Address: 39 Main Street
Old Address: 30 Main Street
Year built: Old Town Hall: 1886; New Town Hall: 1928
Architects: Zachary Taylor, a local architect
Probably in 1881, Van Buren Miller, a grandson of Captain Pliny Miller, sold a 220 foot lot on Main Street opposite the foot of River Street. The price was a stunning $1,000. The purchaser was the Town of Harrietstown.
The following year, 1 the Town erected a cavernous, wooden structure with a somewhat ominous looking clock tower. This was the Old Town Hall. It came to be called such by burning to the ground in July, 1926. It was a spectacular and deadly fire. Three prisoners in the village "lock-up" were badly burned. No one else was in the building at the time. Phil Perry, Nicholas Pendergast, Thomas E. Daley, William F. Mulflur, Jr., John Crowley, and George Toupin, members of the Saranac Lake Club at the Empire Hotel next door, heard the cries of the trapped men and went to the rescue, but they could not open the cell doors, and by the time the Riverside Inn night man James Egan, who knew the location of the jailer's keys, arrived on the scene, the place was an inferno. Joseph Shaw, George Hazard, and a man with the Gentry Brothers' Circus were pulled from the flames, but all were seriously injured. Shaw never recovered.
From an original text by Philip L. Gallos. Apparently unpublished.
From the program for an Odd Fellows Minstrel Show held at the opening of the new Town Hall on October 3 and 4, 1928.
Construction of the old Town Hall was started in 1888 following a special election at which time it was voted to bond the town to the amount of $10,000 for the purchase of a suitable site and erection of the building. The town board at that time consisted of: Supervisor J. Herbert Miller; 2 town clerk William A. Walton; justices of the peace, Van Buren Miller, James A. Philbrooks, W. J. Slater and George Williams, Jr.
No contract was made for the erection of the building but bids were asked for materials used in its construction. R. E. Woodruff was engaged at the salary of $3.50 a day to take charge of the construction work and J. H. Miller was assigned to keep the accounts of expenditures made for the work. The cost of the building was said to have been well within the amount raised by the sale of the $10,000 bonds.
To the residents of the community who viewed the charred ruins on the morning of July 27, 1926, it was not the passing of an eyesore in an up to date community, but rather that of an old homestead hallowed by the many phases of community life which had centered there.
The first use to which the building had been put was that of a school. The old school house was outgrown and three rooms in the town hall were engaged to take care of the older grades. The second floor, which contained the auditorium with a seventeen foot stage, was soon the center of the social life of the village. In it dances, suppers and festivals of every sort were held. As the demand for amusement became greater it was leased to F. M. Jackson, under whose able management a high class of one night stand and repertoire companies were brought here. Several stars whose names have been outlined in lights along Broadway trod the boards in the old town hall before they were discovered by the big cities. Lecturers of national reputation on religious, educational or political subjects were heard here.
For several months the congregation of St. Bernard's church worshipped in the town hall, during the construction of their present edifice. Moving pictures held the boards for a time and later the auditorium was taken over by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows who with the Kiwassa Rebekah Lodge No. 33, occupied it until the building was destroyed.
When the United Slates entered the World War, Troop B of the National Guard was mobilized in the town hall and guard mount in front and the sound of marching feet brought vividly to the community the realization of the part it was to play in the great drama.
Christmas cheer was dispensed at the doors of the building, both by Uncle Sam who used it for immense loads of parcel post which had overflowed the post office space at holiday time and also by the lodges of I.O.O.F. and B.P.O.E., who from time to time made it a distributing point for clothing or free feasts for needy youngsters.
Town and Village Elections were held in the old building and the Adirondack Enterprise, the village newspaper, had its beginning there and that business was conducted in the building from its inception 34 years ago until the plant was wiped out by the fire that destroyed the building.
The darker side of life which came to the old town hall when prisoners were incarcerated in the cells off the first floor corridor, where were also the police offices. How many heartbreaking scenes were enacted there only the guardians of the law could know.
The town clock, which was placed in the tower shortly after the erection of the building, was like an old friend to the villagers. Its friendly faces could be seen from all parts of the village and the bell not only told the hours but was also, for many years, the only fire alarm in the village it performed another service also for when the armistice was signed its voice was the first to announce to the community that war was ended, when willing hands joyously took turns in pulling at the bell rope.
Faithful to the end it rang the alarm which was its own death knell when early in the morning of July 27th, 1926, fire of unknown origin completely destroyed the wooden structure. As flames were licking up the tower the clock pealed forth the hour of two and a few seconds later it crashed to the ground in ruins.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 13, 1961
Out of the Past
The first Harrietstown Town Hall was built in Saranac Lake in 1886 and burned to the ground on Tuesday, July 27, 1926.
In addition to The Enterprise offices on the first floor and The Enterprise mechanical department in the basement, it housed the village police office and lockup, the election room, town board room and, on the second floor, the Saranac Lake Odd Fellows lodge rooms.
The fire started about 1 a. m. in the rear of the cell room and the shouts of the prisoners attracted the attention of members of the Saranac Lake Club who were playing cards in the Empire building across the alley from the town hall.
Phil Perry, steward of the club at that time, rushed out to rescue the prisoners and turn in the alarm along with club members Nicholas Pendergast, Thomas E. Daly, William F. Mulflur, John Crowley and George Toupin.
Three prisoners were in jail when the blaze started, one man was reported dying from burns and the other two were severely injured.
There was some delay in opening the jail door when the Saranac Lake Club members reached the scene, but James Egan who was night man at the Riverside Inn arrived, and being a close follower of police affairs knew where the key was kept.
Time and again the Walton & Tousley Hardware Inc., building caught fire, but each time the blaze was stopped. The Empire hotel building on the other side of the town hall was damaged when one of the big brick chimneys of the burning building toppled and sheered off a cornice and the rear porch.
It was one of the hottest fires" Saranac Lake had experienced and occupants of all surrounding buildings were driven into the streets with their personal effects as fire burned through the tinder-dry building.
Damage was estimated at $75,000 and valuable records of the Town of Harrietstown were entirely destroyed along with the only complete file of The Enterprise in existence, covering a period of 32 years.
The newspaper report of the firemen was all praise, but it didn't mention one man by name. It said the work of the firemen would have brought joy to the heart of a big city fire chief. Firemen and a pumper from Lake Placid helped in extinguishing the blaze.
This information is taken from The Enterprise of July 28, 1926, published in Lake Placid through the generosity of George M. Lattimer who then owned the Lake Placid News, and in tabloid form.
The Enterprise was then published only three days a week and until a new plant could be constructed it was published in Malone by the Malone Evening Telegram. The afternoon of the day of the fire, ground was being broken for a new newspaper plant for The Enterprise at its present site, and plans for a new town hall were well under way as well as the work of removing the rubble left at the fire scene. Fast work!
The Enterprise was temporarily located at 96 Main Street, between the Berkeley Hotel and the Chamber of Commerce. From the editorial in that edition, one guesses the offers for floor space for the newspaper were plentiful. E. L. Gray had offered space in his splendid new store. Walter Sagendorf had extended an invitation for use of the Berkeley Hotel, E. J. Kennedy had offend a room in his building. C. S. Barnet publisher of Trotty Veck and A. W. Carrier[sic], proprietor of the Currier Press, had both offered use of their offices. Louis C. Schleip, owner of the Tupper Lake Herald Press, had offered use of the plant there.
The building was apparently held in some esteem, if the following words from an old edition are any indication: "The old building which played a stellar role in the history of this community passed in a glory of flame" and "There was a tense moment and something like a sob from the crowd when the old town clock went crashing down into the ruins of the fire."
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, May 17, 2002
Some history on the Harrietstown Town Hall
The original Harrietstown Town Hall was constructed on the same site as the present structure in 1888, following a special election at which a $10,000 bond was approved for the construction. The Town Board at the time consisted of: Supervisor J. Herbert Miller, Town Clerk William A Walton, Justice of the Peace Van Buren Miller, and councilmen James A. Philbrooks, W.J. Slater and George Williams, Jr. The site was purchased from Van Buren Miller for $1,500, and Zachary Taylor, a local architect, was instructed by the board to draw plans for a building 40-by 85 feet, three stories in height, with a tower in front.
No contract was made for the erection of the building, but bids were put out for materials used in its construction. R.E. Woodruff was hired at the salary of $3.50 per day to take charge of the construction work, and J.H. Miller was assigned to keep the accounts of expenditures made for the work. The cost of the building was said to have been well within the amount raised by the sale of the $10,000 bond.
The old Town Hall was first used as a school: The old school house was overflowing, and three rooms in the town hall housed the older grades. The second floor contained the auditorium, which became the social center of the community. Dances, suppers and festivals of every sort were held in the room.
During the first World War, Troop B of the National Guard was mobilized in the Town Hall and, in "A History of the Old Town Hall," provided by Mary Hotaling of Historic Saranac Lake, the anonymous writer described the patriotic airs of the day:
"The sound of marching feet brought vividly to the community the realization of the part it was to play in the great drama."
The town clock and bell, which were installed in the tower shortly after the building was constructed, announced the war's end on Nov. 11, 1918, "when willing hands joyously took turns in pulling at the bell rope."
Thirty-eight years after its construction, in late July 1926, the old Town Hall burned-to the ground, in, a fire of unknown origin. The sentiments of the townspeople can be described in this passage from "A History of the Old Town Hall":
"To the residents of the community who viewed the charred ruins on the morning of July 27, (it was not the passing of a dilapidated wooden building, out of date, and somewhat of an eyesore in an up to date community, but rather that of an old homestead hallowed by many phases of community life which had centered there."
After the fire, the Town Board, consisting of Supervisor Allen I. Vosburgh, Eugene Keet, Charles Stickney, Seaver A. Miller, Fred Jarvis and H. Ray Williams, took measures to build the new Town Hall, and they did — quickly.
On Oct. 3, 1928, most of the major construction of the present Town Hall was completed.
The exterior treatment adopted was colonial. The masonry materials used were a deep shade of cherry red brick, laid up in Flemish bond. The trimmings are of Indiana limestone, the most reasonably priced of all ornamental building stones."
The Town Hall had numerous functions in 1928. The Main Street floor contained four meeting rooms which doubled as election centers, one of which would be converted into a court room. The ground floor, as it is today, housed a large auditorium with a stage and men's and women's dressing rooms.
Another interesting feature of the 1928 building was the housing of the police department, consisting of a police justice court room, a room for the police chief and an exercise room for patrolmen, as well as a jail with seven cells for male prisoners and one double cell for female prisoners. The story above the Main Street floor contained the Harrietstown government offices.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, January 19, 2013, in Howard Riley's column
Enterprise history, 1906-1918
[Kenneth W.] Goldthwaite's Enterprise office and pressroom was located in the former town hall that burned down in 1928 [sic: 1926]. "From Main Street, under the clock tower, one entered a generous doorway leading to a broad hall; immediately to the right were stairs up to the Odd Fellows hall which, on occasion, doubled as a movie theater. On the right, past the stairs, was the headquarters of the village Police Department; on the left, the editorial and business offices of the Enterprise.
"Also to the left, just past the Enterprise office was the lockup, a frequently occupied place. At the end of the corridor was the meeting room for the town.
"The reliable means of fast communication was the telegraph and messages in Morris [sic: Morse] Code clacked almost without ceasing in the Enterprise office. Whenever big things were happening, the paper would publish bulletins, hand-printed with crayons on newsprint, which were tacked up in the front office."