Does That Ring A Bell?
One of the most magnificent buildings in Durham Region is the Old Town Hall in Port Perry, built in 1873. This year marks the 150th anniversary of this spectacular building, which is now home to several thespian groups, as it has become a centre for live performances.
The year was 1871, and the town elders decided brand new Port Perry needed a brand new hall. It took a year to finalize the details, and two years to build. In 1873, we had an amazing Town Hall.
A parcel of land, owned by Benjamin Crandell, was chosen. He sold it to the village for $1,000. No expense was spared and Council purchased 75 bench seats at 35¢ per foot. Around the same time the tower was built, and a Mr. Jones of Markham, offered to supply a bell on a trial basis. If the bell worked, it could be purchased for a mere $120.
I could not find out if they kept the bell, but when the bell tower was removed a few years ago, and the bell was taken down, the date of 1888 was on it, more than ten years after the tower and hall were finished.
The town was eager to use the building, and did so before it was completed. A number of events were held, including church services, a concert and an election meeting.
The initial lighting may have been inadequate, and the bell tower looked a tad ugly, especially when one looked up, but Port Perry had a Town Hall, and it only cost $6,000. Council decided to utilize the closet under the stairs, and turn it into a lock-up for prisoners, as long as the cost would not exceed $25.
In 1899 tennis courts were built in the park beside the hall, and in 1906, a Mr. Nott was paid $8.50 for painting the exterior of the building. I am not sure if that included the paint. The metal ceiling, still in place today, was installed in 1911, and infantry training took place in the basement, just prior to WWI.
1914 was a sad year for the town’s bell ringer. A mechanism was installed, which would ring the bell automatically, ending the job of bell ringer, who was also the local police chief. Eleven years later, when the local school burned down, the Town Hall became a temporary location for classes.
The building has had many uses, including a place to feed more than 500 transients during the depression, and the home of the H.W. Gossard women's undergarments factory.
The big news came in January 1974, when council decided to schedule the Town Hall for demolition. A local group of concerned citizens formed a committee, and six months later, council yielded. The building was leased to the committee for $2 a year, over a 99 year lease.
Funds were raised, renovations were made and in 1975 an antique show took place, in what was officially known as Town Hall 1873. In 1996, Town Hall 1873 was designated a historic site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
Happy Anniversary Town Hall!
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.