OLD SELECTMEN’S BUILDING

OLD SELECTMEN’S BUILDING

 

The Old Selectmen’s office built in West Barnstable in 1889 is the closest thing we have to our first town hall. It’s the last surviving building of its kind on Cape Cod, and perhaps in Massachusetts. It is architecturally significant as a rare example of the Stick style, sometimes called the first truly American style.

 

In July 1888 the three town selectmen sweltered over the annual town assessments in a tiny room in the old Alms House in West Barnstable. They asked town meeting for $1000 to build the first town hall. Money in hand, they designed a fine comfortable office. The three designers were Charles C. Crocker, lumberman and co-founder of the Barnstable Brick Co., Eben Bacon Crocker, and “the Cranberry King” Abel Makepeace.

 

Noah Bradford Jr. of Hyannis, also a brick company founder, contracted to build it, bringing the frame from B.F.Crocker’s lumber yard in Hyannis. A fine building was finished by May 1, 1889 on Meeting House Way, just north of the Almshouse, which had been built for the poor in 1769 on the land of the Lombard Trust.

 

Walter Muir Whitehill, the noted architectural historian of the Boston Athenaeum called it “a charming example of the shingle style.” The unusual stick features were a decorative truss in the gable, fish scale and diamond shingles on the facade, painted olive green with dark green trim. The foundation 22 x 28 was Barnstable brick. The front door had a colored glass window.

 

Inside, on the left side of the entrance was a tiny toilet room with wash basin; on the right a cloak closet. The main hall had two windows on each side to let in cooling breezes. At the west end was a fireplace with a pier-glass (mirror) over a fancy mantle. The walls were fitted with glass-fronted bookshelves for the town library. At the northwest corner was a steel vault. The floor was hard pine, the ceiling stained white and cherry color.

 

Selectmen began work on town business in June 1889, which continued there for 36 years until the new town hall was built in 1926 on Main St. Hyannis, now the Kennedy Museum. By World War II electricity and plumbing had been installed in the Old Selectmen’s building. After the war it became a community center where the West Barnstable Fire District met. In the 1970s it served as the office of the Conservation Commission. In the 1980s, it was a storeroom for the town’s tables and chairs. It was placed on the National Register of historic places in 1988, but it was falling down, with souvenir hunters mining the Barnstable brick foundation.

 

Barbara Birdsey and Betty Nilsson organized a community effort to restore it to original appearance. The town historical society took a lease of $350 from the Lombard Trust for a year. The Dacey brothers put on a new roof; Tom Bednark of Cape Cod Bat Co. restored the signature sticks, Dick Kiusalas of West Barnstable Table Co. carved a new mantle. The community put in about $35,000, given as a present to the town on its 350th anniversary on June 10, 1989.

 

Since 1991 the Old Selectmen’s Building has been host to exhibits of creations of local artists, bringing an income for maintenance of the building.

 

Every historic building must be maintained, and after nearly a quarter of a century the old town hall needs a new foundation and roof, painting, handicap access, and lots of minor repairs. All of this will cost about $145,000. Neighbors have already collected $60,000 from art exhibits and donations. We’re counting on the Community Preservation Committee for the rest.

 

Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 2 March 2012.

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One Response to “OLD SELECTMEN’S BUILDING”

  1. Kevin G. Darmon Says:

    In 1989 Kevin G. Darmon from Centerville, Ma. Owner of the shop “Our Family Loft” which was located in West Barnstable. built the cabinet and bookshelfs using the original doors that were still in the building, and stored where the old vault was.

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