It was liability concerns, aesthetics, and an appreciation of history that prompted the Town Board to start renovating the Town Hall, from the top down. As the building entered into the 21st century, its interior had offices with all the technology of the age — computers, faxes, printers, calculators, and copiers — but its exterior showed signs of deterioration. The removal and repair of the cupola atop the dome began in November of 2003. After 95 years of exposure to pigeons and the elements, the wooden structure was crumbling and hanging precariously from its post. Woodford Brothers Inc. of Tully used a cherry picker and a crane to bring it safely to the ground. They took it to Tully for restoration. Eight months later, a refurbished cupola with a new gleaming copper top was reattached.
The Woodford Brothers used, in 2002, two orange and white steel supports, drilled into the sidewalk, to hold up a roof over the front entrance. This was required because the weight of the four Roman-style columns (originally built in Syracuse) to support the roof was starting to wear on the block foundation. The dome, front steps, and the windows were sorely in need of repair, and handicap accessibility needed to be addressed to be in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. An application for a $350,000 state grant to fix the building was denied. Surplus funds were then dedicated to the task of restoring the front portico, completely redoing the town court, and installing a wheelchair-accessible elevator. A Syracuse architectural firm, Crawford and Stearns, was hired for the project of bringing the landmark back to life.
In June of 2006 the Board approved a resolution to purchase a vacant house immediately north of the Town Hall (No. 33 North Main Street). The house was bought from the county for $34,220 in back taxes. The site was eyed by the Board for a possible parking lot for the restored Hall. A public hearing on the subject showed division. Half the speakers supported razing the house and creating 20 to 30 parking spaces. The other half deplored the loss of property tax money for the town. Discussion also focused on which of four locations to use for the installation of the elevator. In the end, the Board voted to put in a parking lot and to install the elevator at the northeast corner of the Hall after renovations were made to the courtroom. This was all according to designs by preservation architect, Randy Crawford. The cost was close to $700,000.
Paul Yaman Construction started work on the front portico in the summer of 2006, with December 8, 2006, as the deadline date. After months of costly delays, partly due to winter and to poor casting work by Steps Plus of Syracuse, the front entrance did not open to the public again until August 1, 2007. Putting in the front sidewalks and moving the flagpole to the north side of the entrance was done by Homer contractor Tom Kile.
As the century-old landmark situated in the Homer Historic District celebrated its centennial in 2008, renovations continued. Further exterior and window work has been done, even after the Town received the Tender Loving Care Award in 2011 from the Central New York Preservation Association. The Homer Town Hall is still adapting. It is a symbol of the 6,405 townspeople it serves in a 50.37 square mile area– a people mindful of the past and yet trying to adapt to the requirements of the future. In May of 2009, the Town and Village supported “Homer’s Celebration of Lincoln in Paint and Print” – a week long salute to Homer’s connection to “The Great Emancipator” through Carpenter, Stoddard, and DeVoe. While being acclaimed as “a new Lincoln mecca,” the Town has been ever conscious of the challenges posed by the Great Recession and by the proposed use of windmills and hydrofracking to resolve America’s energy problems. Countless numbers of individuals have served the Town during the past 222 challenging years. To mention them all and the problems they confronted would require a book.
Through the years, the names of the public officials working in the Town Hall have changed, and so, too, have the functions of the Hall. Like a versatile actor, the building has taken on many roles: center for municipal services, jail, courthouse, movie theater, dance hall, roller-skating rink, newspaper office, radio repair shop, classroom, school business office, senior citizens center, and, yes, even home to a colorfully painted cigar store Indian princess who will greet you in the front foyer. Stop in! If she could talk, what would she say? She might bid you to consider how far the Town has come since the days when the indigenous Americans traveled along the Tioughnioga River. She might ask you how much you appreciate this town with its unique history that at times has intersected in significant ways with the nation’s history. She might inquire if you value the collection we possess of 222 well-preserved architectural structures in the Historic District of the Village. She might urge you to imagine the possible roles the Homer Town Hall will be asked to play in future years. And she may ask all of us to realize the great opportunities that await us for heritage tourism here in Homer. Remember, economically and educationally history is “the gift that keeps on giving.”