DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — For more than a century, Central Hall has been like family to many Dover-Foxcroft residents.
It is where they earned their high school diplomas, took their first dance steps, learned to roller-skate, watched Charlie Chaplin in silent movies, held spirited basketball games with surrounding schools and conducted town business.
To those residents, Central Hall is like an old comfortable shoe, worn out but too good to discard. But to others, it is just another building too costly for the town to maintain.
Ever since residents voted to relocate the municipal offices from Central Hall to the former Morton Avenue Elementary School in December 2008, Central Hall’s fate has been up in the air. There has been discussion among town officials about selling the building, which could result in its demolition.
That won’t happen if a group calling itself the Friends of Central Hall, spearheaded by residents Chris Maas and Tim Burleigh with support from the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society, has its way. The group hopes to raise $25,000 before the annual March town meeting in an effort to stave off any plans to sell the building. Those funds would pay for heat, lights and insurance for the year while the group searches for other funds to restore the building to its former glory. The group envisions Central Hall becoming an events center that showcases small-town America, a place to continue building memories.
Some of the past memories were shared by Maas and others during a slide show and luncheon Tuesday at Central Hall attended by about 30 people. Maas noted that town leaders pledged $25 shares each in 1880 to raise the $8,000 to construct Central Hall, which seated 660 people. For the March 1882 grand opening, women in the community raised $1,700 for its furnishings.
From historical records, Maas said the hall held events from speeches to benefit shows to fairs, and even had a rifle range in the basement at one time.
Louis Stevens, a noted writer and history buff, shared memories of his involvement with Central Hall. “If you see a tear in my eye, [it] is a tear of nostalgia,” he said. He said the hall “rocked and rolled” long before rock ’n’ roll came on the scene.
Maas, who reminded the participants that it took only $25 pledges to construct the building, suggested that 100 people donating $250 would raise the $25,000 needed to keep the hall in operation for a year. That would buy the group some time to secure donations and grants to do the necessary repair work, estimated at between $270,000 and $400,000.
If the group is unable to raise the $25,000, then the Friends would recommend to selectmen that the building be placed on the market.
From the response at Tuesday’s gathering, it’s unlikely that recommendation will ever leave the lips of the Friends. When Maas said he was willing to kick in the first $250 share, others around the table also said they would contribute. Maas said he hopes others in the community will support the effort.
“We all kicked [ourselves] because the building across the street is gone,” resident Joe Guyotte said Tuesday, referring to the former historic Blethen House, which was torn down to make way for a Rite Aid. “Let’s not let this building go like we’ve let everything else [of historical value] go.”