When Manchester writer Sarah Cleghorn heard President William Howard Taft speak at the Music Hall in October 1912, she and others in the ward had no idea that this would be one of the last events to be held in the historic Manchester Village building.
The Music Hall on Union Street was commissioned in 1868 by Franklin H. Orvis, owner of Equinox House, to provide entertainment for hotel guests and Manchester residents. The three-story Italian-style building with large, carved wood-paneled doors impressed everyone and was well known by newspaper reporters across Vermont.
In August 1868, the Burlington Free Press declared: “FH Orvis, owner of Equinox House, has completed a new music hall in Manchester, which is said to be superior in style and design to any state institution.”
An article in the Manchester Journal stated, “The hall is on the second floor of the building and is perhaps the nicest space of its kind in the state. It is tastefully furnished, nicely furnished and contains a large stage, the setting and equipment of which offer a favorable comparison with the stages of more sophisticated halls. “
Wanting the Music Hall to benefit both hotel guests and Manchester residents, Franklin H. Orvis often waived the $ 5 a night rent for buildings that benefited the community. When the solid brick First Congregational Church was replaced by today’s wood clapboard near the music hall in 1870, Orvis allowed the church to hold services in the hall free of charge.
During its heyday, the ornate building hosted a wide range of activities, including ballroom dancing, concerts, theatrical presentations, and speeches. These larger events took place in the hall on the second floor, which had a stage and space for 500 people.
The first concert in the hall was given by the Mendelssohn Quintet Club in Boston. The quintet was a well-known chamber ensemble that toured New England frequently and presented early American performances of several works by Mendelssohn.
During the late 19th century, the Music Hall was active year-round with fundraisers and dances. At the time, cotillion parties were popular, and many took place in the hall, where women wore hustle and bustle and elaborate drapes with heavily pleated and frilled petticoats, and men donned bows and black tailcoats with mid-thigh tails made of fine wool.
With larger and more sophisticated affairs going on on the second floor of the Music Hall, the first floor provided a less formal experience by providing a billiards room, a JW Harris-operated dining room that advertised “meals cooked at all times of the day.” or in the evening ”and a four-lane bowling alley.
“There were no gutters, just bowling lanes with a thin strip between them,” said Richard Farley, whose father, Thomas Farley, managed the Equinox properties from 1963 to 1972. Farley remembered his friend Elmer Bull, whose father took care of the head man for the hotel, told him he worked at the bowling alley. “He set up the pegs for a nickel after each frame.”
Until 1912, the same year President Taft delivered his speech, some residents called the Music Hall the casino, as gaming tables were added on the first floor in 1909. Sarah Cleghorn, however, was not used to naming the building by his new nickname, as mentioned in her letter describing her participation in President Taft’s speech.
“The journalist was too late in the Music Hall (because we haven’t all learned to call it a ‘casino’) to hear the President’s address – or rather, a brief, friendly greeting from our village. But those in attendance said the president was greeted with great enthusiasm by the crowd, which filled every inch of the hall, ”wrote Cleghorn. “The cheers were long and hearty. The President’s conversation was short and apolitical. He looked very good and happy. “
Shortly after President Taft’s speech, the Music Hall held its final dance, hosted by the Ondawa Club, a fraternal organization made up of prominent members of the community. In December 1912, the management of the Equinox House announced that the hall would be remodeled to increase the number of accommodations for hotel guests and employees. By 1916, the once-admired building that served as a venue for high-quality entertainment had been extensively renovated. The three-story building was converted to four floors when construction workers raised the former second floor to create an additional floor, clearing the once-grand auditorium and stage. Since the Equinox Hotel reopened in 1985, each new owner had considered options for using the vacant building. However, the cost of restoring the neglected structure turned out to be an insurmountable obstacle.
In order to preserve the memory of the historic building in its heyday, an online resource will be created highlighting the historical importance of the music hall. The information is linked to the Equinox Golf Resort and Spa and the Manchester Historical Society websites.
While the Music Hall entertained hotel guests and parishioners for over 40 years, the building’s fate was sealed in December 1912 when the management of Equinox House decided to convert the stately building into accommodation for hotel guests and staff. Now that Manchester Village watches the demolition of the once ornate Music Hall, it takes another step away from the past.