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Town of Homer Builds a Hall

Homer Town Hall 1907
Homer Town Hall, 1908

On June 11, 1907, a special village election was held to decide the question of purchasing the site at the corner of Main and Water Street, constructing an edifice there for joint town and village use, and furnishing it, with the Town picking up 35% of the cost and the Village 65%. On January 28, 1908, at a special town meeting held in the Porter Block on Main Street, eligible voters got to determine if the Board should be authorized to issue bonds not to exceed $22,000 and to add to the assessment roll for the year 1908 $1,000, making a total of $23,000 for the purpose of purchasing the Griffin property, erecting a Town Hall, and furnishing it. 376 ballots were cast. 291 were “Yes,” 77 were “No,” and 8 were “Spoiled and Mutilated Ballots.” Two weeks later, five individuals were appointed to supervise the construction project: F. M. Briggs, W. H. Foster, W. A. Coon, S. F. Andrews, and D. N. Hitchcock.

At the same meeting, a resolution was carried calling for the appropriation of $100 “to assist said town in celebrating the One Hundredth anniversary of the formation of Cortland County.” Cortland County had reached the centennial mark, and Homer was to build a Town Hall.

Sixty year old Charles F. Colton of Syracuse was the architect selected, beating out the plans submitted by four other architects from Elmira, Binghamton, New York, and Syracuse. He was a prominent designer whose buildings in Syracuse still stand, including City Hall.

According to the Homer Republican, the contract for the construction was awarded on April 25 to William L. Hoag of Tully, who trumped eight others with the low bid of $20,983. Separate contracts were awarded for excavation, masonry, carpentry, heating and plumbing, electrical, and interior finishing.

Ground for the foundation was broken on May 20, 1908. The basement walls were of concrete. The basement story above grade was to be ten feet and constructed of rock-faced “Miracle” cement blocks. The story above the basement was to be seventeen feet to the cornice and made of smooth-faced “Miracle” cement blocks. The blocks were cast in Syracuse by the “Miracle” Cement Block Manufacturing Company. The company’s business manager, E. C. Ide, had come to Homer to tout the block’s many points of superiority over other makes of cement work and to explain that the firm had been casting cement for about eleven years and this particular patent process block for four years. The blocks were to be two feet long by eight inches high and ventilated, having 30% air space. The blocks were to be stained brown in color with a soft, light gray block for trimming, which, supposedly, was to provide the effect of brown stone and granite. The same “Miracle” blocks were used in the foundation of the Preble school building.

The architectural plans called for a 57 x 52 foot assembly hall in the basement, and an auditorium and stage on the upper floor. No doubt, this was to compensate for the recently closed Keator Opera House on Main Street. Located on the third floor of the Barber Block, this had been the main gathering place in the village until it was deemed too costly to install the fire escapes that had been mandated. The Town’s 60 x 53 foot auditorium was to have removable chairs and a seating capacity of 504. A balcony with a capacity of 194 more seats made a total capacity of 698 seats. The vestibule at the west end was to have a short flight of stairs leading to the auditorium, with a ticket office at the lower level. Two office spaces, one in the north corner and one in the south corner, were to be at the upper level. The stage at the east end was to have an opening of 30 feet and a depth of 27 feet, with a dressing room in the basement and a stairway leading to the northeast corner of the stage above. At the rear of the basement and beneath the stage would be the lock-up with three cells, an office for police court, the heating plant, and coal bins. The lock-up was to be fire proof and noise proof. A kitchen, pantry, storage room, offices, closets, and two toilet rooms with flush closets and lavatories were to be at the front end of the basement.

By October, 1908, the roofing was nearly completed, but it was determined that the dome planned for the new Town Hall “be covered with copper instead of tin” for an extra $100. In addition, 752 chairs were to be purchased from Briggs Bros. Furniture store on James Street, Homer. The old jail cell was to be sold to Contractor Hoag for $75, and three jail cells were to be purchased from Pauly Jail Building Company for $645. The Village put in a six-foot cement walk in front of the Hall. By mid-November, the Lane Plumbing & Heating Company of Cortland was installing the steam heating plant. Plastering was completed and most of the wainscoting was done. The anticipated completion date was December 15th. As Anita Jebbett, the current Town Clerk, has observed, to build with the date “1908” carved in stone over the entrance reveals a contractor constructing “with confidence.” The actual completion was only off by ten days but still within the calendar year still visible over the front entrance.

On Christmas Eve day, 1908, the building committee made a final inspection, and the Town Board accepted the building “with the exception of the plumbing, which will be accepted when certain necessary changes are made.” The Homer Republican proclaimed the building to be “beautiful” and “a credit to the architect,… the contractor, the building and town committees, and to the town which caused it to be constructed.” The paper also cited the absence of the kind of criticism and fault-finding one frequently found engendered by such building projects.

It boggles the modern mind that the Town Hall was up and running in seven months’ time, but as Fred Forbes, the current Town Supervisor, has stated, “One must keep in mind that there were no state mandates and ‘red tape’ to slow things down, like today.” Someone had the presence of mind and a Conley folding plate camera to photographically document the phases of construction. In October of 2007, the seven glass negatives, owned by Patricia Gray Jackson, were conveyed to the town historian by Frances Armstrong, and they were developed for the Town into seven remarkable 8×10 prints by Industrial Color Labs of Syracuse. These images now grace a wall of the Board Room in the Town Hall. The scaffolding shown in the prints would never have passed inspection by today’s O.S.H.A.!