At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Hardwick, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.
“We’re going to go check out the Hardwick Town House, one of the most wonderful theaters I think you can find in northern Vermont. It’s a very historic structure and I hear the acoustics are phenomenal,” began Perkins.
“The Hardwick Town House was built in 1860 and it was used as a primary school for 31 years. It was constructed by the town of Hardwick. A lot of people come in here and they think it was always an opera house, but it was actually converted to an opera house in 1893,” explained Brent McCoy of the Northeast Kingdom Arts Council.
“The new Hardwick Academy was built and this building was sitting empty. It’s right next to the train depot. Everybody would come into town. The granite industry was booming and there were a lot of people living around here. So, they turned it into a place for entertainment. They put in the balcony, they added the stage, the foyer and it completely changed the purpose,” added McCoy.
“Traveling vaudeville troops would come through, probably traveling opera shows. And when trains connected America, before major roadways, I imagine that all sorts of different entertainment passed through, plus local events, civic discourse. Anything where you needed to see and be seen would happen in this room,” said McCoy.
“Hardwick saw a major downturn after the granite industry left and modernity caught up. The population went down. I don’t know specific years, but this building was basically abandoned and the town had let it fall by the wayside.”
“In 1970, a group called the Craftsbury Chamber Players began performing here. They had started a few years prior up at the Sterling College in Craftsbury Common and they needed a slightly bigger venue. So, they started doing a summer series. And for many years, that was all that happened here.”
“Things started getting interesting around the turn of the century. In 2001 a woman named Abby Smith started the Northeast Kingdom Arts Council. It was a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering performing arts in this area and specifically saving this building. The space has really changed from what was a defunct historic building or what was really an antique, falling into disrepair has turned into a fully usable repurposed space,” said McCoy.
“I’ve been told there are some beautifully painted curtains in this space. Can you tell us a little bit about them?” asked Perkins.
“In 1903, a gentleman by the name of Charles W. Henry came to Hardwick. They used locally sourced fabric and he painted these two historic drapes on-site. They’re massive pieces of work. They, as well, declined in quality over 100 years. In 2003, they were fully restored. We have these beautiful drapes that come down and really divide up the space or provide a nice theatrical backdrop,” answered McCoy.
“[Today] the Hardwick Town House is used for, first and foremost, a performance venue. The Craftsbury Chamber Players continue to perform their concerts throughout the summer. Vermont Vaudeville, which I’m a member of, does two shows, spring and fall. There are weddings that happen here, conferences. We’re hoping that a dance party of some kind [will] hopefully this year happen. Anything where people can gather and want to listen to something or watch a performance, this place is meant for it,” concluded McCoy.
At ‘This Place in History’!
For more information on visiting or booking the Hardwick Town House, click here.
For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.
To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historical markers, click here.