Mont Vernon Town Hall listed as structure worth investment

MONT VERNON – The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance announced on Tuesday its 2020 “Seven to Save” list, which highlights vulnerable historical resources and has named the Mont Vernon Town Hall as one of those structures worth saving.

Other listees needing transformative investment include the Judge Ripley House in Colebrook, St. Joseph Church in Laconia, the Langdon Congregational Church in Langdon, the Tilton Island Park Bridge in Tilton, and the Gasholder Building in Concord.

New Hampshire Preservation Alliance executive director Jennifer Goodman said narrowing down the list of redeemable structures is challenging.

“The Preservation Alliance presents and produces this program in a way to showcase significant properties that are in need of resources and creativity and other kinds of investment,” she said. “The Preservation Alliance uses criteria of significance, the challenge or the threat to the property, as well as the ability for the listing to make a difference.”

A panel of judges with varied expertise in considering the aforementioned criteria from locations all over the state made their recommendations. A public nomination process followed.

Mont Vernon’s Old Meetinghouse was built in 1781 from oak timbers supplied by local farmers when the town separated from nearby Amherst.

“We really love the ‘Seven to Save,'” Goodman said. “We love the ‘save’ part of that, rather than have an endangered properties program.”

Today, the Mont Vernon Town Hall needs critical improvements to continue to function safely and effectively. The Mont Vernon Historical Society museum occupies the large open second floor where the old choir box was converted to a stage for public performance when the house of worship, which occupied the second floor in 1837 after the passage of the Toleration Acts, moved across the street.

The Preservation Alliance looks at the nomination as a tool that property owners and advocates can use in a myriad of ways to achieve a successful preservation outcome.

“The Preservation Alliance does supply additional technical assistance to properties listed on ‘Seven to Save,'” Goodman said. “And we’ve seen other funders or stakeholders also consider the listing in a favorable way.”

As a statewide organization, the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance assists properties throughout the state, and historically, the list has helped many diverse properties and structures from every region of the Granite State.

Mont Vernon Heritage Commission secretary Rebecca Schwarz said being included on the list is a boost for the town hall.

“The Heritage Commission was specifically formed to find funding,” Schwarz said, “to be able to save the town hall. This is our second year in operation and our second time applying to the ‘Seven to Save’ program.”

A town hall vote was held in order to propose $1.9 million bond to repair and renovate the hall.

“The issue is we are such a small town,” Schwarz said. “We don’t have many businesses in town that can shoulder any task burden. It falls directly on the 2,400 people who live here in town so it would make a huge difference if we could find funding.”

Before the Heritage Commission was formed, an architectural study was performed, indicating that there are structural issues, outdated wiring and the building is not handicap accessible.

“It’s really poorly insulated,” Schwarz said. “You can’t get to the second floor. There are no bathrooms up there and neither bathroom is handicap accessible.”

The goal of keeping the external structure sounds like a fair assessment, according to those involved. The building was added to the State Register in 2016 as an early step in the town’s efforts to address the building’s worsening condition.

“Obviously, we’re looking into a grant to add a lift,” Schwarz said. “That’s going to change a little bit but the plan from the architect was to include the lift in a closet so you don’t really see it. But the entire footprint of the building could be made functional.”

Schwarz added that the floors throughout the first floor are uneven and marked with holes that go clear through the floorboards in some areas.

“The exterior paint is peeling, there is water damage to shingles and doorways, and there are cracks in the interior walls that add to the shabby appearance of the building,” Schwarz said. “The building pre-COVID was used daily by the townspeople to host meetings and visit the museum which is located on the second floor. Annually, residents attend the town Christmas Tree Lighting, host the Mont Vernon Artisans for New Hampshire Open Doors weekend and much more.”

“It would be very meaningful to the entire Town to have this building restored to its former beauty and to be able to proudly hold its head up at the center of our town,” Schwarz stated.