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Weybridge Town Hall looks toward future

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July 5, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

WEYBRIDGE — For 160 years, the venerable building at 1727 Quaker St. has provided a valued venue for spiritual and municipal guidance to Weybridge residents, first as a church, and currently as a town hall.

But the deteriorating condition of the building, along with the lack of some basic modern-day amenities, is prompting town officials to take a long, hard look at the town hall and its future as a community gathering spot.

“The ultimate goal is to come to a decision on how much (money) the town wants to put into maintaining that building,” said Weybridge Selectwoman Gale Hurd. “I think we’ll have to look at all the options.”

Selectmen recently OK’d the formation of an ad hoc committee that will take inventory of the town hall’s deficiencies and what it would cost to repair them. The seven-member panel is also preparing a survey through which Weybridge residents will be able to weigh in on the future of the building and the extent to which they are willing to invest in its upkeep.

“At the moment, we would like to get a feel for what the people expect (for town meeting facilities),” said Don Mason, chairman of the Weybridge Town Hall Study Committee. “We will try to determine what is in the town’s best interest.”

Committee members’ research will include a review of the town hall building’s history, which is very interesting.

Town records show the building was erected in 1847 by the American Wesleyan Methodist Church, formed by abolitionists who had split from the mainstream Methodist Church over the issue of slavery.

The Rev. Cyrus Bendle organized the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Weybridge, which attracted an initial flock of 66 worshippers, according to book “The History of Weybridge, Vermont.” authored by local resident Ida Washington. The Wesleyan Methodist Church in Weybridge installed the Rev. John Croker as its first pastor.

While services were well-attended during the first few decades of the church, the abolition of slavery following the Civil War made its special distinction somewhat of a moot point. Methodists were again content to worship together.

“Outward migration in the late 1800s brought reduced numbers,” Washington wrote of the Weybridge church’s dwindling number of parishioners.

Consequently, the church sold its Weybridge building to the town in 1893, “and (it has) been used since then as town hall,” Washington’s book states.

Weybridge’s use of the building has largely been confined to two functions each year — town meeting and sixth-grade graduation. Officials said one of the reasons for its scant use has been its lack of indoor plumbing and inadequate on-site parking. Still, residents have historically “roughed it” through those shortcomings in order to maintain the community link to the town hall building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

That changed last spring, however, when town meeting had to be held at Weybridge Elementary because of damage to the front steps to the town hall. Residents agreed to spend up to $5,000 to repair the steps. Selectmen OK’d a temporary fix for the steps, but thought it would be wise to take a look at the building’s overall needs before committing substantial tax dollars to the structure. Expanding parking and putting in a septic system would be costly and problematic. The church property includes some ledge and is close to the Otter Creek.

“It has a lot of historical and architectural interest,” Hurd said of the town hall. “But you also have to balance that against the costs of maintaining it.”

The Weybridge Town Hall Study Committee held an organizational meeting on May 31 and is next scheduled to meet on Thursday, Aug. 2, at 7 p.m. in the Cotton Free Library.

Local officials believe the town hall building is structurally sound. Its bell tower was repaired several years ago.

While he hasn’t made up his mind, Mason acknowledges he and other residents have developed an affection for the town hall.

“It’s wonderful and part of an old tradition, and I like it because of that,” Mason said.

Washington agreed.

“I think it’s a great historical building,” Washington said. “I think if it ever got a septic system, it would be used a lot.

“I think it would be a darned shame not to continue to use it,” she added.

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