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Ashfield to celebrate 200th birthday of its Town Hall

The Ashfield Town Hall turns 200 this year and the town is holding a celebration on Saturday.
(Recorder/Paul Franz)

The Ashfield Town Hall turns 200 this year and the town is holding a celebration on Saturday. (Recorder/Paul Franz) Purchase photo reprints »

ASHFIELD — Ashfield’s Town Hall turns 200 this year and the town will be celebrating the unusual history of the former “New Meetinghouse,” and its move from Norton Hill down to the town center, where it now stands.

On Saturday, the town is holding several activities related to the Town Hall’s colorful past.

The former meetinghouse was built in 1814 on what became Norton Hill Road, despite a recommendation by an earlier town committee to site the new building at the geographical center of town, where it is now.

In 1812, the town hired builder John Ames of Buckland to build it for a sum of $5,000. But a month later, town officials rescinded the vote and agreed to pay $2,000. The money was to be raised in part by selling pews.

Ames based the design on the drawings in a pattern book by famed colonial architect Asher Benjamin.

According to “History of Ashfield, Massachusetts,” some 200,000 feet of lumber was used in construction, with some of the massive timbers measuring 12 inches square. The building was ready for use by the summer of 1814.

“Sometime after June, the first service is held in the new Meetinghouse,” says a timeline of the building’s history, prepared by Nancy Garvin and Grace Lesure of the Ashfield Historical Society. “There is a pew for the black families, such as Peter Wells, at the southeast corner, and a pew for the town’s poor at the northeast corner. The rest of the pews on the main floor and in the gallery are paid for and owned by church members, each of whom has a deed to his pew.”

According to the timeline, the First Congregational Church parish voted to move the Meetinghouse down from the hill to the town center in 1857, on a quarter-acre lot purchased on Main Street.

Moving the stately building down the hill by oxen was a very complicated process.

After the town’s First and Second Congregational Church parishes united in 1868, the town voted to purchase the First Parish property — the Meetinghouse for $1,000.

The timeline goes on to list changes made to the building as it converted from a church to a Town Hall.

In the 20th century, the Town Hall was used for square dances, annual minstrel shows during the 1930s, Sanderson Academy graduations, Ashfield Community Theater productions, town Halloween activities. During World War II, townspeople came here to roll bandages for The Red Cross.

Highlights of the day will include:

∎  Norton Hill Cemetery, 1 p.m.: Discussion of “Building a Meetinghouse: What Happened?” A dramatic enactment of Lydia Hall Mile’s “Reminiscences,” from the 1800s, which are included in “History of Ashfield.” Also, “Moving the Building in 1857” will be discussed. Follow its route down Norton Hill.

∎ Town Hall, 2:30 p.m. “Changes over Time. What Happened?” Discussion on first floor. Upstairs. The Ashfield Community Band will perform.

∎ Town Common, west end, 4 p.m. “The 1984-86 Reconstruction of the Town Hall Steeple,” and “The Little Dig of 2013.”

∎ At 4:30 p.m. there will be ice cream on the Town Common.

The events are open to the public.

(Editor's Note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition)

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