Elbridge Boyden, a prominent Worcester architect
was selected to design the new Town House by a Committee of local citizens. Boyden also designed Mechanics Hall in Worcester in 1856-57, now recognized as one of the finest concert halls in the United States. Many of the design features of the Great Hall of the North Brookfield Town House are similar to those of Mechanics Hall. The acoustics of the Great Hall remain outstanding.
The Town House is one of only four Italianate/Second Empire style Town Houses in Massachussetts., and is architecturally unique
This was a departure from the usual neo-Georgian or colonial style favored at the time. The Town House also may be one of the earliest examples of a public building constructed in this style in the United States.
Boyden desinged the facade of the building to accomodate a Great Hall on the second level, and placed the bell tower to the left of the facade rather than in the center. He then created the illusion of another tower on the right side, to make the building appear symmetrical. This design created needed space in the interior, and created an elegant exterior. It also makes the North Brookfield Town House architecturally significant.
The bell in the Town House tower was cast by E.A. and G.R. Meneely
at the West Troy Bell Foundry in West Troy, New York. Meneely was an important bell maker and the bell is dated 1863. Meneely Bell Foundry
The North Brookfield Town House was constructed in 1864. The building is significant in terms of its architectural style and as a well-preserved example of the work of the historic, locally well-known and very active mid-to-late-19th century architectural firm of Elbridge Boyden & Son of Worcester, MA.
It is the second Town House to occupy the site at Main and Summer Streets in the center of the Town of North Brookfield. The former building was in use from 1847 to 1862 on land deeded to the Town of North Brookfield by George H. Lowe in 1847. The previous building was destroyed by fire. At the time, it was the largest fire the Town had ever seen, taking out two shoe manufactories, two barns housing livery stables and a barn at the rear of the nearby hotel. All Town, bank and school records were destroyed.
At the dedication of the new Town House on February 25, 1864,the Worcester Spy described in its article published on March 2, that, “The hall is beautifully frescoed and is one of the most tasteful in the state.” The building originally served as a meeting Hall with only one room set aside for Town Offices, which was the Selectmen’s Room. The majority of the building was leased for commercial purposes. In the 20th century the building was occupied primarily by family businesses. The Great Hall served as the venue for many municipal and social purposes.
As businesses gradually failed, retail space was converted to Town Office space. There was never enough room for all Town services to reside in the building, and with the lack of accommodations for handicapped persons, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, use of the Town House steadily declined in favor of other venues.
In 2001, The North Brookfield Town House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Worcester County (MA). The Town House is also listed on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Cultural Information System Inventory
Following an engineering assessment in 2002, the North Brookfield Town House was declared structurally unstable, leading to the emergency closure of the building. With the partial assistance of an emergency Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund (MPPF) grant award in 2003, an engineered shoring plan was prepared and temporary shoring was installed. When the Town accepted this grant, it promised the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) that it would protect the Town House, and any alterations would need to be approved by MHC per a Preservation Restriction agreement. Permanent repairs were made in 2004, making the building structurally sound.
In 2008, the Board of Selectmen, who according to the town’s bylaws constitute “The Town House Committee,” initiated a survey of the community through the annual Town-wide census to determine public sentiment regarding the future of the building. The Friends of the Town House were tasked by the Board of Selectmen with compiling the survey results. 60% of households in North Brookfield responded with 81% in favor of Renovation/Restoration.
After a presentation of the survey results by the Directors of the Friends of the Town House in 2010 the Board of Selectmen asked the Friends to research funding options, historical requirements and facility end-use possibilities for the building. The current estimate for rehabilitation/renovation is estimated to be $5,000,000.00.
In the meantime, the Selectmen applied and received grant funding in the amount of $160,000 to pay for cleanup of petroleum contamination on the property. The Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC) project regarding the soil contamination behind the Town House was completed as mandated by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on December 31, 2012. This milestone marked the beginning of the planning phase of the Renovation/Restoration Project.
In August of 2011 the bell tower of the Town House was unexpectedly damaged by excessive winds associated with Tropical Storm Irene. The bell tower was determined to be structurally unsound, and it was removed from the building at the request of the Selectmen under the direction of local carpenter and craftsman, Jeff Samuelson. The Town of North Brookfield received an insurance settlement which defrayed the cost of the removal of the bell tower, the cost of remanufacturing the tower and installation of the new tower. Samuelson Contracting was hired by the insurance company and completed these tasks. Sufficient funds were also secured by the Friends and the Selectmen to address engineering costs. Emergency MPPF 2012 grant funds were awarded by Mass Historic to assist with the repair of the bell tower base and associated roof replacement.
The new bell tower was installed on May 18, 2014, and once again serves as the focal point of the Town center. During the summer of 2015, work on the Town House was done through State funding obtained by Senator Stephen Brewer prior to his retirement. The money was used to secure the building from water infiltration. Work on the windows, dormers, gutters and a new roof were undertaken and completed with great success.
Almost all of the exterior remains as it was in 1864. The Great Hall is also largely intact. The first level has been remodeled many times since the building opened in 1864, and little remains of the original interior except the grand staircase and foyer. But the building can be restored and made accessible for all. Restoration will make the Town House what it was originally intended to be – the business, cultural and civic centerpiece of downtown North Brookfield.
The Friends have received tax credits incentives to attract potential private investors. To date, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has approved State Tax Credits in the amount of $900,000 and the Federal Government has approved Federal Tax Credits representing 20% of the estimated costs or $1,000,000.
In addition, monies received through fundraising have allowed consultants to be brought in to support the project and move it forward. All avenues are being explored to utilize creative ways to finance the Renovation/Restoration Project without placing the burden on North Brookfield taxpayers.
A vigorous Capital Campaign is being planned to obtain tax deductible donations from the community, and from other individuals, businesses, and foundations. In addition to renovation/restoration, the future of the building is being addressed on many fronts to preserve its historical significance and to focus on sustainability over many years to come. Additional details on the project will continue to be shared through a series of public forums, informational flyers and other forms of communication as the Capital Campaign gets underway.