Vermont Town Halls Showcase History, Community & Civic Life
March 06, 2023
Meander through the center of just about any small Vermont town and you’ll likely come across a town hall. Not every Vermont town hall is the go-to place on Town Meeting Day—the first Tuesday in March—but many are gathering places for democracy in action that day.
Over the years, numerous towns have relocated annual town meetings to elementary schools or other municipal buildings because of accessibility issues, capacity limits, or needed repairs. Still, many old Vermont town halls remain active today—whether for Town Meeting Day, performances, concerts, events, and/or exhibits. Many also serve as local libraries or town offices.
Vermont Town Halls: The Past Meets the Present
Vermont town halls across the state have managed to be updated and restored without compromising their historical character, thanks to grant funding from organizations like the Preservation Trust of Vermont, which preserves and protects Vermont’s essential character through historic preservation and community revitalization.
“If Vermont Town Meeting is democracy in action, then the town hall is where democracy lives,” says Ben Doyle, president of the Preservation Trust of Vermont. “The fact that town halls across Vermont have housed civic discussion for hundreds of years connects us to, and reminds us of, traditions of community and civility.”
Keep reading to learn about a small sampling of Vermont town halls built between 1799 and the 1920s that remain active today.
-The Albany Town Hall was built in the 1860s and is home to the town library. (iStock photo)
Albany Town Hall
The Albany Town Hall was built as a church in 1868 and became home to the local library in the late 1890s. The town bought the building for $1 in 1925, and made extra room for the Albany Public Library in 2014 with a new addition.
The Albany Town Hall hosts Town Meeting Day and is home to a pair of historic painted curtains. Between 1880 and World War II, painted theater curtains were artistic features of most New England villages and towns. In Vermont, painted curtains graced stages in town and grange halls, opera houses, and community theaters.
Christine Hadsel, director of Curtains Without Borders, is the author of Suspended Worlds: Historic Theater Scenery in Northern New England (David R. Godine, Boston, 2015). Her work provides a glimpse into the world of talented artists who were part of the rural cultural scene.
In 2004, Hadsel worked with community members in Albany to restore two painted curtains in the Albany Town Hall. (830 Main Street, Albany; albanypubliclibraryvt.org)
-The Brandon Town Hall closed for two decades beginning in 1979 before being revitalized by a group of volunteers. (courtesy Friends of the Brandon Town Hall)
Brandon Town Hall
The Brandon Town Hall hosted vaudeville shows, concerts, dances, lectures, Town Meeting Day, and school events for over a century before closing its doors for two decades in 1979.
The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was finished in 1861, just in time to send off the first 113 of 124 men to fight in the Civil War. It functioned as an armory and town jail but has long served as a versatile, accessible venue for the community.
In the late 1990s, a group of citizens—the Friends of the Brandon Town Hall—came together to help raise money for the renovation and reopening of the building.
To date, the volunteer non-profit group has raised $1.6 million for the Brandon Town Hall. Town meeting is held at the building, and the Brandon Town Hall showcases a variety of community events, including plays, concerts, silent movies, puppet shows, talent shows, college singing groups, historical presentations, and more. (1 Conant Square, Brandon; brandontownhall.com)
-The Calais Town Hall was recently renovated. Plans for a full renovation of the building’s upstairs are underway.
Calais Town Hall
Built in 1866 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Calais Town Hall underwent an extensive renovation in 2020. The building, located in the town’s Kent Corner Historic District, hosts concerts, drama, readings, dances, exhibitions, and more. (Town Meeting Day is held at the local elementary school).
The Friends of the Calais Town Hall is a community organization established to oversee the renovations and use of the town hall. The organization’s mission statement makes it clear that the historic building is a place open to all: “This is everyone’s Town Hall; the Friends organization exists to bring people together there and make them feel welcome.” (1662 Kent Hill Road, Calais; calaisvermont.gov)
-The Cornwall Town Hall is home to the town offices and offers space for classes, afterschool programs, and more. (courtesy Town of Cornwall)
Cornwall Town Hall
In Addison County, the town hall in Cornwall was built in 1883. The building houses the town offices and the Cornwall Free Public Library. According to the National Register of Historic Places, which the building became part of in 1986, the Cornwall Town Hall was referred to as the Town House and was the home of the Cornwall Grange.
Today, the town hall is not used for Town Meeting Day as the upstairs meeting room has a legal capacity for only 80 people. But the upstairs—complete with a stage—is where you’ll find Zumba classes, afterschool programs, square dances, and small events. (2629 VT-30, Cornwall; cornwallvt.com)
-The Dover Town Hall started as a church and was sold to the town for $1 in the 1870s.
Dover Town Hall
The Dover Town Hall was built in 1828 and is the only surviving 19th-century building at Dover Common, once the heart of the former thriving village of Dover Center. The town hall, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was intially used as a combined meeting house for Baptists, Methodists, and Universalists. Since 1875, the building has been the Dover Town Hall and survived a 1907 attempt to be torn down.
Today, the Dover Town Hall is used for Town Meeting Day, the bi-weekly Dover Open Mic Night, and other events. (189 Taft Brook Road, East Dover, doververmont.com)
-The Fairlee Town Hall displays a painted curtain with a scene of Lake Morey from 1912. (Wikimedia Commons image)
Fairlee Town Hall
The Fairlee Town Hall opened in 1914 on the town common. It’s home to town offices, offers community meeting space, hosts Town Meeting Day, and includes an open upstairs area. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the town hall displays a historic painted curtain depicting a scene of nearby Lake Morey.
The curtain was made in 1912 for the local opera house, which burned that same year before being installed. The curtain spent many years in the town hall and was later put into storage. In 2006, it was repaired and rededicated in the Fairlee Town Hall, where it remains today. (75 Common Road, Fairlee; fairleevt.gov/historical)
-The Goshen Town Hall was built in 1848 as a church. (courtesy Town of Goshen)
Goshen Town Hall
Built in 1848 as a Methodist-Episcopal church, the Goshen Town Hall is a two-story building in Addison County’s smallest town. The downstairs—added sometime in the mid-1800s when the original building was lifted—is used for Town Meeting Day, local board meetings, the Goshen Historical Society, and occasional community dinners.
Upstairs isn’t an official church, but it looks like one from 1848. The area includes the building’s original church pews and an antique wood stove. It’s also where the community hosts a non-denominational Christmas Eve service. (Carlisle Hill Road, Goshen; goshenvt.org)
-The Strafford Town House has hosted Town Meeting Day since 1801.
Strafford Town House
The Strafford Town House opened in 1799 as a religious gathering place for all denominations. It was a cost-saving measure as taxpayers weren’t inclined to fund multiple places of worship, according to the Valley News. In 1801, the Strafford Town House began hosting Town Meeting Day and has done so every year since.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the iconic Vermont town hall sits on a hill at the north end of the town green. The Town House is one of the most photographed buildings in the state and is also available to rent for weddings, recitals, exhibitions, concerts, meetings, community events, and lectures. (12 Brook Road, Strafford; straffordvt.org/town-house)
-The Townshend Town Hall is actively used for musical performances, library book sales, and presentations. (courtesy Heidi Clawson, Townshend Historical Society)
Townshend Town Hall
The Townshend Town Hall hosted Town Meeting Day every year from 1920 to 2019 before the pandemic interrupted the tradition. This year, Townshend’s town meeting will be next door in the school gymnasium because of needed repairs and upgrades.
Still, the building remains actively used for musical performances, talent shows, library book sales, and historical society presentations. It’s also home to the town clerk and treasurer’s office and where state and federal elections and local board meetings occur.
By appointment, visitors can see the Painted Theater Curtains Exhibit, which features historic stage curtains now on display at the Townshend Town Hall. (2006 Route 30, Townshend; townshendvt.org)
-The Westminster Town Hall opened in 1890. (courtesy Westminster Historical Society)
Westminster Town Hall
The Westminster Town Hall stands in the footprint of a former meeting house destroyed by lightning and a fire in 1888. The town hall opened in 1890, allowing the community to gather for Town Meeting Day less than two years after the fire.
Westminster is one of Vermont’s oldest and most historic towns. Still, Town Meeting Day hasn’t been in the town hall for several decades. The original weathervane graces the building’s cupola, and the downstairs houses the town offices. Today, this Vermont town hall—once used as a local theater and dance area—showcases a painted curtain and is the home of the Westminster Historical Society Museum. (3651 US-5; westminstervthistory.org)
What are some of your favorite Vermont town halls?
David QuesnelPosted at 14:32h, 07 March
Great article Erica, as you probably know I’ve visited all of them, actually recognized them as the pictures popped up.