The Old Town Hall (1800-Present & Beyond)
This week’s Monroe history takes us to Monroe Center, to the northwest corner of Church Street and Monroe Turnpike, right beside Beardsley Hall at the Monroe Congregational Church. Very few who drive hurriedly through this area today are aware that Monroe’s first town hall once stood at this very corner. Well, to be completely accurate, the building, which was constructed between 1799 and 1800, was built as the original home of Washington Lodge #19. It was through the generosity of our Freemasons that it was granted for additional use as our first town hall when Monroe was incorporated in 1823. Over the generations it was also used as an academy, one of many private institutions of higher learning in our town.
The old hall served these multiple roles well for nearly a century, until 1897, when the construction of a new town hall was completed. That was followed in 1904 with the dedication of the current Masonic lodge. With these modern replacements now established, the old hall soon fell into disrepair. It was in 1908 that its very existence was threatened by the increasing popularity of the automobile and the need to modernize the path of Monroe Turnpike. Its fate appeared grim at best. That is until Albert Wheeler purchased the building and hired a contractor from Trumbull to relocate it to a plateau atop his property known as HILLCREST, at 777 Monroe Turnpike. In its new location it would serve as a barn for Albert’s farming needs.
Our old town hall stood on this property for nearly 70 years, when in 1975, it was gifted to the Monroe Historical Society by then owners Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Hurd. The society’s goal was to find a suitable location in the area to relocate it to for a full restoration. Land was ultimately acquired on Wheeler Road near its intersection with Church Street, but when the building was later dismantled in 1977, it was soon apparent that its structural integrity was severely compromised. The original plan to restore it was deemed impractical. With a revised plan to save this important history, the best timbers were selected for preservation and eventually found their way to the garage at the society’s Beardsley Homestead on Great Ring Road.
The timbers lay undisturbed for years until 2016 when the decision was made to donate the finer surviving pieces to be used for Monroe history inspired projects. The goal as always was to honor the history. Some pieces were claimed by Washington Lodge #19 and others were selected by Monroe resident wood workers, Kevin Reid and Al Cascella. Together, they transformed the ancient timbers into a unique podium, intended to be used at Masuk High School events. Whatever happened to that podium you ask? Well, it has been used as the centerpiece of Masuk’s graduations ever since – a fitting homage to Monroe’s tradition of excellence in education. Perhaps you’ve seen it without knowing of its near 225-year Monroe history.
I hope you all enjoy this week’s historic spotlight on our first Masonic lodge and town hall. Now, I ask you. Isn’t this a beautiful example of Monroe history come full circle? Our past really is always present! If you’re so inspired, feel free to leave us a comment - and perhaps even a review. We always love to hear from you. Thank you for your continued support and interest in Monroe’s rich history. Please share this with your family, friends, and any Monroe student you may know. Someday, that very student may stand at this historic podium and address their fellow graduates, inspiring them to go forth and make their own history. Until next time.
Historian, Monroe Historical Society
Our Past is Always Present