Starksboro is rallying around its historic meeting house

STARKSBORO — During a tour of the Starksboro Village Meeting House last Thursday the sun cut through the clouds and struck the south side of the building full-on. In the cold quiet sanctuary, whose stained-glass windows converted that sunlight into a sudden holy glow, it almost felt like the historic old structure had taken a breath.
Only a tiny bit of poetic license is needed to suggest — at least after this year’s town meeting — that this was a sigh of relief.
At the March 2 Starksboro town meeting, trustees of the 180-year-old building, which in 1985 was added to the National Register of Historic Places, asked the town for $3,000 to help with much-needed renovations.
The town responded with $10,000.
“We were shocked at town meeting by how receptive everyone was to the idea of restoration,” said board member Michael Blakeslee. Since then, he added, a number of residents have come forward with both verbal and monetary support.
Midday light fills the sanctuary of the Starksboro Village Meeting House on Thursday. Trustees of the building, who recently secured $10,000 in funding from the town, hope to begin urgent repair projects in the near future. Below, Emily Gibbs recently joined the board of trustees for the Starksboro Village Meeting House. Topping that board’s to-do list for the building are roof repairs and exterior painting. The Meeting House hosts its annual Sugar on Snow Party fundraiser this Saturday.
Independent photos/Christopher Ross
So it is with a sense of momentum that the board has in recent days been preparing for Saturday’s annual open house and Sugar on Snow Party, one of the annual fundraisers for the Meeting House, which is on Route 116 right in Starksboro village.
Between 12 noon and 3 p.m., Starksboro farmers, artists, artisans, foodies and civic groups will present their wares and their ideas at the forum and marketplace. Children’s activities will include story time at the public library, a tour of Starksboro’s big trucks and activities coordinated by the Common Ground Center. Live string and fiddle music will keep everyone’s toes tapping.
Blakeslee, an experienced historical re-enactor, will demonstrate colonial sugaring methods.
“They’re letting me build a fire in the parking lot,” he said with a laugh.
Using their own savings, built up over years of such fundraisers, and the new infusion of town funding, Meeting House trustees hope soon to cross off a number of urgent items from their renovation to-do list. The building’s exterior needs new paint (estimated cost: $25,000). The roof, which “leaks like a sieve,” needs major repairs (at least $20,000).
Wallpaper on the back half of the sanctuary has begun, in Blakeslee’s words, “self-stripping.”
The lantern tower, which for a time sat on the ground next to the building, waiting for its own restoration, was long ago discarded. The board hopes in the next few years to commission and install a new one.
Last week, however, despite the peeling wallpaper and the water stains, the plywood sheets and the cracks in the glass, the sanctuary projected a sense of structural integrity. Standing beneath the mirrored oil lamp chandelier (installed in 1884) while preschoolers with bellies full of milk napped in the basement below, a visitor felt like a circuit was closing between the past and the future.
Where children lay dreaming (or squirming) on their mats, Union Army recruiters long ago set up shop during the Civil War. To help the recruiters in their efforts, the Middlebury College band came up and played.
Before that, town meetings used to be held there.
Upstairs, over many decades, Starksboro residents attended thousands of church services, where the holy glow at midday probably felt a lot more literal than it does today.
Upon renovation, the space will likely accommodate a greater range of activities than were planned for it in the 1830s.
Tour guide (and Meeting House trustee) Emily Gibbs envisions more creative uses.
“I’d love for us to have more coffeehouse-type things, like the Ripton Coffeehouse,” she said. “Some sort of music events.”
She also hopes the 14-lamp chandelier will get more use.
“We have the candlelit service in the winter, and everybody loves that and we get a crowd, but that’s the only time that we really fill the place.”
For more information about the building, including its history, visit the Meeting House website at starksboromeetinghouse.org.
Those seeking greater historical depth and context will be well-gratified by reading “Bertha’s Book: A View of Starksboro’s History,” which is available for purchase through the Meeting House board.
Absolutely no historical curiosity is required to attend the Sugar on Snow Party this Saturday, March 23, though.
With Michael Blakelee’s parking lot fire at one end, Starksboro Fire Department trucks at the other, and a whole lot of maple goodies in between, it’s bound to get interesting.
Besides, it’s all for a good cause.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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