The Museum

The Town of Charlotte is one of the few towns in history that took six full decades to determine where to build its Town Hall. Former Charlotte Town Clerk and historian William Wallace Higbee writes the following in an essay dated January 22, 1897:

"As early as 1789 the people were wrestling with the question where to build the meeting house, and on March 17 of that year at a town meeting held in the house of Hezekiah Barnes, a committee of six was appointed to “set a stake for a meeting house.” The committee consisted of Charles Grant, Daniel Hosford, Ebenezer Hovey, Col. Barnes, Isaac Cogswell, and David Hubbell, The committee was empowered to “purchase five acres of land for that purpose.” It wasn’t that simple. It seems the committee had trouble in finding where to “set the stake” or it wouldn’t stay “set,” for at a regular town meeting in April 1790, it was voted to “pass by the building of a meeting house for the present.”. . . In April 1791 a town meeting was held, in which it was voted “that a committee procure 10,000 feet of white pine boards, 8,000 feet of short pine shingles, and 150 feet of window frame stuff, and that the above stuff be delivered at or near the sign post in this town.” Where the “sign post” stood is perhaps not entirely clear, but it has been pretty authentically stated that the materials for this “meeting house” were moved three times before being fashioned into a building. It was first laid down on the corner south of Mrs. Wilbur Foote’s [now the intersection of Mt. Philo Road and Hinesburg Road], then taken to the Four Corners [now the West Village], and finally to about where the Congregational church now stands. In an early day the dividing political line between “East and West” was sharply drawn, and it may be these things crept into “meeting house” matters to a limited degree."

It appears that the building was incorporated into the Congregational Society, as the town rented the Church for its town meetings for almost the entire first half of the Nineteenth Century.

The Charlotte War Memorial Museum, later shortened to just the Charlotte Museum, began its life in 1850 as the first Charlotte Town House (Meeting Hall). It is interesting that at no time in any of its incarnations has the Town Hall been built on existing Town-owned property. In early years, only meetings were held at this hall. The Town Clerk did not have an office in the hall, but instead recorded and held town papers in his or her own dwelling, and archived the old town records there as well. A subsequent town clerk would transfer all the paperwork to the new clerk’s home. William Wallace Higbee writes about the history of the Town House in an article dated January 14, 1898, and is included in the Charlotte Historical Society’s compilation of Higbee’s articles, Around the Mountains.

It seems that in 1849, at a town meeting held according to call, “at the Congregational meeting house,” the third article in the warning was “to see if the town will raise money to build a town house,” and a committee consisting of Luther Stone, William E. Sherman, Leonard Sherman, Abner Squier and George Pease was appointed to investigate the matter and report at a subsequent meeting. It was also voted “that the town pay to the Congregational society five dollars for the purpose of cleaning the church they have met in for the past forty years.”

At a special meeting held April 26, 1849, it was voted “that the town build a town house, to be situated on land owned by the town which lies near the town pound,” and that the building was to be of brick, and in size thirty by forty feet. A building committee was appointed, consisting of Chauncey Sheldon, Leverette Sherman, and Daniel C. Lake. The committee was authorized to “move the site of the house ten or twelve rods either way, as they thought best.” . . . As to location, they had “affixed upon a site for the location of said town house, between Hyson Rich’s dwelling house and O. J. Baldwin’s barn; that said site can be bought for $25.” The town then voted to rescind all previous votes on town house matters and to build on grounds selected by the committee, [the new town house] to cost about one thousand dollars. It was also voted to “hold town meetings in the Baptist church, until said house is completed.” . . . In the meantime, it seems “town house” matters were again unsettled, for November 2, 1849, the selectmen were petitioned “to call a town meeting as soon as may be, for the purpose of taking into consideration the location of a town house.” Perhaps the old, uneasy feeling between “east” and “west,” that before occasioned as much trouble in “sticking the stake for the meeting house” so many years ago, had crept to the surface again. . . . In accordance with this petition, a meeting was called at the Baptist church for November 14, “for the purpose of taking into consideration the locations of a town house and see if the town will change the same.”. . . The town meeting opened agreeably to the warning . . . “The meeting then adjourned to a schoolhouse near William S. Baldwin’s shoe shop,” and it was “voted not to change the location of the town house.” Thus the matter came to an amicable adjustment, the present building was erected, and the election of 1850 was held in it. Not to be partial in such matters, the town voted to pay the Baptist society five dollars for the use of their church the same as they had paid the Congregational society.

In the possession of the Charlotte Historical Society is an old ledger book that lists expenditures of the Board of Selectmen that shows that the committee of Sheldon, Sherman and Lake each advanced $15 to the Town for purchase of the land the building was to be sited on. They were not repaid until March 31, 1851. On March 31, Leverett Sherman was paid $4 for his services on the Building Committee on the Town House (as it was referred to), and Chauncey Sheldon was paid $4.25 for his services on the committee and for money advanced. There is no record that Daniel Lake ever took pay for his services on the committee.
On August 9, 1850, in preparation for the first elections in the new Town House, Alanson Edgerton was paid $1 for making three wooden ballot boxes. On August 15, 1850, the first payment of $500 for the new Town House was paid on order to the Building Committee on the Town House; followed on September 2, 1850 by an order for $525 to the Building Committee to complete the payments for the construction of the building. On November 23, 1850, John G. Thorp bought a wood stove for the Town House, for which he was reimbursed $8, and Alanson Edgerton was paid $1 for setting up the stove. Edgerton bought some sundry building supplies for the Town House from Alexander and Lyon’s Store, which was directly across the road, and in May 1851 he was reimbursed $5. By the 1930s, it was apparent that the town had outgrown the 1850 Town Hall, and at the Town Meeting on March 3, 1936 a committee, was formed to look into the prospect of a new building, each member to be paid $50. Under the rules used, the Moderator appointed the committee: Burton L. Byington, Arthur Manor, Forrest Carpenter, Frank Roscoe, and Walter Lewis were selected to serve on the Town Hall Committee, with their instructions as follows:

A. to investigate the cost of the various possible building locations;
B. to investigate the type of building and size to best fit the town’s needs;
C. to investigate the cost of such a building with the different construction materials.

They went to work quickly and a special Town Meeting was warned for April 28, 1936, to report the results of their investigations. The committee had selected a site close to the old hall, on land owned by William C. and Effie R. Livermore. As noted in town records, the “price included water privilege from a nearby spring.” The town voted to make the purchase for $500 and set a date for a bond vote to pay for and erect the new Town Hall. As it was with the old Town House or Hall, it was not to be that easy. As noted in Town Reports, “After work had started on the grounds and [water] spring the town voted not to furnish the required building funds by bonding the town.” A new proposal had been floated promoting a new “centralized” school to be built on the lot purchased from the Livermores, with the proposed Town Hall incorporated as a multi-use assembly room at the school, at a total cost of $20,000. At Town Meeting in 1937, this idea was also voted down by the town.
Finally at the Town Meeting in 1939, the town approved Article 16, which was to assess a tax of ten cents on the dollar of the grand list to finance the construction of the new Town Hall at a cost of $12,000, following the original recommendations of the 1936 Town Hall Committee, to be built on the land already purchased for the purpose. This passed and the new hall was constructed in 1939. The central school was finally built a decade later, and the Town Hall was eventually incorporated into its facilities.

The old Town House remained vacant and was used at various times to store hay, and was even used as in indoor pistol range. In the middle of World War II, several town residents came forward to propose a new and more constructive use of the old hall, and the Charlotte Historical Society was born.

(Sources include archived town and school records and reports, Around the Mountains by W.W. Higbee, interviews with Charlotte Historical Society members Mary Lighthall and Frank Thornton, and information gathered by the Chittenden County Historical Society.

The Charlotte War Memorial Museum
Museum Road, Charlotte, VT 05445

The building used by this museum was built in 1850 as the Town House. Annual town meetings were held here and the Town Clerk’s Office was traditionally to be here, but without amenities, the clerk usually worked from home. An annual eighth-grade graduation for all town schools was held here.

The building, which belongs to the town, is a fine example of Greek Revival architecture. When district schools were abandoned and a Central School built in 1939, the town offices moved to the new school; town meetings were held in the gymnasium. This abandoned building, served at one time for storage of hay; as a pistol shooting range, and a considered use—take out the end walls to make storage for town equipment. None of this happened and in 1943 at town meeting the building became The Charlotte War Memorial Building. A Committee headed by John Spear built the museum collection. The founders names are on a plaque by the door.

Mr Spear discovered the cellar, blocked up when the building was built. He opened it, put in stairs and a back door. A memorial to those serving in WWII was put on the lawn. Made of wood, it and a picket fence didn’t survive the weather.

The museum Committee ran the museum, and kept records and antiques of the town, many from Mr Spear’s own collection. The outstanding collection is the work of a local Abenaki family. We know the family, long time caretakers at Thompson’s Point, a summer colony on Lake Champlain. (See article in “Vist’n”, copies available to you.)

The Charlotte Historical Society was founded in 1978. Museum changes: “No loaned articles”, all have been settled. A major rearrangement was done three years ago, creating storage and research space along with exhibits.

The Society has published two books, Around the Mountains (1991) by W. B. Higbee and Thompson’s Point Fishing Grounds (2005) by Morris Glenn and Katherine Teetor. The Museum is available to local schools for tours and materials on local history. Two members are doing extensive research on Charlotters, 1) Cyrus G. Prindle and his wife, Almira Pringle (spellings as used by family) by Katherine McKinley Harris; 2) Charlotte in the Civil War by Daniel Cole, which is nearly ready for printing.

Mary G. Lighthall, Secretary July 28, 2011
The Charlotte Historical Society

Charlotte War Memorial Museum and Old Town Hall
15 Museum Road

On the east side of Museum Road, at it’s intersection with Church Hill Road, is a small classic Greek Revival brick building that was the Town Hall (1850 – 1939) and is now the Charlotte War Memorial Museum. Some of the supporting timbers used for the floor show burn marks and are believed to have been salvaged from the remains of the first building of the Congregational Church that reportedly burned in 1848. In 1939 a new Town Hall was built adjacent the School. This 1939 building was later incorporated into the north end of the school in the 1970’s and is presently used as the cafeteria and library. In 1943, at the urging of John Spear who lived at 2979 Greenbush Road adjacent the Lakeview Cooperative Creamery the town voted to make the old 1850 town house a memorial for all Charlotte Veterans of all wars. In order to create a “living Memorial” it was designated as a historical depository for the housing of suitable arts and crafts, historical document and records of the town. Accordingly the Spears, together with Geneva Foote and Daisy Williams began a collection of Historical artifacts.

In 1947 the historical society was incorporated under the name of the Charlotte Memorial Museum. The first officers were: Mrs. A.D. Murray, President: Mrs. John S. (Daisy) Williams, Vice-President; Leo Irish, Secretary and Treasurer: and John T Spear, acting Director and recorder. The museum is now operated by the Charlotte Historical Society and is open to the

West Charlotte © Francis J. Thornton (January 22, 2006)

A short distance north of the Hezekiah Barnes stone house and facing the old dirt road on it’s eastern side is the Charlotte Memorial Museum – a formal little Greek Revival building with a chaste white painted pediment ornamented with an oval four-paned window. This was once the Charlotte Town House. It was constructed in 1850 and patterned after town halls in Hinesburg and Williston. When the Charlotte townspeople decided to erect a new Town Hall in 1939 they voted to maintain the old brick building as a museum where treasures of the past could be collected, preserved and displayed to interested people. The tremendous efforts exerted by John and Pearl Cook Spear, among others, cannot be praised too highly, for they and their co-workers merit widespread gratitude for heritage preservation, as well as emulation on the part of other towns.