Town Hall Through the Years
(Compiled by Don Bayley)
In this John Warner Barber drawing from 1839, Town Hall, built in 1834, is prominently displayed. From Sandwich historian Russell Lovell: “This is the only view found showing the early Calvinistic chapel on the site of the present First Church of Christ (the ‘Elvis’ Church). The smaller buildings in the left foreground are a blacksmith shop, the building that was moved to become (part of) the glass museum and lastly the shop that became the Fred Bunker museum (now gone). At left rear is the Unitarian Church with the Titus Winchester clock and in the distance the two stacks of the Glass Factory casting their prosperous pall of black smoke.”
At its 1834 Town Meeting, pursuant to a constitutional amendment in 1833 requiring formal separation of church and state, the town voted to erect a new Town Hall. The First Parish Meetinghouse (and earlier meetinghouses) at the corner of Main and River Streets had served as the religious and political center of Sandwich almost since the founding of the village in 1639.
The new Town Hall building was to be at the northern end of Lower Shawme Lake at the intersection of Main and Grove Streets on bog land donated by the Newcomb family at 8 Grove Street. Construction was preceded by extensive filling of the marshy land with gravel.
The large structure, built by Ellis Howland, included an upper hall capable of seating 500 people. After the construction of Town Hall, the area around the grist mill and the northern end of Lower Shawme Lake, which had been called Town Square, became known as Town Hall Square. In 1914, a fouteeen-foot addition was made at the south end, to contain, among other things, a stage and dressing rooms, indicating the upper hall’s use for theatrical productions and, later, movies.
Credit: John and Rosanna Cullity, A Sandwich Album
The above is from a stereoscope card taken by Minnie Cook. Note that here Town Hall is painted in two colors. In the 1900s it was all white. Town offices and the meeting hall were upstairs. Over the years, there were various occupants in portions of the ground floor such as stores, carpenter shops, a newspaper printing office, the library and early Historical Society offices. In the foreground granite is being worked into posts. A hand pump can be seen on the site of the present-day artesian well fountain.
Note in the Minnie Cook photo there is no flag flying on top of the Town Hall. The 1889 Town Meeting (held on Saturday, March 15 at 9 AM) voted to appropriate “$25 for purchase of a flag to be flown over Town Hall.” And, sure enough, we can see the new flag (faintly) on the roof in this 1889 photo:
According to historian Russell Lovell the word “SANDWICH” was added above “TOWN HALL” in 1912. Thus this postcard photo must have been taken prior to 1912 as there is no “SANDWICH.” But it most likely was taken after May 30, 1911 as that was when the Civil War Soldiers’ Monument was dedicated. Note also the horse and buggy on the left. And there is a flagpole on the roof but no flag is flying.
In this view, two doors in the western wall can be seen. The 1889 and 1895(?) photos show larger doors. The rear extension for a stage upstairs was added in 1914. Originally the upper level was reached by stairways in the front corners of the building accessed from the front porch outside.
In 2009 the entire building was restored to its former glory. The second floor ballroom is particularly beautiful with its historically accurate stenciling of tan and brown paint and gold leaf, theatrical stage, balcony seating and fully restored historic shuttered windows. Movies and theatrical productions are again presented in the Sandwich Town Hall.
The Sandwich Town Hall was granted a Preservation Award for Rehabilitation & Restoration by the Massachusetts Historical Commission in 2011.
Rehabilitation & Restoration
(text from the Massachusetts Historical Commission website)
Constructed in 1834, the Sandwich Town Hall was one of the first town halls built in the Commonwealth, following an amendment to Article III of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Commonwealth, which ensured the separation of church and state. Prior to the amendment, most town gatherings took place in meetinghouses built for both religious and civic purposes. The Greek Revival-style building has served as the seat of local government for over 176 years, and is a contributing element of the Town Hall Square National Register Historic District.
The project to rehabilitate and restore the town hall began in 2009, after several years of research and planning, and was completed in October of 2010. The first-floor corridor and office ceiling beams were preserved and remain exposed, as they have been since 1834. During the preservation of the entrance doors, it was discovered that they are the town hall’s original doors and are signed by Solomon Howland, son of the building’s master builder, Ellis Howland. The project also restored the original exterior paint colors, the 1870s stenciled ceiling of the Meeting Hall, and the 1914 Meeting Hall stage and building extension, the walls and ceiling of which had been extensively damaged over the years by water infiltration. New supporting piers and foundations replaced inadequate wood and brick piers in the cellar, where water intrusion was channeled and suppressed to mitigate a long-term, building-threatening condition. Sensitive changes for accessibility and functional use included elevating the entrance portico and installing an energy-efficient elevator, as well as installing additional restroom facilities and multi-zoned heating and air conditioning. (SOURCE: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/mhc/mhcpra/praslideshow11/praslideshow11_7_sandwich.html)
(SOURCE: National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Town Hall Square HD (2010), Sandwich (Barnstable), MA)
Sandwich Town Hall
Significance & History
Prepared by Jonathan A. Shaw,
Sandwich Historical Commission
The Sandwich Town Hall, built 1834 and located in a setting that is both appealing and unspoiled, is one of the finest and earliest Town Halls in the Commonwealth. The two massive cypress columns fronting the Town Hall, each 3 feet in
diameter and 25 feet high, are characteristic of the Greek Revival style, as are the proportions and symmetry of the entire building. This style came into use in America following the Revolution as the visible expression of the ideals of civic participation first established in Athens over 2,000 years ago. On the 200th anniversary of American Independence in 1976 the Town Hall and the Colonial and post-Colonial buildings leading to it were designated by the federal government as the Town Hall Square National Register Historic District.
Separation of Church & State
The Town Hall was one of the first Town Halls, if not the first Town Hall, constructed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts following the public approval on 11 November 1833 by the voters of the State of a referendum to ratify the separation of church and state. This was done by amending Article III of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Commonwealth. Prior to passage of the amendment the Sandwich Town Meeting met in the Congregational & Town meeting house established by the Town in about 1640 at River and Main Streets. The Sandwich Town Hall is not only an architectural symbol of the roots of democracy but also the actual historical embodiment of the separation of governmental power and religious expression.
Town House Authorized
The construction was authorized by a vote of the Sandwich Town Meeting of 17 March 1834 with the building to be two stories high and “sufficiently large to seat 500 people.” The Committee chosen worked rapidly to prepare plans for what was to be called the Town House with the second floor to be called the Town Hall. The site chosen was the meeting point of Grove, Tupper, and Main Streets and adjacent to the location of the 1638-55 water mill for grinding corn. That this choice was deliberate can be recognized by the fact that over 500 tip loads of gravel would eventually be required to stabilize the soil beside the millstream. The building was to be paid for over four years, and the entranceways to the Town Hall portion of the building were two enclosed winding stairways located under the overhang to the left and right of the first floor entrance. The first floor was to be rented to businesses at the discretion of the Selectmen.
Sandwich’s master carpenter & builder Ellis Howland constructed the Sandwich Town Hall. When the front doors were being restored in 2009 it was discovered for the first time that Ellis’s son had made the front doors, signing in chalk in letters six inches high and six feet long: “Solomon C. Howland 1834.”
By the end of 1834 the building was largely complete, and on 28 February 1835 it was authorized “to notify and warn the inhabitants of the Town of Sandwich qualified to vote in elections and in town affairs to meet [on 16 March 1835] at the Town Hall.” The final cost of construction was $4,138.32 and the large sum required years of payments.
First Floor Leases
Following this first meeting, the building itself is mentioned occasionally during its first 20 years in the Town Meeting records, primarily with regard to leasing the first floor. Over the years lease-holders included, among others, a dry goods store, a cooperative grocery store, a newspaper publisher, a lamp maker, and a carpentry shop. Over the years the Town Hall became a venue and incubator of civic activity, a place for celebration, and a marker of social and technological change.
In July of 1847, the last wolf in Sandwich was killed by George Brailey, a teamster and wood carter for the furnaces of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Factory, then becoming one of the largest glass factories in America. The wolf was brought to the Town Hall and the body hung between the columns for exhibition. Bells were rung, and there was much rejoicing among Sandwich farmers for their loss of sheep had been great.
On May 26, 1848 the first steam train rolled into Sandwich; all was excitement. People gathered on the hill tops to see its arrival, some no doubt on Academy Hill overlooking the Town Hall, and Sandwich citizens remarked that the train would travel so fast that one would have to look quick in order to see it.
By 1853 the roof required shingling and the chimneys were to be taken down and rebuilt. The Town Hall had become an active community center for in that same year it was voted at a Town Meeting held in the Meeting Hall that during the many public meetings, lectures, and public amusements a constable should be present to “keep unruly boys in order.”
As the Civil War approached, the Fourth of July parade of 1860 became an expression of Sandwich patriotism, and the day ended with fireworks and a Military Ball at the Town Hall. The following year it was at the Town Hall that volunteers enlisted for the Union Army, and almost 60 years later those who began their journey into combat in World War I began it at the Town Hall. Commemorative plaques in the Meeting Hall for World War I and World War II record the name of every Sandwich resident who served his country in these two World Wars.
In 1876 Sandwich celebrated the national Centennial with a concert and public singing in the Town Hall. In 1878 a public demonstration of the newly invented telephone took place with wires strung between the Town Hall and the nearby Church. Residents were startled to perceive music played in the church could be clearly heard in the Town Hall.
In 1880 along the inside wall of the second floor Meeting Hall a balcony was built to increase seating capacity. A few years later, the newly created Sandwich Public Library occupied a room on the first floor from 1892 to 1910, and this was followed by the Sandwich Historical Society that housed its collections in the same space until 1926, both leaving when they had sufficient support to establish their own buildings. By 1914 an addition fourteen feet deep to the rear of building made possible a Meeting Hall stage and opportunities for new community entertainments.
In 1915 or a little later silent movies began to be shown in the Meeting Hall and a piano, an upright in the Mission style made by Jacob Doll & Sons for the Frederick Piano Company, was acquired. It was played by local residents, Minne Bunker Wimmer, Eva May Harlow, and Mary Haines Morrow, to accompany the silent movies. The projectionist turned the film by a hand-crank illuminated by a carbon-arc. A primitive generator located in a garage across the street from the Town Hall provided the electricity. Nonetheless using a carbon-arc projector was dangerous business and likely to set a building on fire. To protect the Town Hall from fire, the projectionist was provided with a urinal and required to remain continuously on duty when the carbon-arc was running. It is said that occasionally the engine of the generator would fail, the screen would dim, and boos and hisses would arise from the audience who had paid a nickel to attend.
In 1939 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration provided stimulus funds for Town Hall repairs, a great benefit for hard-pressed citizens. With the construction of the Wing School on Water Street in the 1930s and the consolidation of the Town’s numerous district schools, Town meetings began to be held there. Town Hall continued as the administrative seat of government for Sandwich’s Selectmen and later the Town Staff and Town Administrator.
The Sandwich Town Hall reflects over 175 years of Sandwich’s history, government and culture as well as the larger issues of State and National life that have had an impact on the Sandwich community. The Town Hall has been in active use as the seat of Town government for every one of those 175 years. There are few towns that can make this claim.
In 2010 the Oldest Town on Cape Cod “Celebrated History & Celebrated Sandwich” with the completion of the historic preservation and restoration of the Sandwich Town Hall, the Town’s most significant structure architecturally
and historically, and a vital presence in the living history of the Town of Sandwich.
PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION 2009 – 2010
The preservation and restoration of the 1834 Sandwich Town Hall was begun in July 2009 following several years of study & planning, initially by a committee of citizens and later by a task force of town staff & citizens, and with the aid of Community Preservation funds of 3.1 million authorized by three successive Town Meetings.
Historic preservation & restoration, under the direction of a leading Massachusetts historic preservation architect, was focused on retaining the historic character-defining features of the Town Hall and specificallyon restoring:
• linear first floor corridor and rear doorway
• original Meeting Hall and 1870’s stenciled ceiling
• 1914 extension and stage
• historic exterior and original paint colors
Major adaptive changes to ensure functional use were: raising the main granite entrance-way & installation of an elevator–for the handicapped and physically challenged; reconfiguration of first floor Town administration
office spaces; installation of new/additional toilets on both floors; installation throughout of multi-zoned heating & air conditioning, and complying with all ADA and Building Code safety requirements.
Major corrective changes included: new supporting piers throughout the cellar; covering, channeling, and suppressing cellar water intrusion; and a pair of enclosed steel “summer” beams to support the second floor Meeting Hall.
October 2, 2010 Rededication – 1834 Sandwich Town Hall