Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Lakeville Town Hall

Situated at the junction of Bedford, Main and Precinct Streets, Lakeville Town Hall and its surrounding grounds provide an historic and scenic counterpoint to the busy intersection where they stand. The neatly kept building (its tidy appearance an indication of the pride which local residents have in both the building and their community) has been a landmark since 1856. In the years since its construction, Lakeville Town Hall has played an important role in the history of the town, and its significance was recognized in 1976 when it was listed upon the National Register of Historic Places.

Following the incorporation of Lakeville as a town in 1853, one of the first orders of business was the siting of a Town House. Three locations were considered: the intersection of Bedford, Main and Precinct Streets then known as Washburn's Corner; a location atop the hill on Highland Road; and an unspecified location at Precinct, the village clustered about Precinct Street and Rhode Island Road. Factions supporting each area quickly arose to lobby for the advantages of their favored location. In a letter written August 29, 1853, and published four days later in the Namasket Gazette , one anonymous correspondent touted the advantages of Washburn's Corner, the site ultimately selected.

"There are several reasons in favor of this location. 1st. It is not far from the centre of the town, and is very nearly the centre of the population; the centre of the town coming near the herring ware [sic] at the foot of Long Pond, and the centre of the population in the vicinity of Pond Meeting House. 2nd. Being at the junction of numerous roads which continue through all parts of the town, it would be easier of access to a majority of town's people than any other contemplated location. 3d. The scenery around is very pleasing: the Assawampsette [sic] with its green shores and beautiful coves being in full view. 4th. It is on the roads most travelled and which must ever continue to be most travelled in Lakeville, and if the location of the town house is to give any conceivable advantage or interest to the place, the place should be desired by all to be seen, and where most seen. 5th. The Washburn corner is within two miles of a railroad station, which of course will be expected to furnish accommodations sufficient for the purposes of the public. 6th. The land is ample for every purpose necessary, and in accordance with the public spirit ever manifested by the neighborhood, enough will most likely be presented as a free gift to the town, for whatever public purposes it may deem fit. [Namasket Gazette, "Location of a Town House at Lakeville", September 2, 1853, p. 2]

Despite the seemingly overwhelming arguments in favor of the Washburn Corners location, the Precinct faction apparently held some sway, maintaining that portions of both Raynham and Taunton might join Lakeville should a center be established in that neighborhood. According to the pro-Precinct lobby, such a development would broaden the town's tax base and decrease the residential tax burden of individual property owners, clearly an argument with appeal to Lakeville voters. The anonymous writer of the August letter, however, urged residents not to be deceived by the promise of a lightened tax load, as the liklihood of expanding the new town geographically was minimal. And though the writer dismissed the Highland Road faction as "too small to effect anything", he did acknowledge its potential to act as a spoiler. "...They may not fail to defeat the project of having a town house built this year, thereby carrying out the designs of those in favor of the Precinct Locations and of the tax payers of Taunton and Raynham." [Ibid.]
The debate appears to have delayed a decision for a considerable period of time as it was not until 1856 that the town finally moved forward with definitive proposals for a town house. On April 4, 1856, the Namasket Gazette reported (erroneously as it would turn out) that Lakeville had purchased the former Pond Meetinghouse on Bedford Street with a plan to convert it into a town house. Despite the fallacy of the report, Lakeville did decide just over a month later to erect a town house at the Washburn Corners location, soliciting bids in the local newspaper at the end of May, 1856.

Ultimately, the town hired contractor Jairus Shaw to erect the present Town House. Work on the project commenced that summer, and by the end of July, the building's frame had been completed. "The new Town House in Lakeville has been raised," succinctly reported the Namasket Gazette at that time. As built, the building measured 30 by 40 feet, and consisted of a hall which occupied the entirety of the ground floor and a pair of small rooms located above the twin entrances on the southeast end of the building. In these rooms were housed Lakeville's first town offices.

Though completed earlier, the building was formally dedicated in May, 1857, with "speeches ... made by Rev. Messrs. Roberts, Chapman and Barrows. Excellent music was furnished by a volunteer choir, - Benj. Richmond, of Middleboro, acting as leader. The citizens of this place turned out in good numbers and enjoyed the occasion finely, while the young people had a social time in the evening. The people of this town intend to have such pleasant re-unions in future years." [Namasket Gazette, May 29, 1857, p. 2]

Just three months following the building's dedication, a group of Lakeville ladies sponsored a two-day "Benefit Festival" to raise funds for the improvement of the building and its grounds. It was reported that "needle-work, music, &c., &c., will add to the pleasure of the meeting." Though only ten cents admission was charged, $90 was realized by the venture.

For decades, the Town House served an important political and social role in Lakeville. In the building were held Lakeville's town meetings, as well as numerous social events. Outside, between the entrances, was a public notice board which kept residents apprised of meetings and other activities within the community. Today, the board still hangs in its accustomed location. Further solidifying the building's importance in the communal consciousness of the town is the presence of Lakeville's Honor Roll in a noticeable location beside the building.
For a time, the building also housed Lakeville's public library. In 1903, when the town voted to establish a public library, it also moved to have the library located in one of the two upper rooms in the Town House. Starting with 150 books, the library grew quickly, largely through the growing interest of the community. At the time, during the first decade of the 20th century, dances and other events were frequently held in the Town House both as a social occasion as well as a fund-raiser for the public library. "Owing to the growth of the library the room originally furnished was not large enough, and three years later, in 1906, the two upper rooms were connected, making very fair accommodations" until 1914 when a new library building was constructed across Bedford Street.

By 1952, the small Town House was proving inadequate for the needs of a modern town, and town matters were frequently conducted elsewhere, largely in the homes of Lakeville's various office holders. "Because Lakeville's Town Hall is just that, a hall with no adequate office space, town officials have to conduct public affairs in their own homes. Mr. [John G.] Paun, who was first elected town clerk, treasurer, and collector [in 1923], has been collecting official records almost to the bursting point in his Main Street home." [New Bedford Standard-Times, 1952] Ultimately, in 1952, the former City of Taunton Pumping Station of Bedford Street was acquired by the Lakeville to serve as its town offices. And although no longer used for everyday municipal functions, Lakeville Town Hall still retains an important place within the town, frequently hosting community events much as it has for over 150 years.

On the grounds of the Town Hall is a second small shed-like building, which is frequently overlooked. Despite its present-day immaculate appearance, the building constructed in 1857 once served as the Town Hall privy or outhouse. Privies were once located in the rear of the building on either side of the central gabled portion, and their covered entrances and small doorways are still intact. The large central portion of the structure, itself, once housed Lakeville's road grader. In the days before the town's roadways were macadmaized or paved, road graders were necessary to help smooth dirt roads which became deeply rutted by wagons during the spring thaw when the ground was soft.
Lakeville Town Hall today

Contemporary photographs by Michael J. Maddigan, May 31, 2009
Advertisement for Bids, Namasket Gazette, May 23, 1856, p. 2

Massachusetts Historical Commission, Lakeville B-D5, Form B, [Lakeville Town Hall Privy], June 14, 2004
Massachusetts Historical Commission, Lakeville B-G5, [Lakeville Town Hall], June 29, 1973
Massasoit Review [Taunton, MA], December 8, 1976
Middleboro Gazette
Namasket Gazette [Middleborough, MA]
National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form, Lakeville Town Hall, July 12, 1976


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