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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)

Going strong

Grasmere Town Hall still going strong in Goffstown

GOFFSTOWN — Grasmere Town Hall on Center Street has a long history as a meeting place, a school, a grange and a courthouse. The Grasmere section of town was once the center of Goffstown until the railroad rolled in and shifted the commercial center to Main Street in the mid-1800s.

In recent years, volunteers have worked to preserve the Grasmere Town Hall and its history.

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.

Proceeds from the sale were used to build a town hall on Main Street for about $5,300 in 1870.

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.

"The town fathers wanted a town hall and wanted to know 'What will it take to build a town hall on Main Street?' The people of Grasmere also wanted a town hall, and they said if you vote to build a town hall, we'll vote for one in your town, and both groups agreed to it," said Lionel Coulon, a member of the Goffstown Historic District Commission.

The Queen Anne-style Grasmere Town Hall was built in 1889 for about $4,500 with school district and town money in about a 60-40 split.

"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."

Grasmere Town Hall was built with a large second-floor theater, two smaller rooms on the first floor, and a kitchen and eating area on the third floor. According to the town's application to the National Register of Historic Places, the first and second stories of the building were at first the only floors finished for occupancy. The dining hall in the attic was finished in two phases in 1894 and 1915, and the second floor of the building has changed little since its last renovation in 1911. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 1990.

The building has been used as Schoolhouse No. 9, home of the grange and junior grange and a meeting place for civic organizations including the Knights of Columbus.

"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."

It was also used as a meetinghouse until the Main Street Town Hall was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the building.

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.

"Before SB2, there was a warrant to sell the building, but it was defeated. Some people thought it was a burden to the town, and some people wanted to put a gas station there. There were some crazy ideas going on," Coulon said.

Electrical wiring has been redone and original lighting fixtures replaced to resemble style of the period.

"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.

"We're glad it's there because if gives us an idea of how the building was made," Coulon said.

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."

In the Knights Room on the second floor, veneer paneling was removed and the walls painted to restore the room to its original look. Also, in the Knights Room are two wood-burning stoves that were originally used on the second floor.

"The plan is to refurbish them, not to be used, but to show people what they heated with back then," said Coulon.

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.

"After the lift is built, it will provide a second egress to the building and will allow us to have 200 people upstairs," he said.

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.

"It was also a district court for a while, and the grange. If you say Grasmere Town Hall to people, they say, 'What?,' because it was always known as the grange hall, but the official name is Grasmere Town Hall," said Coulon. "At the open house, a man said it brought back a lot of memories because his sister attended school in one part of the building and he was found guilty of speeding in the other. I didn't get his name, but he told me he's a much better driver now."

Coulon said the renovations continue, and he and the Historic District Commission have received many comments.

"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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