By Seth Daniel
When one walks up Green Street, one sees the Boys & Girls Club, the church and other notable buildings along one of the more picturesque thoroughfares in the Town.
But the most historic, grand and first building on that thoroughfare has seriously fallen into disrepair over the last several years – that being Memorial Hall. While once a famous Federal Georgian Mansion built by Samuel Dexter, and in more recent years known as the go-to place for First Communion parties or wedding receptions, the dilapidated old structure has seen better days.
Now, Board members for the ownership, the Abraham Lincoln Post #11, hope that a new round of better days are right around the corner.
This week, Board members Joe Zuffante and David Hennessey announced a $44,000 grant from the George B. Henderson Foundation as Phase 1 in the project to restore the old Hall. The Board has joined in the effort with the Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS) and the Charlestown Historical Society to work on the project, and together are known as the Friends of Memorial Hall.
“Memorial Hall is a resource for the veterans of Charlestown and for the entire community,” Board President Zuffante said. “We are grateful that the Henderson Foundation recognizes the cultural and historical significance of Memorial Hall and will partner with us and the Charlestown Preservation Society in safeguarding Charlestown’s historic buildings and unique history.”
The Henderson grant will be used specifically only for the the exterior renovations, including replacing the roof to stop leaks and fixing the clapboards.
That will likely be only a drop in the bucket to the renovation on the outside, so the group has formed a GoFundMe page under “Restore Memorial Hall” and plans to do additional fundraising efforts to continue garnering funds.
“The building is a jewel,” said Zuffante. “I would say it’s a diamond in the rough. It’s something that’s so important to the Town and something we want to see returned. We want people to look at it and smile and not look at it and want to burn it down or demolish it.”
Hennessey said CPS and the Board had engaged a consultant to go through the building and report back with a roadmap for restoring the structure. That, he said, has been done and forms the basis of starting by fixing the roof and tightening up the exterior.
Inside, however, a good deal of restoration has already taken place.
The top floor of the building is a large and open Hall, which had been used for functions and dances in the Town for generations.
Right now, the Friends and the Post have entered into an agreement with the Celebration Church. The Church is coordinating the complete restoration of the third floor in order to lease the space. Already the ceiling has been restored and workers for the church are putting in new bathrooms and a kitchen.
“They are restoring upstairs to make it usable again,” said Zuffante. “It hasn’t been used in probably eight years. This place hit some hard times in the 1990s with some of the folks that were in here. Stan Leonard came in with me and we changed the board. We’ve managed to pay off $30,000 in debt the previous people had accumulated. We’ve been able to bring the Hall into solvency through bringing in the tenants. Now with it restored, we are on solid footing. That’s what bought us to the Henderson Foundation.”
The first floor has been restored already and houses the Charlestown Lacrosse and Learning Center. The basement floor houses the Post, and there are designs to enlarge that a bit.
The Post has also begun doing more efforts in the community, such as bringing back the Flag Day Retirement ceremonies and sponsoring donations to the iPods for Wounded Veterans program. Recently, they have also started a partnership with the Harvard Kent School.
A couple of years ago, they fixed up the front yard and installed a Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Zuffante said the Hall originally came into the community’s hands in the 19th Century when the Grand Army of the Republic Post purchased it and based its busy operations there for years. In 1932, the local GAR passed it on to a board of Charlestown veterans in perpetuity.
Prior to the GAR, in 1791, Samuel Dexter built the home on Green Street, when less than 2,000 people lived in Charlestown. He built a grand, federal style mansion, sparing no expenses and included ornate exterior woodwork features and a tree lined garden extending down to Main Street. The Dexter Estate, sold in 1800 and then again in 1887 to the GAR, was renamed ‘Memorial Hall’ and has remained a community resource and meeting place for Charlestown veterans and the community ever since.
Visit the effort on the web at www.abrahamlincolnpost11.com to learn more about Memorial Hall. Please join them on Facebook at Abraham Lincoln Post 11 GAR to follow the progress.
To make a donation: Go to “Restore Memorial Hall” on the GoFundMe page or send a check payable to the Friends of Memorial Hall, 14 Green St., Charlestown, MA 02129. The group is a 501 (c) 3 organization, so all donations are tax deductible.