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Shelburne Eagles reclaim their roost

Club had to repair, renovate after damage caused by Irene

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Bar manager Adam Gaffigan and his grandfather William Gaffigan in the newly renovated social room in the lower level of the Fraternal Order of Eagles 2758 that was flooded by Tropical Storm Irene.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Bar manager Adam Gaffigan and his grandfather William Gaffigan in the newly renovated social room in the lower level of the Fraternal Order of Eagles 2758 that was flooded by Tropical Storm Irene.

  • The Eagles Social Hall, a few days after Irene. (submitted photo)

    The Eagles Social Hall, a few days after Irene. (submitted photo)

  • The damaged Eagles club, after Irene (submitted photo)

    The damaged Eagles club, after Irene (submitted photo)

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Bar manager Adam Gaffigan and his grandfather William Gaffigan in the newly renovated social room in the lower level of the Fraternal Order of Eagles 2758 that was flooded by Tropical Storm Irene.
  • The Eagles Social Hall, a few days after Irene. (submitted photo)
  • The damaged Eagles club, after Irene (submitted photo)

SHELBURNE FALLS ­— On Aug. 29, 2011, Michael Braziel of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles had just turned off the boiler in the downstairs social room of the Eagles Club when he heard the Deerfield River coming up the stairway.

“It came up so quick,” said Braziel, who gazed at the back of the club room, at where the boiler once had been. But what he was looking at now, was a new floor, and a wooden counter top, along a long row of windows overlooking the Bridge of Flowers and the Deerfield River that had all but swallowed the Eagles Club during Tropical Storm Irene.

It’s been a long wait for the Shelburne Falls Eagles, but this weekend, they’ll be celebrating the restoration of their club with a community party, free food and a chance for the public to see how far they’ve come since the destructive tropical storm.

On Friday, the Eagles Club bar will be open to the public at 3 p.m.

Saturday, there will be an opening ceremony of the downstairs social room at noon, food all day, a beer-tasting, raffles and free give-aways throughout the day and evening.

World War II veteran William “Bill” Gaffigan, the last of the club’s original charter members, will do the honors at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. In a way, Gaffigan is a keeper of the club’s history, because Irene washed away the trophies, photos of the first Eagles building and a group photo of the original charter members.

Gaffigan, 85, said he got out of the service in 1946 and that, when the original 200 members started the club in the late 1940s, nearly all were World War II veterans.

“This was a two-story building,” he said. “The bottom part had once been a livery stable. Horses used to come up by railroad and they were sold to farmers.”

Then the livery became an auto repair garage. When the Eagles first got the building, Gaffigan remembers having to break-up the old cement floor of the garage with a sledge hammer.

Friday nights were for dances and serving steamers, he said. The band consisted of local men, who were also club members.

“We used to have what we called “nationality night.” If you were Irish, you’d put on an Irish feed,” he said. “We had Italian night, German night and others.”

He said the club operated with three trustees and a secretary ­—­ a position that was long held by Henry A. Johnson Jr. One of the club’s surviving plaques dedicates the 1990 building addition to Johnson.

In 1990, the second floor of the building was demolished, and the first floor was expanded. It became a banquet room, which was used for parties and rented out to provide income for running the club. And the downstairs was the social hall for Eagles Club members.

Irene didn’t touch the upstairs banquet hall, but filled the social club up to the ceiling with oily, silted flood water, according to Adam Gaffigan, who is Bill’s grandson and the manager of the bar.

The club has published “Eagles, Irene 2011” scrapbook showing just how badly the club was damaged. Photos of shredded, dangling ceiling plaster prove how high the water was.

“The water came up to the ceiling downstairs,” Adam Gaffigan explained. “For a while, we thought we would lose the whole building.”

The younger Gaffigan remembers sitting upstairs in the club during the rains of Irene and seeing propane tanks floating down the river. “You could hear the hissing of the leaky tanks and they were telling us not to light cigarettes,” he said.

A few days after Irene, when club members learned the building was safe enough to enter, volunteers started coming in to clean up.

Among the photos are pictures of volunteers in muddy boots and face masks, scooping up muck in buckets, pulling twisted sections of coolers out of the muck, and moving muddy, twisted barstools out.

Among the treasured items lost in the flood was a display case of old club pictures that Gaffigan says “went down the river,” along with sports trophies that went back to the 1960s, for men’s softball, pool leagues, darts and other sports events.

“There was at least $125,000 in damages,” he said. “It has been such a long haul, trying to rebuild. I hope it never happens again. Because it was hell.”

Although the upstairs wasn’t damaged, it remained closed for almost two months, while the downstairs was being cleaned.

“Everything had to be gutted,” he said of the downstairs. Workbees were held, with crews of volunteers helping haul the debris into three huge trash receptacles.

The rebuilding itself was done by local contractors and the new club room has more bar space, and makes use of the great river views.

Adam Gaffigan said other Eagles Clubs held fundraisers to help with the rebuilding.

“All the Eagles in the state have been very helpful, donating money,” he said. “It’s been very hard (financially). We haven’t been able to hold parties in the banquet room, because we needed to have that bar for members.”

“We have a tap beer draft system, and a brand new walk-in cooler,” said Adam Gaffigan. “We have a lot of windows and a bigger bar space. It’s brighter now. I say it’s bigger and better.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
bronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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