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The Victorian Milton Town Hall
Milton, MA

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Following the Civil War, Milton began to experience growing pains, which included an increase in population, school-aged children and the inevitable building boom that accompanies this period. All of this translated into the fact that the town hall, built in 1837 on Academy Hill between the First Parish in Milton Unitarian and the First Congregational Church, proved too small for the town's business.

In 1878, after approval by town meeting, a new town hall was built on Canton Avenue, on the prescrit site of the Lira Bandstand. Designed by the Boston architectural firm of Hartwell and Tilden, a partnership between Henry W. Hartwell (1833-1919) and George T. Tilden (1845-1919), the new town hall was an impressive Victorian structure of red brick and granite in the Romanesque Revival style. A projecting asymmetrical tower on the fa?ade punctuated the slate roof, and had a shorn pyramidal roofcap with cast terra cotta details and ridge caps. Hartwell and Tilden, which was only in existence between 1877 and 1879, was to create an interesting building that provided ample space for town offices and meetings, but seemed out of character, at least architecturally, in Milton Centre with such close proximity to the two meetinghouses.

Henry W. Hartwell had apprenticed in the architectural office of Charles Howland Hammat Billings (1818-1874), whose office was at the corner of Washington and Essex Streets, in the "Liberty Tree Building " (now the Registry of Motor Vehicles.) Hartwell joined with George T. Tilden of Walnut Street in Milton for two years before he established the architectural firm of Hartwell, Richardson and Driver. These two architects, with a town appropriation of $35,000, worked with the town committee chaired by William Hathaway Forbes and Samuel Gannett, J. Huntington Wolcott, James Murray Robbins, Samuel Babcock, George Vose, Edward L. Pierce, Horace Ware and Reverend Albert Teele, to design a building in then prevalent Romanesque style of architecture. Built by the contracting firm of William C. Poland & Sons and the interior finished by Creesey & Noyes, the town hall was entered through a wide archway entrance with rough hewn granite keystones. A multitude of banked windows had granite lintels and the foundation was likewise of granite. The interior was finished with quarter-sawn oak woodwork, leaded and stained-glass windows and heavily trussed ceilings. The hall, where town meeting was held, as well as numerous townwide events, had a sense of "solid walls, heavy rooftrusses with decorative detailing and pendills" with an enormous gasolier hanging from the center of the ceiling.

Dedicated on February 17, 1879 with Henry S. Russell presiding and Edward L. Pierce presenting the address, the new town hall was as impressive as it was modern, in the Victorian sense of the word. With a ceremony of passing the keys to the selectmen, the Cadet Band entertained the assembled townspeople. The new town hall was described as being "equally well adapted to the town meeting which lies at the foundation of all genuine republican govemment, and to the social company, which contributes in like measure to the unity and happiness of the people." Throughout the next six decades, the town hall saw great activity and annually hosted town meeting. By the early 1960's there was increasing agitation for the replacement of what was referred to as the antiquated Victorian town hall to be replaced with a modern and more spacious town hall. In 1970, the present town hall was built behind the Victorian town hall; designed by Richard C. Stauffer & Associates of Washington, D.C., it has a decidedly 1970's modern architectural style as one passes it on Canton Avenue. Built by the Quincy contracting firm of Dunphy & Craig, it was opened for town business in 1970 and a year later the old town hall was demolished and the site graded for a lawn. It would be in 1990, after considerable debate at town meeting, that the bandstand was built, through the generosity of Baron Hugo Lira in memory of his wife, Edith Esabella Hamilton Lira. Baron Hugo (1904-1992) had been known as the "king of the Totem Pole Ballroom," and with his thirty-five piece orchestra played at many of the big venues including the Riverside in Neponset, Kimball's Starlight Ballroom, and Fieldstone-on-the-Atlantic.

Though the old town hall was thought "antiquated" and old fashioned by the 1960's, it was a distinctive building that today might not see demolition because of its architectural importance.


The Milton Town Hall

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