$127K grants to benefit Wendell Meetinghouse, Franklin County Fairgrounds

Court Dorsey, president of the Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse, speaks at a press conference on Friday to announce a matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Court Dorsey, president of the Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse, speaks at a press conference on Friday to announce a matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

State Rep. Aaron Saunders, representing the 7th Hampden District, speaks at a press conference on Friday to announce a matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

State Rep. Aaron Saunders, representing the 7th Hampden District, speaks at a press conference on Friday to announce a matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

The Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. The Friends of the Franklin County Fairgrounds got $77,000 from the Cultural Facilities Fund for the second phase of a walkway improvement project.

The Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. The Friends of the Franklin County Fairgrounds got $77,000 from the Cultural Facilities Fund for the second phase of a walkway improvement project. STAFF FILE PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 11-21-2023 11:48 AM

Two volunteer groups affiliated with Franklin County destinations recently received Massachusetts Cultural Council grants to finance much-needed projects.

The Friends of the Franklin County Fairgrounds got $77,000 from the Cultural Facilities Fund for the second phase of a walkway improvement project, while the Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse received a matching $50,000 grant to support the purchase of theatrical sound and lighting equipment and for exterior painting.

Michael Nelson, president of the Franklin County Agricultural Society that manages the Greenfield fairgrounds, said the walkway improvement project’s first phase consisted of a great deal of paving in the spring. This grant money will pay for sealcoating to protect that investment as well as a few additional small sections of paving.

“The fairgrounds has been undergoing an aggressive campaign to fully modernize the facility,” Nelson said. “To date, in the past 24 months, the fairgrounds has made $1.3 million in infrastructure repairs across the facility. One of our primary goals is to enhance [Americans with Disabilities Act] capabilities.”

Nelson said all but roughly $300,000 of that $1.3 million came from grants.

“The fairgrounds looks entirely different than it did just a couple of years ago,” he said.

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Meanwhile, the $50,000 matching grant the Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse received will support the installation of theater lighting, sound equipment, cinema projection, portable staging and exterior painting. Future plans include the addition of restrooms suitable for people with disabilities, a warming kitchen, a four-season heating system and landscaping.

The Friends immediately began seeking partners to match the funds awarded. The Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts has announced a grant of $8,200, and Greenfield Cooperative Bank has pledged $5,000.

The Friends announced the matching grant with a press conference at the meetinghouse on Friday, with Rep. Aaron Saunders, D-Belchertown, saying a few words.

“It’s always wonderful to be up here,” the Democrat representing the 7th Hampden District said. “I had my first chance to be in this space two summers ago — it strikes you immediately how special this building and these grounds are. It’s an incredible testament to the work that the Friends have done to bring this building back from the brink, to restore it to the point it is now and to have the vision to move it forward.”

The Wendell Meetinghouse was built in 1846 and served as a community church until the 1980s, when the congregation diminished. The Friends purchased the Wendell Meetinghouse and brought it back to life, reopening its doors in September 2021 — the building’s 175th anniversary.

“For our post-renovation year, I think it’s quite a community-building accomplishment in a small, rural area to have brought nearly 1,000 people to gather and enjoy the arts and culture, and nurture connections and dialogue,” Friends President Court Dorsey said at the press conference.

He said the meetinghouse has hosted more than 40 community events ranging from weddings and memorials to dance concerts, poetry readings and gatherings to honor elders. He also praised local state legislators for their continued support. Dorsey said more than $400,000 in funds and volunteer labor have been donated to the structure.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.