Historic American Legion Post building moving to make way for new Loudon town hall
Sanborn Mills Farm owner Colin Cabot knew the town of Loudon had purchased the American Legion Post 88 on South Village Road, and he knew there were plans to remove it to make space for a new town hall. So, when he heard the selectmen couldn’t find a buyer for the historic building in Loudon’s center, he offered to take it.
“We took the building because no one wanted it, and because we felt it should stay here in Loudon,” Cabot said. “As a historic preservationist, I think it’s important to keep it local and to have it available to the town.”
After more than 150 years on South Village Road, the old pine and hemlock building was disassembled earlier this month and packed away.
Resurrection of the building, which Cabot received at no cost, will begin in 2015. On Sanborn Mills Farm, the building will join a sawmill, a gristmill, an antique blacksmith shop, horse barns and an 1875 farmhouse set on 375 acres.
In Cabot’s offer, selectmen saw an opportunity to preserve the historic structure for public use while also clearing the lot for the long-awaited municipal building.
“There are still a lot of people who are sentimental to the building,” Selectman Dustin Bowles said of the legion post.
Selectmen will soon form a committee to plan the town hall project. The building will centralize operations and have more space for meetings, work and storage. New bathrooms and upgraded security systems are also planned.
In 1981, the town moved its offices into a two-story residential home. “That was supposed to be a temporary move,” Selectman Steven Ives said. The move ended up being long term, and the building has reached the end of its useful life. Cracks in the foundation, a dirt basement and a lack of space point to the need for a new building. It won’t hold heat in the winter and won’t stay cool in the summer.
“The ladies who work in there are very good people, and they deserve to be working in a better environment,” said Robert Krieger, chairman of the selectmen.
Without adequate space to meet in town offices, selectmen meet in Charlie’s Barn, a small meeting room behind the town office. The cramped space also houses the town’s historical society and has a small lobby. “If we want to have an executive session here, we need to ask people to go stand outside,” Bowles said.
The new site is adjacent to the town’s recreational fields, which selectmen said will benefit from additional parking and new bathrooms nearby.
Charlie’s Barn and the current town office will continue to be used as auxiliary office and meeting space.
Until the committee is in place, a timetable for construction and a price tag for the new building won’t be determined. Ives said the town has $790,000 in capital reserves to complete the project, and in March, voters will be asked to approve an additional $100,000 for the project. “The plan is not to bond anything or borrow anything,” Ives said.
Creating an ideal site for a new town hall meant relocation of the legion hall, a building as familiar to passers-by as the nearby town hall and Maxfield Public Library. As a child, resident Stanley Prescott grew up three doors from what was then the Loudon Surprise Grange No. 121, where he would walk to camp fires and occasionally help maintain the property. “There’s definitely a lot of history there,” he said.
Prescott, who is cataloging the history of buildings in the town center, said the legion hall dates to at least 1858, when it housed the Loudon Academy school. In 1863, a private owner sold the building to trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Society Church, which eventually dissolved. The Loudon Grange owned the building until 1963, when the American Legion bought it.
When the legion said the hall was for sale, the town agreed to buy the property for $180,000. The deal included a lease for the American Legion to meet in Charlie’s Barn once a month on Wednesdays. “We have four years to go on this one and then an option to lease for another five,” Post Commander Shawn Jones said. “That gives us time to find the right building or the right property in town to build a small building that meets our needs.”
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)