Old Town Hall: Yesterday and Today

Old Town Hall, 2019

September 2021: All dressed up for a wedding!

Building History. On April 3, 1871, at the annual meeting of Webster Township, 47 voters cast ballots on the question of building a new township hall to replace the original hall on North Territorial Road. Forty-seven voters cast ballots on the question and the outcome was “yes,” 43; “no,” 3. At the same meeting, a committee of 5 was appointed to oversee construction: Robert McColl, Alfred Valentine, Morgan O’Brien, Issac Terry, and Austin Buckelew.

The building specifications called for a “depot fashion” building with dimensions of 24 feet by 34 feet, boarded up and down and batted, and painted with 3 coats of paint for a cost of under $1,500. Issac Terry selected a one-acre parcel at the corner of Gregory and Scully Roads on which to build this structure, and it was purchased for $80 from George Phelps on May 11, 1871. The construction team for the project was Issac Terry, architect and carpenter; A. J. Sawyer, carpenter; Charles Bleicher, mason; and C. M. Starks, painter. The final cost for land, building, fence, and hitching posts was $1,758.17. To help off-set the cost, the original hall at the corner of North Territorial and Scully Roads was sold for $21.25 to Albert Houghton.

The Town Hall had its first official meeting in December 1871. At the time, there were 37 stars on the US flag, Ulysses S. Grant was President and Henry P. Baldwin was Governor of Michigan. Township officers were Richard Walsh, Supervisor; George W. Merrill, Clerk; and James B. Arms, Treasurer. (Recognize any of those names as roads and a prominent drainage creek?)

Originally there was a 6 foot by 12 foot by 2 foot high platform with a railing around it at the end opposite the door. This platform was removed in the 1940s. The building remained unchanged until 1948, when a contract was let for construction of a 10 foot by 24 foot cement block addition on the south end of the hall. The addition, which cost $1,000, was used for storing firewood and to provide enclosed “comfort stations.” (This addition was removed in 1996 in preparation for the building to be moved to Historic Webster Village.) In 1948, cupboards were added along the entrance door wall for storage of township records; these were removed in 1981. The building was lighted with kerosene lamps until sometime in the 1920s and heated with the wood-burning stove until about 1970.  In 1983, the Old Town Hall and site were among the 3 oldest town halls in the state, and it was listed as a Michigan Historical Site.

By 1996, the building had served the township for 125 years and could no longer accommodate the growing number of township voters during elections. During those years, Carl Mast set a record for years of service to the township by serving as Township Supervisor for 50 years! The Township built a new hall on a 12-acre parcel purchased from May Mast. The Township Board at its regular meeting on August 20, 1996, voted to donate the old Township Hall to WTHS for preservation and safe-keeping. A condition of this transfer of responsibility was that it be made available for the Township Board to use as a meeting site at least once annually.

In May 1997, the old building was moved three-quarters of a mile across the cornfields to its present location and placed on a stone foundation built by Dan Hornback as his Eagle Scout project.

WTHS volunteers refinished the interior to “like new” condition. During renovations, the drop ceiling was removed to reveal the beautiful high, boarded ceilings.  Discovered in the ceiling storage were the original electric lighting fixtures which were reinstalled. The wood wainscoting looks like maple but is really faux bois, a craft used in the late 1800’s to make common woods resemble a finer wood. The cost of moving and restoring the Old Town Hall was $27,881.99—almost 20 times the cost to build it.

The Old Town Hall lives on in Historic Webster Village. In early September 2017, the building received a new coat of paint, once again restoring it to excellent condition for another 5-8 years.

In 2020, the crawlspace was encapsulated and a commercial dehumidifier installed to protect the building and contents from humidity. The crawlspace also houses a working furnace.

It is a stately structure with tall windows on three sides and a high ceiling. An old cast-iron stove, similar to the original one that once heated the building, sits in the center back, and rows of benches line each side of the center aisle. The walls are lined with historic Webster Township records, and in the back of the building, the WTHS added two display cases to house interesting historical records, some dating back before the Civil War and to the time of the Pony Express.

In 2021, the WTHS had the crawl space encapsulated and gutters/downspouts installed ensuring that humidity does not become a detriment to the building and its irreplaceable contents. Also, the front steps were rebuilt making them wider and easier to climb.  

We hope you will visit our historic village and see our Old Town Hall. Perhaps you would like to have your small wedding or other event inside, or your graduation photos taken inside or out on the steps.

Old Town Hall, September 2019