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By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter
While it is now home to over 25 thousand people, in 1881, Walpole’s population hovered around two thousand. In that very year, the town spent a grand total of $29,322.65 to build what is one of Walpole’s most beloved buildings: Old Town Hall.
On February 21, the Walpole Public Library hosted the Walpole Historical Society and the Walpole Historical Commission for a presentation on the history and the future of Old Town Hall, which currently serves as the town’s police station. However, with a new building for the officers under construction, the fate of Old Town Hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is unknown.
In its glory days, back when Stone Street was referred to as Mud Alley, the building featured gas lamps and a great hall with lofty ceilings, where, on the night of its dedication, the townsfolk danced until 4:30 a.m.
Understandably, the building has converted to modern lighting fixtures, contemporary plumbing, and has repurposed the space with non-load-bearing walls to cater to the police station’s needs.
While the ornate woodwork of the stairs and ceiling beams still remains, it has gone uncared for over the years, and a drop ceiling hides the beautiful craftsmanship that spreads across the original ceiling. The bell in the 70-foot tall tower, which was donated along with the clock by several locals, was removed for structural reasons.
The Historical Society and the Historical Commission revealed that the space has served the town in many unexpected ways, as well. Old Town Hall was formerly used as a police shooting range, Walpole’s first movie theater, a dance and concert club, and a courtroom. It even hosted Walpole High School’s Class of 1904 and 1905 graduations, basketball games, and Footlighters productions.
With a great deal of information on the history of the former Town Hall, the Historical Society and the Historical Commission invited Richard Pilla, Chairman of the Town Hall Re-Use Committee to speak about the future of the building.
“No matter what direction you’re coming into downtown from, the one building that sticks out is Old Town Hall,” Pilla said. “It has a significance from an architectural, historic, and cultural perspective. It’s really a special building.
“We believe, that if done correctly, Old Town Hall can be a catalyst for the redevelopment of downtown. Downtown Walpole has a tremendous amount of potential for being a space that is very dynamic.”
Although there seem to be endless possibilities to transform Old Town Hall into something for the community to enjoy, it is still at risk of being torn down. It is the responsibility of the townspeople to both preserve a piece of the town’s history and incorporate it into the town’s future.