History of Old Town Hall
The Wilton Garden Club has had a long relationship with Old Town Hall dating back to the early 1930s when it stepped in to renovate and preserve this beautiful and historic building. At the time, Old Town Hall had been sitting idly after the current Town Hall was built, and it rapidly began to deteriorate. The Club undertook an ambitious overhaul of the building at that time and later added a small section to the rear of the building to make room for a kitchen, restrooms, a furnace and a small greenhouse. The Club embarked on a second renovation in 1977 when rotten support timbers were discovered and the building was condemned for use. Upon the completion of that renovation, Old Town Hall was officially reopened in December of 1980 with the Club acting as rental agent and caretaker of the town-owned property.
In 1828, a town meeting was convened after services in the Wilton Congregational Church at which time Wilton residents voted to build a “Townhouse.” Nathan Comstock, who lived across the street from the Congregational Church, donated the property for such a building and deeded it to the Town of Wilton. The first meeting was held in the new but unfinished building in October of the same year. The construction of the Townhouse was finally completed in 1832, the date ascribed to the building and found on the plaque above the front door today.
The first floor of the Townhouse was used for town meetings while the second floor housed the Wilton Academy, a private secondary school which prepared its students for college. The Wilton Academy continued to occupy the second floor until 1867. Sometime after that, most of the second floor was removed except a section which became a balcony and is still in existence today.
Old Town Hall continued to be used as the site of Wilton’s town meetings, a form of town government currently in use in Wilton and many other New England towns. In 1928-29, Old Town Hall was pressed into service as a schoolhouse after a one-room school in town burned down and others became overcrowded. Eventually, the town outgrew the building completely such that residents attending town meetings had to stand outside and shout their remarks through the windows. The balcony was often so filled with people that it was in danger of collapsing on the heads of those seated below.
The building of a new Center School in 1929 made possible the consolidation of all educational facilities and the closing of the district schools. About the same time, plans were begun to construct a new Town Hall. It was dedicated on Valentine’s Day in 1931, and Old Town Hall stood empty thereafter. As it fell into disrepair, many townspeople suggested that it be torn down.
Fearing the loss of this beautiful old building, the Wilton Garden Club persuaded the Town to allow the Club to renovate, decorate, and completely maintain Old Town Hall. This ambitious undertaking by the Wilton Garden Club has been supported by major financial commitments and strong membership participation over the intervening years. For its efforts in preserving and restoring this charming and historic building, the Club was rewarded with a certificate of commendation from the Historic American Building Survey in 1939.
In 1970, Old Town Hall and several other neighboring buildings were designated as Historic District #2. The Wilton Historic District Commission described the design of the building:
“ . . .as a simple, excellent one of Colonial character. It appears to be earlier than 1832 since a building of this date would normally have windows with larger panes. Perhaps the early character of the Old Town Hall was due to the fact that it was a two-day journey to large centers such as Boston or New York and that the latest styles did not penetrate to remote areas such as Wilton for a considerable number of years. Or, perhaps the builders of this building wished to make its look in harmony with the Congregational Church, built in 1790, and copied the small paned windows of this nearby building.”
The Club added a section to the rear of the building in 1948 making room for a kitchen, restrooms, a furnace, and a small greenhouse. Many additional refurbishing, landscaping, painting, and patching projects were undertaken to keep the building in useable condition. During one of these special projects, insulation of the roof area in 1977, rotten support timbers were discovered. The building was then condemned.
Firm in its belief that Old Town Hall was of such architectural and historic significance to the town, the Club organized and led a second major renovation of the building. In December of 1980, Old Town Hall was officially reopened with the Club acting as rental agent and caretaker of the property.
When the Old Parsonage property adjacent to Old Town Hall was sold in 1992, changes were made again to the building. The town built a new drive and doorway on the west side, both accessible for the disabled. The new construction opened up an opportunity for the Club to design a landscape plan for the new entryway. With contributions from Club members and a PETALS grant, the Club designed and installed a charming garden filled with interesting and unusual trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. The garden displays four seasons of interest while serving as an elegant backdrop for this landmark building.
The Club continues to lovingly care for and maintain Old Town Hall. Through its efforts, a very important part of Wilton’s history has been preserved.
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