Historic Wilton building sold to Kimball Physics

WILTON – The Wilton Falls Building on Route 31, between Burns Hill Road and the Souhegan River, known to residents as the Wilton Pressed Metals Building, has been purchased by Kimball Physics Inc.

“All of the current lease holders will continue under their same terms,” Kimball Physics owner Chuck Crawford said recently, but there are two short-terms plans.

The construction company that will replace the Souhegan River Bridge this summer under a Department of Transportation contract, will have its office in the building, and Kimball Physics will use part of the building for storage while renovations are made in other areas.

“This is not a permanent solution. There is space for more tenants and we are interested in renting to them,” Crawford said. He said his company owns “11 buildings, most of them in Wilton.” The company employs about 60 people.

In addition to the need for “some dry, lockable, secure storage,” Crawford, a longtime supporter of the Wilton Main Street Association, said there were Main Street concerns as well.

“There are 40 spaces in the (Police Department) parking lot that go with the building. The selectmen were concerned about that and the police chief was concerned. The Town Hall Theater needs parking and it is important that it survive,” he said.

Parking in the downtown area is limited by its geography – Main Street is squeezed between the river and a hill. “It is basically a one-sided street,” Crawford said, and can’t be changed.

The three-level brick and wood building, which dates to the 1890s, was purchased by the Main Street Association in October 2000 after Town Meeting voted down the purchase of the building for use as a police station. The Budget Committee was split because of the price, $375,000, and its effect on the tax rate. Committee members also said the town should not be a landlord and noted that the building is on a blind corner of the state highway and not a good spot for a police station. After more than an hour of discussion, the plan lost 123-66. Voters did purchase the parking lot across the street where the police station is now located.

At the time, the building was owned by Wilton Falls Associates, of Keene, and had been for sale for several years.

Crawford strongly backed the purchase, both by the town and by Main Street. The building was expected “to pay for itself under the current terms,” he said, through rental of space. Main Street formed a management team to oversee the building.

But the nation-wide recession, the downturn of the economy, loss of tenants and a long-running dispute with the Water Commission over upgrades, caused a severe loss in revenue. Main Street eventually lost the building to foreclosure.

Crawford founded Kimball Physics in 1970 at Kimball Heights Farm as a consulting and light manufacturing firm in high-tech electronics. The company expanded and is still growing, Crawford said.

While the company manufacture several lines of specialized equipment, it also does experimental and one-of-a-kind jobs that frequently evolve into new products. Among the clients are NASA and several research facilities, both in this country and abroad.

“We have a close relationship with MIT,” where Crawford was a professor for 11 years prior to founding Kimball Physics.

One of those special projects was the reproduction of the light on the top of the Main Street Dummy, recreated from pictures.

The company will not be moving downtown, Crawford said, “We’re not a walk-in service, we don’t do any retail.”

Wilton Pressed Metals, originally a part of the Whiting Industries, was started in 1954 as a separate company by John K. Whiting and William DeCamp. They continued to make the metal corners, braces and other items needed for the many kinds of boxes and crates manufactured by the box shop. The wooden box business closed in the late 1950s. Under new ownership, Pressed Metals expanded their line to include scientific instruments, food processing and electric lighting. The company continued into the 1980s.

The Whiting and Sons Box Shop, the original owner, was operated by the family for more than 125 years as a grist mill, a saw mill and maker of apple boxes, milk crates and a line of toys. In 1955, the company was purchased by Chaffee Brothers, of Oxford., Mass, who operated the company for about three years, until wooden boxes were mostly displaced by cardboard. The land was sold to the Abbott family who hoped to make what is now the parking lot into a park.