Pierce’s Hall

on Jul 27th 2008

According to three documents written around 1953 for the first Putney town history, the beautiful brick building known as Pierce’s Hall was erected in 1831, “for a Methodist meeting house.”  It has a foundation of long, beam-shaped granite slabs hauled from West Dummerston, and the brick came from Timothy Underwood’s brickyard on River Road.  When the second meeting house was built in 1842, the Hall was sold to Leroy Pierce, “who used it for storage of corn, and kept sheep underneath the building.”  There are some records of dances held in the building earlier than 1873, and in 1880 Norman and Mary (Carr) Cobb celebrated their wedding at the Hall.  “It is stated that their six sons…drew their parents down in a sleigh from their home to the gala event.”  Around 1881, the building was refurbished for use as a meeting house. Rev. N.D. Parsons…

drew the largest audiences in town gatherings every Sunday night to hear him preach.  George Gassett’s grandfather Elmer O. Gassett, a Deacon of the Baptist church, came over to conduct Sunday schools.  A Ladies’ Aid Society evidently was formed and earned money to pay the minister…In those years [the late 1880s] there were Methodist, Congregational, and Baptist churches in Putney and the Society evidently helped each church by paying the minister when he preached at Pierce’s Hall.

There was a fair at the Hall on Dec. 13, 1889.  The Ladies’ Aid Society continued to run the Hall through 1920; names of presidents included Cobb, Upham, Marcy, Frost, Prince, and Smith in the 1890s, and enter into the 1900s with Fosburgh, Auston, Smith, Angier, Bugbee, Persons, Kingsbury, and Aplin.  The fair had become an annual event, thanks in part to the efforts of Mrs. W.D. Bugbee in 1907, and a play was given in 1908.  In 1911 a monolog was presented by Bessie Braley.  During the 1st World War the women sewed and knitted for the Red Cross.  Thereafter, “no formal meetings were held until disbandment in August 1924, when the table linen and silver were given to the Federated Church in Putney.”

Following a Hallowe’en party at the No. 7 school in Oct. 1920, a Community Club was formed with Mrs. Esther J. Pratt as President.  Negotiations were started for the Club to have the use of Pierce’s Hall, and Mr. and Mrs. Allen Pierce of Portland, Maine,  consented so that the first Club Christmas tree was held that year…the Club put in new windows, screens, draperies, fresh curtains, and in 1926 a very nice floor laid over the original one.  When the Baptist Church was converted to Putney Community Centre [sic], Miss Bertha Estey gave the beautiful chandelier to the Club.  In 1937 when electricity became available the lamps were discarded and the chandelier electrified. (For a time Mr. Allen Pierce had his own power plant in the late twenties, and supplied the Hall as well as his own home.)

The object of the East Putney Community Club “shall be the united effort to promote the moral, intellectual, and social life of the members and for better citizenship in the community.”  The Club sponsored annual pre-Memorial day events, swimming lessons on East Putney Brook in the 1930s, numerous square dances, and a Calico Ball, which began in 1929 and continued annually except during the 2nd World War.  “On Oct. 29, 1950, the Club celebrated its 30th anniversary when Miss Jennie Pierce and Herbert L. Bailey, heirs of Allen M. Pierce, presented the deed of the Hall and its large old fashioned key to the officers and directors for such time as the club is active.”  According to the handwritten 1950 deed:

This deed is upon the strict condition…that in the event that said premises shall at anytime be not actively used for general public and social purposes corresponding to the present purposes for which the same is now used for a period of twelve consecutive months or if…not kept in repair and insurance…said premises shall immediately upon notice of Alan E. Pierce be returned to Allen Pierce’s heirs, without first bringing in any proceedings.

The EPCC remained active throughout the next two decades, continuing to hold dances and events; there were numerous special occasions at the Hall, including funerals, weddings, “stork showers, bridal showers, wedding anniversaries, and old home day celebrations.”  There were Hunters’ Suppers in the 1950s and 60s as well.  Following Esther Pratt, presidents’ names have included Frost, Gilbert, Stockwell, Loomis, Williams, Phelps, Gilbert, Dort, and Watson, and there have been subsequent others, including Marilyn Loomis and Fred Breunig, whose efforts to revitalize Pierce’s Hall and the EPCC around 1980 are a story of their own.

Over the years, activity at the hall has typically waxed and waned, and the mid-1970s was one of the waning periods. So when a group of dancers who lived next door to the hall approached Fred with the idea of starting a regular dance there, he was game to do it. An accomplished caller, he initiated a monthly contra and square dance that has continued to the present on the last Saturday of every month. In the mid-1980s a leak in the roof began to destroy the plaster ceiling. At that point Fred enlisted the aid of former East Putney Community Club members and more recent arrivals, and in 1986, they officially incorporated the EPCC as a non-profit organization dedicated to educational activities. During the next several years, a series of monthly potluck suppers, Halloween and Christmas parties, penny auctions, rummage sales, pancake breakfasts, and spaghetti suppers raised funds sufficient not only to repair the roof but also the historic coved (arched) plaster ceiling. In addition to dances the Hall has continued to be used for family reunions, rehearsals, and weddings.  While still involved, Fred has transferred his responsibility for coordinating dances to Abe Noe-Hayes, who has continued the tradition.  Recently, and notably for our annual meeting, the EPCC voted to offer to share Pierce’s Hall with the Putney Historical Society, to give them a much-needed home, to keep the Hall in active use, and to help revitalize East Putney.

The historical society subsequently voted not to share Pierce’s Hall, as it seemed incompatible with the monthly contra dances.

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