Willard gravel pit fails to sell at auction; smaller Westhampton parcel sold for $150,000

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 08-17-2017 11:33 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A 202-acre site on Ryan Road that for nearly a century has been home for the Bill Willard Inc. sand and gravel pit failed to sell at a public auction Thursday morning.

But a smaller parcel of land owned by Bill Willard in Westhampton off Perry Hill Road extension, roughly 88 acres, was sold at an afternoon auction for $150,000 to Jimmy Meehan, of Meehan Construction Co. Inc., which operates a gravel pit on an adjacent property.

While around 100 people came to the morning auction, organized by Aaron Posnik & Co., auctioneers and appraisers of West Springfield, to bid on equipment, trucks, sand and the remaining gravel inventory, there were no bidders at the initial $1 million asking price, or at the lower $700,000 price tag that was the minimum the auction company would accept.

The potential sale of the land, and the sale of dump trucks, loaders, machinery and other contents of the buildings on site, is expected to bring to an end the Willards’ operations, which until this summer continued to process and sell materials on site.

One of the co-owners who was present for the auction, Donald Willard, said he had just returned from Florida and wouldn’t comment on the reasons that the family opted to sell the land. He referred questions to Springfield attorney Jonathan Goldsmith of Goldsmith, Katz & Argenio P.C.

Goldsmith, who was present for the auction, said he was appointed by the Willard family to oversee the liquidation of the company’s assets, both through the auctions and other real estate sales.

He said the owners would pursue another avenue for selling the property.

Auctioneer Paul Scheer said there are no back taxes owed on the Northampton property.

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Among those who came out for the morning auction was Donald Wade, who lives on Ryan Road and whose uncle, Fred Blobel, helped put up the first wash plant at the gravel pit in the 1930s.

“It’s kind of sad,” Wade said.

Wade said he wouldn’t speculate as to the reasons the family might have for selling, though he noted the property is smaller than many contemporary gravel pits.

Northampton planner Wayne Feiden said the Willard gravel pit remained active until recently. However, much of this activity involved bringing material to the site to be reprocessed, rather than extracting gravel from the property.

Among the material on site up for auction was 2,000 tons of washed mason sand, 10,000 tons of washed concrete sand, numerous cement blocks and decorative landscape rocks.

What could happen to the land in the future is unknown, but Feiden said a residential development wouldn’t be easy.

“It has real challenges for housing,” Feiden said.

‘Old-school product’

Thomas Hathaway, who runs Hathaway Construction, Corp. in Westhampton, came to observe the morning auction.

As a gravel pit operator himself, Hathaway said business is good this year because construction is thriving.

Dave Cotton, who runs Cotton Tree Service in Northampton, looked to bid on general equipment and sharp items.

Cotton said his father was friends with Bill Willard and he continued to have confidence in the company. When he has needed material for landscaping, Cotton said, he still bought from Willard. “It’s a good product, an old-school product,” Cotton said.

Other people on hand for the morning auction were employees of Duffy Willard paving and excavating in Florence, and CMB Trucking and Lavalley & Sons Construction, both of Northampton.

Meanwhile, Goldsmith said he would need to consult with a bank to see if the price for the Westhampton property is acceptable.

Two employees from Meehan refused to identify themselves or elaborate on plans if the purchase is successful.

A lower offer for the Westhampton property, from Lance Lashway of Lashway Logging of Williamsburg, was turned down by Goldsmith. Lashway said he was interested in the timber on the property.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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