Wolcott Historical Society News - October 2023
By Florence Goodman
As I have stated in so many of my previous articles, our town, whether we are discussing Farmingbury Parish or Wolcott, has a rich and interesting history that started over 250 years ago. In 2021 Wolcott celebrated 225 years of its incorporation and last month the Congregational Church celebrated 250 years on "Benson's Hill." As I stood on the Green enjoying the festivities during that celebration, I couldn't help but notice the 1923 date on our Town Hall. That is another building that should be remembered and celebrated because it has been standing on Benson's Hill for 100 years.
This month, I'd like to revisit the history of our Town Hall that started out looking much differently than what you see today. In Colonial times there was no separation of church and state, therefore town meetings were held at the Congregational Parish until 1839 when that original church structure was destroyed by fire. After the destruction of the Church, town meetings were held outside on the Green until 1856. In that year the town selectmen purchased an old store located on the south side of the Green from Anson H. Smith for the sum on $350. That building became the first town hall and was referred to as "Old Town Hall." It was used for government and social activities for seventy years. The Wolcott Drum Band, today known as the Mattatuck Drum Band and the Grange used the upstairs of the building for their weekly meetings. Later the Grange purchased the building next door and no longer needed the use of the Town Hall.
In 1923 the "Old Town Hall" was replaced with a new brick structure. It was a two and a half story Federal Revival-style building featuring a gable-to-street roof and a trap rock foundation. This new structure continued to be used for town offices, town meetings and graduations for the district elementary schools. In 1924 the town library was moved from the Beecher Memorial, which was next to the Congregational Church to the Town Hall. It was housed in a room off the entryway, and it remained there until 1957 when it was moved into the basement of the Center School building because of renovations to the Town Hall. During the years from 1957 to 1959 several town offices were relocated to the Center School building. At some point, a vault room was added to the Center School to house town records for the Town Clerk.
In 1987 a State of Connecticut inspection of Town Hall revealed that vaults in several offices were no longer large enough to safely store and preserve public records and that the town was in violation of state statutes. Thus, the town was required to bring the building into full compliance with the law. On September 8, 1989, the groundbreaking for the new building took place and seventeen months later what emerged was a beautiful new structure, BUT that original 1923 building remained a part of it. The new addition/renovations added 9,300 square feet of new space to the 5,700 square foot old space. We now had a Town Hall that met State requirements as well as expanded working space in every department. Even though the present Town Hall building still houses the original 1923 structure, if the date was not posted on that old section of the building, you might not even notice it.
So, the next time you drive by our Town Hall look to the far-right side and look up and you will see "1923" at the top of the gable. Happy 100th Birthday to our "Old Town Hall"
(Information for this article was taken from: "National Register of Historic Places Registration form", completed in 2000; "Wolcott Town Hall Dedication Ceremony" booklet from articles by Michael R. Brennen & Eileen Coe; The 1986 Historic Resources Inventory, by J.P. Loether;)I'd like to start this month's article with an interesting quote from Samuel Orcutt's book, "History of the Town of Wolcott (Connecticut) From 1731 to 1874." I think it helps us to understand why these early settlers trudged up the hills of Wolcott and its surroundings to establish their homesteads.
"Old Town Hall" and the Grange Hall circa late 1800s. The Daniel Tuttle House is in the background of the Grange Hall.
The new Town Hall built in 1923. This photo was used to create a mural on the wall of the TD Bank next to Pat's IGA.
The present-day Town Hall which was built 1989-91 and includes the 1923 building to the right.
The 1923 structure that was included in the new construction/renovations from 1989-1991.
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