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History Dedication and Early Use of the Town Hall

Homer Town Hall 1907
1906 postcard showing the Green depicted by Knobel on a backdrop for The Keator Opera House and then the Town Hall stage when the former was shut down. A daguerreotype by Prof. Beck was made of the backdrop and the card made from that.

On Wednesday, January 13, 1909, the scenery for the stage in the new Town Hall, from the Chicago firm of Sosman & Landis Co., was delivered. Thomas Knobel of Homer, who had the contract for stage settings in the auditorium, was busily installing the fittings for the various curtains and expressing his pleasure with the scenery of woodlands, a grand parlor, a kitchen, and a prison. Knobel himself had hand-painted the scene of the Village Green on the drop curtain, the same curtain that had originally been used for Dr. G. A. Tompkins’ drama, “The Village Green,” that had been presented at the Keator Opera House. Now, it is clear how retired Homer teacher, Rona Knobel, comes by her interest in art and drama. It is genetic!

According to the Homer Republican of January 28, 1909, the Town Hall had been officially opened to the public two days earlier for a grand dedication. All afternoon on the 26th, it was reported, throngs of visitors were greeted and escorted through the building by Town Supervisor Melvin J. Pratt, Town Clerk Lewis M. Austin, and President of the Village [mayor] Dr. L. W. Potter, along with members of the village board, the town board, the building committee, and their wives. Mrs. W. H. Foster played the piano that had been purchased from R. J. McElheny for $290, and C. D. Dillenbeck, the electrical contractor, operated the stage lighting switchboard to show off the possible lighting effects.

A reception was also held that evening, during which musical selections were provided by Alvord’s eight-piece orchestra. At 7:30 PM the curtain was raised and the town and village officers took their seats upon the stage presided over by Dr. Potter, President of the Village. He spoke of his pleasure “to be called upon to preside at the first formal meeting to be held in the town hall and that the people had deemed it fitting that something in the nature of a dedicatory exercise should be held.” He complimented the efforts of the building committee and praised them for “having erected the building without exceeding the appropriation.” He then introduced Attorney E. W. Hyatt as Homer’s “City Judge.” Hyatt spoke at some length about the past record of the town and of the noble example left by the past generations. Next, a rendition of “Annie Laurie” was performed by a glee club consisting of Rev. Albert Broadhurst, Fred T. Newcomb, R. J. McElheny, Carl E. Bates, Charles F. Fisher, Ralph S. Bennett, and Fred J. Nixon. The audience responded by clamorously calling for more. The club responded twice to encores by “singing popular college airs with fine effect.” County Judge J. E. Eggleston of Cortland then offered his recollection of the many leading citizens of Homer who had made a name for themselves and congratulated the present citizens for showing pride in their town. The orchestra then played while Thomas Knobel exhibited the stage curtains, scenery, stage settings, and stage equipment. The general satisfaction expressed by all that day with the building was “most gratifying, and especially so to… the building committee and town board.” Today, a door near the Board room leads to a short flight of stairs that takes one up onto the old stage and into the past. Sadly, the curtains and equipment of that first day are either tattered or gone.

The price for entertainments in the new Hall was set in 1909. Local parties would be charged $20 per night and outside entertainments would be charged $25 per night. Rehearsals would cost a dollar an hour. The first public entertainment ever given there was a benefit concert on the evening after the official opening. Proceeds were to go toward buying furnishings for the hall. The program consisted of local talent presenting recitations, orchestral selections, and several solos by voice, violin, piano, and cello. The newspaper claimed that the most pleasing were the soprano solos by Miss Marsh of the Cortland Conservatory of Music. The acoustic properties of the hall were deemed to be “excellent.”

Home talent again took the stage as Triumph Hose [Firefighting] Company presented the comic opera, “The Sleeping Princess,” on February 9th and the farcical comedy, “Charley’s Aunt,” on February 10th. Both fundraising performances played to a packed house.

The municipal offices were first occupied in December, 1908, and in January of 1909 a motion was made and carried “that the assembly room of Town Hall be designated as polling place of Town Meeting to be held Feb. 16th 1909.” The Hospital Aid Society was given use of the Hall’s basement. The upper room on the southwest corner of the Hall was to be outfitted for use for Town Board meetings and as the office of the Town Clerk, and the northwest corner room would be used for Village Board meetings. In more recent years, one room was suitable for both groups to conduct their separate meetings. In 1912, in response to a growing population and additional paperwork, the position of Deputy Town Clerk was created, and it has been filled by appointment ever since.

In 1914, the Dillon Brothers, managers of The New Cortland Theater, site of “picture shows” and live vaudeville entertainment in Cortland, requested use of the Town Hall for a “picture show” — a foreshadowing of the adaptability of the edifice that would come in twenty-four years. Movies in the “silent film” era were shown on weekends in the Union Building (now the branch office of First Niagara Bank) on Main Street, Homer. The price of admission was ten cents. The films came with sheet music for the young pianist, Florence Foster Durkee, to provide the only background sound. Printed dialogue appeared on the silver screen, alternating with scenes from cliffhanger serials filmed in Ithaca’s gorges before the film industry at Stewart Park moved to Hollywood, California. By force, Homer was truly “a community of readers” back then.

That same year, 1914, bids were accepted for the painting of the Town Hall, and a flag was purchased to go on the Hall. In 1916, the Board had to contend with a community health issue. It determined that any child of age 16 or younger who entered into and remained in the Village of Homer from an area infected with infantile paralysis was to be quarantined for at least three weeks. That meant the child was to be confined to his/her home with visitors forbidden under penalty of a $25 fine. That was a stiff penalty for the times. Consider the amount of entertainment that could buy!