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Watershed building getting face-lift

Recorder file photo
The 300-year-old Bank Row building that houses the headquarters of the Connecticut River Watershed Council is being renovated by a grant from the Peabody Foundation.

Recorder file photo The 300-year-old Bank Row building that houses the headquarters of the Connecticut River Watershed Council is being renovated by a grant from the Peabody Foundation.

Its vacant First National Bank neighbor may get most of the attention, but it’s the 300-year-old brick structure that’s been the headquarters of the Connecticut River Watershed Council for 11 years that has been called “the most historical building still standing” in Greenfield.

And now the Greek Revival building on Bank Row is getting a face-lift.

The structure was built in 1813 as the first Franklin County courthouse and later served as a meetinghouse for the 3rd Congregational Society, which later became the Unitarian Univeralist congregation. In 1849, it became the home of the Greenfield Gazette, a predecessor of The Recorder.

After 150 years as home to E.A. Hall and Co. Printing, the building — which originally stood at the same level as Main Street — had to be reinforced when what was then called Clay Hill was lowered to construct the railroad underpass at the foot of the slope.

Recently, Renaissance Builders has been rehabilitating brick-and-mortar work on the front of the structure, waterproofing and restoring mortar work and bricks in a side alleyway, resetting the front steps, and repainting windowsills and securing unused, boarded-up windows and doorways with concrete blocks, said Andrew Fisk, executive director of the 61-year-old nonprofit environmental organization.

Some of the work is being done to stop water from seeping into the building, said Fisk. The roughly $65,000 cost is being met by a grant from the Peabody Foundation, matched by the organization’s funds and money from donors.

Meanwhile, the Literacy Project is preparing to move this fall from the building’s second story to space in Greenfield Community College’s Downtown Center and the watershed council is seeking a suitable replacement tenant for the roughly 2,200 square foot space.

“We’re really pleased to be right on the common, right on Bank Row, right in Greenfield,” said Fisk, noting that the organization, which got its start in 1952 in an office in the Garden Theater building, was one of the earlier building owners to work on rehabilitation of Bank Row. “We’re proud to be here.”

Paul Jenkins, historian and author of “The Conservative Rebel,” called the Asher Benjamin-designed building, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places, “the most historical building still standing” because of its early role as a meeting place. Benjamin, who wrote his first book in Greenfield, is credited with being the nation’s first native-born architect.

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