Town Hall Theater, Shoreham library awarded repair funds

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater and Shoreham’s Platt Memorial Library have landed state grants that will improve the durability and historic integrity of those two venerable buildings.
The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation recently awarded matching grants of $9,400 to replace around 500 deteriorating bricks in the exterior façade of the THT building, and $9,544 to restore the original front entrance of the Platt Memorial Library.
“We’ve know for several years we had to do this, but were waiting to find a partner, and they came through,” THT Executive Director Douglas Anderson said of the Division for Historic Preservation.
The stately building — erected in 1884 — was designed by renowned local architect Clinton Smith, also credited for such structures as Shard Villa in west Salisbury, the Addison County Courthouse and Middlebury’s Battell Block. His buildings have stood the test of time, though Mother Nature and some subpar original construction materials have made THT’s maintenance somewhat of a challenge for its many generous and dedicated stewards.
“We love him dearly and cherish his memory,” Anderson said of Smith. “However, he built our building with inferior bricks.”
The $9,400 grant will help pay for what is merely the latest phase of brick replacement at the 134-year-old entertainment edifice that crowns Merchants Row.
“People might remember that when we restored the building prior to 2008, we had to replace thousands of bricks going up the side of the bell tower,” Anderson said. “It’s a difficult and expensive proposition, in that you have to somehow match the color and the grout. We (replaced) as many as we could at the time, knowing it will probably be an eternal process of replacing these bricks. Mind you, they lasted 100 years, but they’re not going to last much longer than that.”
Some THT boosters traveled to Montpelier last week to receive the historic preservation check. They compared notes with other grant recipients.
“You’re never done,” Anderson said of building maintenance. “Anyone who lives in an old house knows you’re never done, which is why the Division of Historic Preservation is so important. They’re not just supporting new projects, they realize there’s this eternal vigilance we need on these old buildings.”
Anderson noted THT — like many other local, independent performance centers — has instituted a modest, historic preservation surcharge on each ticket sold. Those who inquire about the surcharge and its use are cordially invited to tour the facility to look at the spalling bricks.
“Then they say, ‘Oh, we understand,’” Anderson chuckled.
Accumulated funds from that surcharge will help provide the THT’s match for the state grant.
“We’re all stewards of this building,” Anderson said. “It’s easy to defer maintenance and put money into programs or shows. But we will always be putting money into maintaining this building. ”
The brickwork will happen this spring, according to Anderson.
In related THT news, the organization has raised around $1.7 million toward its $2.5 million goal to permanently endow a new artistic director’s position and bankroll ongoing maintenance of the theater building.
“It’s amazing,” Anderson said of the progress. “That’s a lot. I don’t think you’ll find any other theater our size that has an endowment that size and will continue to grow.”
As previously reported by the Independent, plans call for Anderson to step into the new artistic director’s role and for THT to recruit a new executive director to take the organizational reins.
“We’re going to start that search now and hope to have someone in place by this summer,” Anderson said.
At the same time, Anderson stressed THT continue to raise money to meet the $2.5 million goal.
Meanwhile, stewards of the Platt Memorial Library are grateful and eager to get under way with their project.
Grant funds, and the local match, will lead to restoration of the 112-year-old library’s original front entrance. Work will include rebuilding the marble steps and column supports, and restoring the wooden columns supporting the portico.
“We represent what I think Historic Preservation is hoping for in grants,” Platt Memorial Librarian Abby Adams said. “We’re both bringing our building back to what it was, and also making it easier for people to use.”
Right now, the library closes its main entrance (fronting Main Street) each winter because of the deteriorating marble steps. Specifically, the vertical risers under the steps are cracking. Additionally, the marble underneath the portico support columns is pitted, cracked and stained, Adams explained.
“Are (the stairs) still structurally sound? Yes, but every year we put off these repairs, they’re getting worse,” Adams said.
Plans also call for the historic front door to be moved back to its original position.
Workers will take pains to salvage as much of the old material as possible, officials said.
“Anything existing that can be repaired will be reused,” Adams said. “Materials to be replaced will be like-kind.”
Shoreham residents have had a history of literally giving the shirts off their backs to support their library. In 2008, several community members disrobed almost to their birthday suits for a humorous pictorial calendar that raised money toward a $675,000 renovation and expansion project for the library.
Adams said the community is still raising money for library improvement projects focusing on the building’s interior. Anyone wanting to donate can do so by making their check payable to the Platt Memorial Library, 279 Main St., Shoreham, VT 05770.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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