By Linda Hamilton and Trina Bianchi, Contributors
Charlotte Grange: honoring Charlotte’s agricultural roots and helping to build a resilient future for all
If those 150-year-old walls could talk, what stories they could tell!
Imagine life in Charlotte back in 1870, with lots of small farms and clusters of activity developing into village centers in both west and east Charlotte. Baptist Corners was the main cluster east of the physical barrier in the center of town created by Mutton Hill, Pease Mountain and Mt. Philo. In 1870 the area around the intersection of Hinesburg Road and Spear Street Extension known as Baptist Corners was a significant business, social and religious center—with two tanneries, a tavern, two churches, a store, a post office, a blacksmith shop, about 12 homes and a handsome new building called Lyceum Hall.
The word lyceum means a hall for public lectures or discussions, or an association providing public lectures, concerts and entertainments. There was a lyceum movement in the United States with local associations and more than 3,000 halls by the mid-1800s. Named for the place where Aristotle taught the youth of ancient Greece, lyceum associations were formed in communities to give people opportunities to learn about and discuss topics of current interest. And in Charlotte, we can tell they wanted those opportunities very much because there was not only a lively Young Men’s Literary Association, but they were able to raise enough money to build a Lyceum Hall in East Charlotte, on Spear Street in Baptist Corners.
They built it to last and with careful attention to detail in an Italianate architectural style. One of its distinctive and charming features is the square, flat-roofed belfry tower that tops the roof ridge on the east side. Lyceum Hall fit right in with a growing number of Greek revival style homes and public buildings nearby. And because this concentration of architecturally distinctive buildings was still mostly unaltered and in good condition 100 years later, the area was recognized by the State in 1980 as Baptist Corners Historic District.
Lyceum Hall was only about a year old when Charlotte School District #10 offered to buy it to serve the growing number of children in the community. The sale was arranged, and the building became the Lyceum Schoolhouse (happily, with permission for ongoing lyceum use). It must have made a good schoolhouse, being 26 by 40 feet with two stories and a basement, and with the installation of banks of large 12-over-12-pane windows along the walls of the ground floor that filled that space with lots of natural light. For almost 80 years those rooms rang with children’s voices as they learned and laughed and grew up.
Then another change. In 1949 Charlotte’s several small schools were consolidated under the one roof of Charlotte Central School, and the Lyceum was sold to private owners. After 10 years, Charlotte Grange #398 (which had been meeting in various locations in town for its first 50 years) was able to buy the property and building and make it their home for meetings and events. Since 1958 the walls have been absorbing the sounds of individuals and families getting together to learn, laugh, share food, make music, support each other, and strengthen the networks that help hold us together as a community. Thank you, Charlotte Grange!
Today the Grange Hall, also referred to fondly as Lyceum Schoolhouse, is still structurally sturdy, despite its age and active history. It does, however, sorely need some physical upgrades if it’s going to host more than a few people at a time and meet today’s standards for accessibility and efficiency. The main hindrance to holding more events and activities there now is the lack of good water and septic systems, without which the tiny kitchen can barely function, and the little bathroom’s holding tank quickly fills. Because Charlotte Grange members know what a strong and exciting role the hall can have in the community as a gathering place for not only Grange events but other activities as well, we are determined to find ways to restore and upgrade the facility as a community resource.
We’ve already taken some important steps toward this goal. With grants from the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation and from the Preservation Trust of Vermont covering half the cost, the beautiful schoolhouse windows have been completely restored, and the exterior has been scraped/repaired and given a fresh coat of protective paint. The fuel tank and electrical panel have been replaced and exterior water damage around the fire escape repaired.
But most significantly, last year we established a partner organization, Friends of Lyceum Schoolhouse (FLS), specifically to raise money for and oversee building restoration and significant upgrades. FLS can receive tax-deductible donations and will be organizing a range of projects and fundraising campaigns in the near future. Stay tuned for some exciting developments!
It took a community effort to build the original Lyceum Hall in 1870 and will again take a community effort to prepare it for its role as a vibrant contemporary center serving East Charlotte and beyond. We hope you’ll join in because we will only be successful if we work together.
For more information about Charlotte Grange and Friends of Lyceum Schoolhouse and to learn how you can help, contact us or call Linda Hamilton at 802-425-5795. Thank you.
Linda Hamilton and Trina Bianchi are long-time Charlotte residents and members of Charlotte Grange.