael Roughan. He explained there were no documents or photographs proving that the billboards were there for at least 75 years — a requirement for historical designation.

Ed Harrow, the chair of the Open Space Preservation Commission, called the billboards’ removal “the end of an era.” He has been a staunch advocate for keeping them, along with Craig Nation, a development team member for the Emerald Drive subdivision, which is being built on adjacent land.

The OSPC is poised to receive an open space land donation from the developer, which includes the land on which the signs are located. An article to that effect will be on the warrant for Annual Town Meeting May 6.

Harrow had hoped that the revenue generated from billboard ads could be used by the OSPC. He cited a situation in Holliston where cell towers on the town’s water tank were used to generate funds for that town’s OSPC in the hope that this decision set a precedent for Hopkinton’s potential use.

Added Harrow: “They’re part of the charm of Hopkinton.”

In recent OSPC and Historical Commission meetings, Nation said the billboards were quaint and advocated for them to remain. He often referred to them as landmarks for visitors to town.

In a March 15 email to Nation, Chris Howe, a real estate representative from Clear Channel Outdoor, the company that owns the billboards, asked for a letter from the town indicating that the billboards be removed in accordance with the town’s directive. This led to the March 30 removal date.

During the Historical Commission meeting, suggestions were made about potential billboard use. One person feared that inappropriate messages could be posted on them if there were no oversight and cited the current trend of utilizing electronic billboards. Historical Commission members mentioned the potential for using them for advertisements for town events.

The removal of the billboards is the latest in a series of frustrations for the OSPC. Harrow has said in meetings earlier this year that he is concerned that developers don’t approach the OSPC regarding open space conveyance, turning solely to the Planning Board without incorporating the OSPC in the process.

This has happened twice in recent months, with this project and with the conveyance of open space off Whisper Way that will also appear on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant.

“Craig Nation and I, together, mounted what I believe to be a stirring defense of the billboards,” Harrow told the Independent in a March 28 email. “The portion of the subdivision which contain the billboards is destined to become OSPC property, and the Open Space Preservation Commission voted to keep them.

“The Planning Board had previously ruled that, unless deemed historic by the Historical Commission, they had to go” he continued. “OSPC was not consulted in that decision.”

He added that he and Nation “have documented evidence of their existence in 1938.” However, no picture was produced at the January and March Historical Commission meetings.

At the January Historical Commission meeting, Roughan said the billboards’ original date of construction could not be verified, according to his meeting summary video. While residents claimed they have been there since 1950, that narrowly misses the 75-year requirement by one year.

Harrow added he and Nation met with representatives of Clear Channel to discuss the removal process. An advertisement already had fallen off of one of the billboards, he said.

“[O]f them, I can only say how grateful I am that they were supportive of Craig’s and my interest in their billboard,” he stated regarding Clear Channel Outdoor. “And that they have proved men of their word, scheduling the removal of the billboards, at their expense, ASAP.”

He lamented the billboards’ departure for several reasons.

“Besides losing their historic presence, Hopkinton is losing a relatively token amount of income, any possibility of goodwill additional donations for matters of interest to the OSPC, and billboard space at nominal rates ($300) for items of interest to Hopkinton.”


  1. Joe

    I don’t understand how billboards can be considered a charm. They’re bit of an eyesore. In an environment where we have ads everywhere, isn’t it better to see some trees?

  2. Jim Ciriello

    I just read the news report that the billboards on the N/F owned by (Connelly) are slated for removal tomorrow. For the reasons cited below, the billboard removal work MUST be stopped immediately.

    That work must be stopped because the property owner may have to submit a Request for Determination of Applicability (RDA) or Notice of Intent (NOI) to the Conservation Commission (HCC) for this work if it is in an area within a Wetland Resource Area. Permitting for work in a wetland resource area is under the jurisdiction of the HCC.

    Additionally, the Planning Board (PB) has no authority to decide the fate of these billboards. That decision must be made by the Open Space Preservation Commission (OSPC) as the property is or will be under the care, custody and control of the OSPC.

    The existence of the billboards has never been a question or issue. It would not be an issue now if the property continued to be privately owned.

    The revenue from the Land lease for these signs would be immensely beneficial to the OSPC in managing this and other properties.

    For the above reasons, the removal work must be stopped TODAY.

    • Craig R Nation

      Day late and a dollar short my friend. Where have you been the last couple months we have been fighting this? I’m terrible at sourcing allies apparently. I never dreamed we would get so much opposition either. I mean who has been honestly bothered by the presence of signs set back amongst the tree line?

  3. Ruth

    The planning board should stay out of it. The billboards have been there since the 1930s. Stop this ridiculous action. Do not remove them.

  4. Rufus

    Rich slobs win

    • Craig Nation

      Who is the slobs? And who is winning? Thanks for the clarification.

  5. Dan Murphy

    Wow, I don’t think I have ever heard of people actually wanting billboards. Ever.

  6. Craig Nation

    I submitted photographic aerials from 1938 to the Chair of the Historic commission. He acknowledged receiving them but failed to show at the meeting. Idk? I also showed the board at the meeting with my phone.

  7. John

    I’m sorry, but the billboards are an eyesore in a semi-natural area. Why would we want to keep them?

    And I would like to point out to Mr Ciriello that while trucks need to enter the area to take down the billboards, trucks also need to enter the area every time the billboards are changed.

    • Ed Harrow

      John, changing a billboards’ message is akin to a wallpapering job. No trucks, on site, are required.

      And, yes, my defense of a pair of billboards is just another of my contradictions. Their charm is that of a bygone time, a time of Burma Shave signs.

    • Ed Harrow

      Stop the presses, the takedown crew is here!

  8. Ed Harrow

    I have it on good authority that the planned billboard removal operation planned for today has been postponed.

    It’s too wet.

  9. Ed Harrow

    In the end, technical problems with another needed truck; the job is postponed to another day.

  10. me

    When the new development was up for approval, the development team stated “these eye soars will come down” to the excitement of the planning board. Did money get in the way of this sentiment?


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