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A Brief History of Village Hall

by Debbie Cleveland


   The Village Hall has had a parade of events and folk pass through and by its doors during its long history. It was built in 1834 as Framingham's second town hall.   It succeeded a smaller town hall that was no longer adequate to accommodate the town meeting sessions of the growing community. Imagine the debating that occurred within the walls of the Village Hall as Framingham, and the country "grew up," faced the challenges of the Industrial Revolution, and weathered the trauma of the War Between the States. The Battle Hymn of the Republic was first performed publicly across the street from the Hall at Plymouth Church.



Photo of Village Hall, Centre Common, Framingham, MA
The Framingham Village Hall, (constructed 1834), as viewed from the Framingham Centre Common, (with dormitory towers of Framingham State College visable in the background).

Photo ©1997 RMH


   Minutemen, and later, militia trained on the Centre Common adjacent to where the Hall was built. The Common was set aside for common use for farm animal grazing by Thomas Danforth. Danforth, who owned a large portion of land that became Framingham, was an influential landowner, deputy governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, and judge in some Salem witch trials. The name "Framingham" was derived from Danforth's former home in Framlingham, England.

   The Henry Knox Trail runs along on Edgell Road by the Common and the Village Hall. It was the route taken by Knox when he brought the cannon from Ft. Ticonderoga that were used to chase the British out of Boston. The cannon were hidden in nearby Framingham barns until Washington sent for them to be set up on Dorchester Heights overlooking the British ships at anchor in Boston Harbor. (British spies stayed at Buckminster Tavern located a short distance away just on the other side of Rt. 9.)

   The Hall's Greek Revival style of architecture is a simple adaptation of Ancient Greek Temples. It reflects the National patriotic and democratic spirit prevalent following the War of 1812; a war sometimes referred to as our "second war of independence" from Britain. Solomon Willard, the nationally recognized architect of several other National Register structures, including the Bunker Hill Monument, designed the Village Hall. Local carpenters built the Hall from plans drawn by Dexter Hemenway. (Who, it appears, was never paid.)

   The Village Hall originally housed town offices, two schoolrooms, Framingham's first library, and town meeting. In thrifty Yankee fashion, no space was wasted as the town fire engine was stored in the basement. In the late 1800s Town Meeting outgrew Village Hall and met in various public halls in downtown Framingham until the Memorial Building, our current town hall, was built in 1928. In 1904 a group of citizens formed the Framingham Improvement Association (FIA) and received permission from the town to assume the care and repair of the Hall.

   Noted architect and FIA member Charles Baker designed a new stage area, new north portico, and the twin staircases. (Cost = $ 2, 857.) The Framingham Frolicsters put on plays to raise money for the Hall's upkeep. In WWII the PTA at the nearby Jonathan Maynard School started Framingham's first hot lunch program and used the Village Hall as the cafeteria. Over the years the Hall has been used for children's dancing and deportment classes, plays, musicals, waltz parties, voting, and by the Jaycees, Framingham Garden Club, and League of Women Voters.

   At one point the Hall had a recreation room with the stated purpose of "keeping boys off the streets." (As one wag put it there was no record of how they kept the girls off the streets.)

   In recent decades, the FIA refurbished the interior to provide a more formal setting for special events. Several notables, including Senator Ted Kennedy, Governor Frank Sargent, Atty. General Scott Harshbarger, and State Rep. Barbara Gray have held or graced events at the Hall. In 1991 the FIA received a plaque declaring the Village Hall on the National Register of Historic Places.

   Today the FIA still oversees the Hall and raises funds for upkeep through rentals. Now, area residents make their own history at the Hall by renting it for celebrations: wedding receptions, anniversaries, reunions, fund raisers, and birthday parties

For information on renting the Village Hall, please call Rental Coordinator Patsy Rossetti at 508-308-9291 or email historicvillagehall@gmail.com




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