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City of Watertown seeks to solve mystery of who owns Palmer Street land needed for repairs

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WATERTOWN — Who was A. Palmer Smith and where are his descendants?

The city still has not solved the mystery of the owners of a piece of land needed if major repairs are to be completed on a deteriorating section of Palmer Street that has been deemed unsafe.

For about a decade, city officials have debated whether the city should acquire that stretch of Palmer Street Extension and make repairs. The road is riddled with potholes and lacks sidewalks.

In April, the Watertown City Council informally agreed to proceed with the road project, which would cost $230,000 to $660,000, depending on the scope of the work and who completes it. Council members ultimately will decide whether to pursue the project. If the work is done, the city will ask a state Supreme Court judge to allow the city to take over the former farmland, once owned by A. Palmer Smith. The whereabouts of his heirs are unknown.

Determining ownership has been a problem in taking over the road. In the past, the city tried unsuccessfully to figure out who owns that section. An abstract firm was hired several years ago to research it, but did not finish the job because a previous City Council did not want to spend $2,500 to complete it.

The city would have to prove to a state Supreme Court judge that it did everything it could to identify the owners. It was 1884 when the city last knew the owner of the street was A. Palmer Smith.

Meanwhile, some recent survey work concluded that the city also needs to swap a small sliver of privately owned land for the proposed project.

City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk said the city would trade the city-owned land on one side of the street for some owned by Frank L. and Debra Battista at 201 Palmer St.

The task of fixing the privately owned and poorly maintained stretch came up at a City Council meeting in March. After the matter arose, Brian H. Murray, who owns Palmer Street Apartments, said he would donate another part of the road he owns to the city because he believes the city should repair it.

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