Abandoned Vermont: Addison Town Hall (Alternatively: What about Rural Preservation?)

An upfront disclaimer: The Addison Town Hall is owned by the Town of Addison. Technically, it’s vacant, not abandoned. Due to its condition and the attention it requires, I categorize it as abandoned. 

The Addison Town Hall sits at the center of the village of Addison Four Corners in Addison, Vermont, at the junction of VT Route 22A and VT Route 17. Addison is a rural agricultural community in Addison County, with some remaining working dairy farms. The shores of Lake Champlain make up the western edge of the county.

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The Addison Town Hall and the Baptist Church are at the center of Addison Four Corners. Photo: January 2016.

The Addison Town Hall holds a place in my heart, because I studied the building during graduate school, and completed a building conditions assessment in 2010. And I passed through Addison Four Corners on my way to work at the Lake Champlain Bridge site for years. Since 2010, I’ve been visually monitoring the condition of the building.

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The Addison Town Hall, as seen in January 2016.

The Town Hall was built in 1872 and has served as a school, a town hall, town offices, and grange hall. As community needs changed, the interior was adapted, including  the second floor stage addition and partitions on the first floor. (See a few interior shots here.) School has not been in session since the 1950s. Today the town hall serves only as storage for the historical society and the neighboring Baptist church.

If memory serves, since October 2010 there have been a few frightening exterior developments.

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There is a clear separation of the foundation stones, northeast corner. January 2016.

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The northeast corner of the foundation is slipping, probably due to water damage. January 2016.

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The same issues on the southeast corner of the building. January 2016.

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The banks of windows would have been added when the standard school requirements of the 1930s were instated. January 2016. You can see all sorts of damage in this photo: collapsing back shed, weathering clapboards in need of a proper paint job, broken windows.

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View from the southwest shows the larger picture of deterioration, including the cupola. January 2016.

The deterioration of the Addison Town Hall brings up a more important conversation in preservation than one building.

The Addison Town Hall is an example of building located in a still active community, but a community that is rural and without all of the financial resources to rehabilitate this structure. What happens to a building that is a visual and physical landmark in a town, when there is not an obvious use for it?

A community’s needs change, and those changes often affect the buildings. Historic buildings with outdated purposes or those that are not up to code are left by the wayside with no plans and money.  What will happen to them? Imagine if a town center lost one of its prominent buildings. Rural communities have small village centers, with only a few buildings to represent the entire village. Loss of a town hall or a church or a school is devastating.

Urban preservation is a great conversation and a fun topic. But, frankly, it’s easier than rural preservation. There are more people, more opportunities for catalysts and funding. We should be talking more about alternative, creative uses for buildings in rural areas, where a one building win/loss can have much more of an impact than in an urban environment.

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Addison Four Corners, January 2016.

Reconstruction and the National Register

Buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts are nominated to the National Register of Historic Places based their significance and integrity (of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association) pertaining to 1 or more, of 4, criteria, which are:

A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

B. That are associated with the lives of significant persons in or past; or

C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

D. That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.

However, some properties do not fit these categories, for which there are criteria considerations:

a. A religious property deriving primary significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance; or

b. A building or structure removed from its original location but which is primarily significant for architectural value, or which is the surviving structure most importantly associated with a historic person or event; or

c. A birthplace or grave of a historical figure of outstanding importance if there is no appropriate site or building associated with his or her productive life; or

d. A cemetery that derives its primary importance from graves of persons of transcendent importance, from age, from distinctive design features, or from association with historic events; or

e. A reconstructed building when accurately executed in a suitable environment and presented in a dignified manner as part of a restoration master plan, and when no other building or structure with the same association has survived; or

f. A property primarily commemorative in intent if design, age, tradition, or symbolic value has invested it with its own exceptional significance; or

g. A property achieving significance within the past 50 years if it is of exceptional importance.

Regardless of how you are nominating a property to the National Register, you must include a narrative description and a statement of significance, essentially making a case for the property. When you are nominating under one of the criteria considerations as well (a-g above) you must have a separate statement in which to discuss your argument.

I was thinking about the National Register eligibility of the Ferrisburgh Grange Hall in Ferrisburgh, VT (see comment by Sabra Smith) while at a square dance there this past weekend. The back story necessary for this is that the Ferrisburgh Grange Hall was just about to undergo a large restoration project in 2005, when it was burned to the ground by arson. Rather than start with a brand new building or something else, the town elected to move forward with a full-scale reconstruction. (Note: there is a much more detailed version of this story here and here.)

Ferrisburgh Grange Hall, after arson, 2005. click for original image.

While sitting on the balcony/second floor of the grange hall, I began to wonder if this building were on the National Register. (I do not know – do you?) And I wondered if it should be. By the definition, “accurately executed in a suitable environment…” it is appropriate. Though this building is not yet beyond the 50 year mark. (Note: there is not a 50 year rule. It is more of a guideline, but if less than 50 years it needs to be explained.)

However, while the building is beautiful, and accurate, and thoughtfully built… I do not feel as though I’m in a historic space when I’m in the building. The exterior can fool you for a minute or so as a historic building since it is an accurate restoration, but the inside is shiny, and incredibly clean and sharp, and just has the feeling of a new, modern, perhaps trendy building. I don’t mean that historically significant buildings have to be run down with peeling paint and scuffed floors, but feeling is such an important part; it’s the point and joy of standing in a historic building and sensing its history. Do you know what I mean?

But how you can deny the importance of this building? You cannot. And a lack of a National Register nomination doesn’t necessarily deny importance, but it indicates that the criteria do not fit this building at this time. So maybe this is the sort of building that will need at least 50 years in which to live and breathe with the community and to create its own significance, beyond that of a restoration.

I haven’t completely made up my mind. What do you think? Feel free to do disagree, of course.

The reconstructed Ferrisburgh Grange Hall, now the Town Hall. Click for original image.