by Larry Larned, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, April–October 1994)
Bolton town hall is a place where we cast our vote, license our dog, pay our taxes, and attend town meetings. But our town hall wasn't built as a town hall--rather as a place "to promote the social and intellectual welfare of the citizens of Bolton." Its beginnings are rooted in a time when Bolton townspeople worked together for the common good of the community, leaving personal agendas aside.
Prior to constructing the town hall, town meetings and other meetings were held in the Bolton Congregational Church basement. As Bolton became busier and people became more mobile, the need for a community hall grew stronger. As described in a marvelous little booklet titled "Early Years of Bolton," written by Edna C. Sumner, "The idea of a community hall originated with a group of (Bolton) young people who gave an entertainment for the Ladies Benevolent Society. The play was repeated in a neighboring town for which they received $60 toward building a hall or some place more convenient for holding entertainment."
Having $60 in seed money in hand and a written declaration signed by J. Phelps, J. Sumner and J. Massey, a meeting was called in August 1912 and it was voted to leave control of the proposed hall to a board of trustees. During October 1912 a corporation was formed called "The Bolton Hall and Library Association." The purposes for which the corporation was formed were "scientific, literary, benevolent, and to build and maintain a hall and library to be used exclusively for said purposes and generally to promote the social and intellectual welfare of the citizens of Bolton."
Two years passed during which sufficient funds were raised to construct the original section of the hall. From 1912-13 a succession of dances, card parties and suppers were held to raise money. Private homes were opened for fund-raising parties and the church basement was frequently used. No public funds were used. And no debt incurred! Property for the hall was donated to the association in 1915 by Mrs. Charles F. Sumner, Sr.
A provision in the corporation bylaws stated that any excess funds raised for constructing the hall would be used for the library fund. This action established the basis for a public library collection, which prior to 1914 had been under the privately operated Bolton Free Library Association.
In modern day terms, a merger of mutual interest took place with resources being combined by those who favored a community hall and those who favored a public library.
For the sake of history, this location, where town hall stands today, had previously been the site of the cigar shop operated many years earlier by S. P. Sumner and Co. A wooden building resembling a Cape Cod-style house was used by the Sumner Company from 1852 until 1860 to manufacture cigars. It was just one of several businesses flourishing at Bolton Center prior to the War Between the States. An early photograph on the cover of "Early Years of Bolton" shows this building about where the meeting hall portion of town hall now stands.
Having secured enough funds through a townwide effort, along with property donated by the Sumner family, construction was set to begin using the carpentry and building skills of local farmers and townspeople. An architectural style was chosen to complement the nearby Congregational Church built in the Greek Revival tradition.
Upon completion of the hall during 1915, the Bolton Grange took an active role in making the building habitable. Contributions from the Grange included a wood-burning furnace, curtains for the dining room, stage lights on the back wall, a stage curtain, large tables, and smaller card tables. A large kitchen was constructed and included the space now devoted to Probate Court.
The library collection, comprising 900 books, was placed in the north wing where Susan DePold presently serves as town clerk. The new library and hall opened on September 14, 1915, with lighting provided by oil lamps. The new hall became a Bolton focal point with dances and town social events taking place regularly.
Completion of our present town hall as a private community hall by the Bolton Hall and Library Association brought new life to Bolton Center. Dance bands, eighth grade graduations, wedding receptions, family parties, and theatrical productions became regular events once the community hall was opened during 1915.
Considered as having "the best dance floor in New England," the community hall became booked far in advance for dances. The best bands in the Hartford area played at Bolton Center from 1915 to 1941. Two in particular from Manchester, McKay's Band and Dubaldo's Band, were very popular. Their music reflected pop and the frenetic tunes of the 1920s and 30s.
On nights when square dancing was offered, Jessie Hill of Hebron was the champion caller. Parking was not a problem; there were few cars and most people arrived on horseback or by horse and buggy. During this period of Bolton's history, a long horse and wagon shed existed behind the community hall where faithful steeds were contained while their riders danced the night away.
Both the Bolton Grange and the Bolton Men's and Women's Clubs were active supporters of dances and community events at the hall. Members of both organizations provided homemade pies, cakes and coffee. Drinking was not allowed and those who did were quickly ejected from the featured event. Of course, by all accounts, drinking did take place in the wagon shed!
When the one-room Birch Mountain School was closed during 1946, a portion of the community hall became a school annex to the Center School, then just steps away. The fireplace room was converted into a classroom for the Birch Mountain seventh and eighth graders.
Until 1949, when the new consolidated school was opened on Notch Road, eighth grade graduations were held in the community hall. Its front lawn was used for field days and baseball games.
As townspeople conduct their business at town hall, they are struck by the friendly and helpful attitude of all who work there. Many of the people working at town hall are residents of Bolton, some all of their lives.
In their midst is a 30-day Seth Thomas clock hanging in the main meeting room. It has been there since 1919, when the Mythine family of Brandy Street gave it to the town as a gift. The clock has faithfully kept time for 75 years and at last check was within 30 seconds over 25 days! Many people have wound this old clock, including Ray Halstead and presently Doug Cheney.
Imagine the role this clock has played for all of the town meetings and all of the elections leading to changes in Bolton! As one person expressed it long ago, "There is nothing permanent except change."
Our town hall has virtually changed with the town. Electricity was installed during 1923, inside bathrooms and running water were installed during 1955 and as the community expanded, the new addition was added during 1959.
Community Hall became Town Hall on November 28, 1951, when through quit-claim deed Walter F. Elliott, president of the Bolton Hall and Library Association, transferred the building and property to the Town of Bolton.