Holding the plaque signifying the Alexandria Town Hall as part of the New Hampshire Preservation Association's Register of Historic Places, the Town Hall Preservation Committee posed in front of the hall's beautiful hand painted stage curtain last Sunday. From left to right are Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, Liz Kingsley, Nancy Whitman and Selectman George Tuthill of the preservation committee, and architect Jared Guilmett. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
January 09, 2019ALEXANDRIA – Members of the Town Hall Preservation Committee in Alexandria were pleased to rededicate the historic building last Sunday afternoon, as they also looked back on its original dedication on Jan. 1, 1914.
Committee member Liz Kingsley said the original town hall was destroyed in a fire in 1913, but the town rallied to immediately rebuild the structure at a cost of approximately $5,700.
Despite the cold and snowy weather on New Year's Day, Kinglsey said 250 people gathered at the hall to dedicate the new building. The celebration included dinner and dancing that night.
"I thought it was amazing that way back then so many people showed up like that," said Kingsley.
One hundred and five years and five days later, in 2019, Nancy Whitman of the preservation committee then declared, "To those who came before us and saw what was needed…we would like to rededicate this building today."
The committee explained that since their formation in 2006 the town has replaced the old furnaces with modern propane burners to better heat the building. They were also able to have the main drop curtain on the stage stabilized. Whitman explained that after more than a century, the curtain is too fragile to have gone through a restoration process but is now in much better condition.
Stage curtains such as Alexandria's are unique to New England, and much has been done over the years to preserve these works of art. Alexandria's curtain is particularly unique in that while most were painted with scenes of grand buildings like the Colisseum and other notable structures, the curtain at the Alexandria Town Hall depicts a view of Newfound Lake from the ledges along Westshore Road.
Whitman noted that while stabilizing the piece they found that the artist was J.P. Duffy of Derry, a renowned artist at that time. After that discovery was made, they received a letter from Duffy's granddaughter saying her family had never seen any of his work. They have since been up twice to look it over and take photos.
Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance was also on hand for the rededication. He was instrumental in helping get the Arts and Crafts-style building listed on the New Hampshire Register of Historic Places and said he was pleased to see the community's support in maintaining such an important piece of the town's history.
"When towns don't invest or take pride in their town halls or old churches, it doesn't usually reflect well on that community," Cushing said. "The smallest and poorest of towns all have that pride though and it's our job to help bring in resources for them."
One of the resources the committee now has is the architectural firm Misiaszek Turpin from Laconia. Sonya Misiaszek and Jared Guilmett will be making recommendations on how the old windows could best be cared for along with any other structural matters that might need to be addressed. Whitman said that so far, a Moose Plate Grant of $5,000 has been secured toward the $10,000 estimate received to make the windows more energy efficient. Looking to preserve the historic integrity of the structure though, the architects will be seeking other options, which may be insulated drapes rather than window replacement.
As part of the New Hampshire historic registry there could be more grant money made available but those are matching grants, where the town must contribute money toward the requests, too.
George Tuthill, a representative to the committee from the Board of Selectmen, said the board is considering a warrant article for the 2019 town meeting for the establishment of an expendable trust fund to help match those grants. The committee also hopes to find craftsmen who would be willing to perhaps donate some time toward future restoration projects and, as Tuthill added, "We'd also be delighted to take any monetary donations."
Currently, the town hall is used for weddings, family reunions and other social gatherings as well as craft fairs, town dinners, meetings and elections. It is also the town's emergency shelter.
"We need input from you folks on how you see the building being used in the future so [the architects] know what the priorities should be," Whitman explained.
Ideas on future uses for the Alexandria Town Hall can be posted on the Preservation Committee's Facebook page where anyone interested in becoming part of the committee may contact them as well.