Grasmere Town Hall still going strong in Goffstown
Derek Horne, assistant town administrator, shows the restored front doors of the Grasmere Town Hall. Most of the stained-glass window panes on the doors are original to the 1889 building. The Historic District Commission is heading restoration plans, using volunteers, grant money and a renovation fund from the town. (SUSAN CLARK PHOTO)
Goffstown's first meetinghouse was built in 1768 on land where the Grasmere Town Hall now sits. In 1841, the town purchased the building for a townhouse, and it was used until 1869 when it was sold, dismantled and relocated to Manchester.
In March 1889, town officials asked voters to approve a plan to expand the town hall on Main Street for about $6,000. The people of Grasmere had been unhappy with the loss of their meetinghouse and decided to defeat the request because they had plans of their own.
"This building was built on a handshake. How many things were done on a handshake back then? They were true to their word. I wish things could be done that way today, but we have to dot our i's and cross our t's," Coulon said. "The people of Grasmere were very proud of their town and true to their word. I really admire those people for that."
"On the second floor, the people would have their meetings, recitals or shows, and then eat upstairs," Coulon said. "They also had wedding receptions. It's now a storage area and a gas-fired hot-air system that heats the second floor."
For about six years, the Historic District Commission has been leading a renovation project of the Grasmere Town Hall. The project has been funded by several grants, including a matching grant from the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, or L-Chip, and a $100,000 restoration fund granted by voters.
"The original ones couldn't be used; there's only so much you can do," said Coulon.
The entry doors were replaced, but most of the original stained-glass panels were preserved and inserted into the new doors' window frames. At the top of the landing on the second floor, there was a ticket booth window and a cloak room, and the stage has been preserved. A small staircase went up to the third floor; the steps remain but the landing is closed off.
In addition, a handicapped-accessible ramp and a remodeled bathroom has been completed for about $6,000.
"The ramp and the bathroom were done 99 percent by volunteers, most of the guys from the Knights of Columbus," said Coulon. "All labor was free. Just to put in the railing, we looked for a contractor, but it would have cost $1,000 to put in. We had professional welders do the piping for the railing, all compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The piping was supplied at cost. A lot of the renovations were done by volunteers, donations and grants, some matching grants. (Selectman) Phil D'Avanza did a lot of work in the building. When the wiring was put in for the fixtures, he was there. The work was done by licensed electricians and by code. We were very strict about that."
Part of the plan is to build a new lift on the back of the building leading to the second floor, which now has a maximum capacity of 49 people.
The Merri-Loo Community Preschool, a nonprofit cooperative school, was established at Grasmere Town Hall in 1968. The school is among the many uses that have played a role in the history of the building.
"When people see this building they just go bananas. People are amazed that it's being preserved. The architecture is just amazing. It has a history for a lot of people. It's a beautiful building, but it's like everything else; it has to be preserved. It's been kept up and is being used. We're just praying the work goes faster, but the building isn't going anywhere."
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