When you picture in your mind the quintessential New England town there’s likely a town green, with some sort of memorial to the local warriors who served their country, surrounded by a large white Congregational Church, several large homes that date back to the colonial era, and the old town hall where the early residents met to discuss laws and schools. While neighboring Redding has all those elements at its core, Easton has nothing so well defined.
While many folks see the volunteer fire company’s carnival grounds as the de facto town green, it in fact was never such. It was simply a small parcel of land that the early volunteers purchased as a place to hold their annual fund-raising carnival. In the earliest days it wasn’t even surrounded on all sides by roads; that came when the state took over Center Road and extended it to Sport Hill Road from its intersection with Banks in the late 1920’s. And while Easton certainly has a stately Congregational Church and more than a few colonial era homes, they don’t quite constitute the nucleus of the community as many of our surrounding towns enjoy. And what about that old town hall where our forefathers would have debated issues as far back as the founding of the country? Our town hall dates all the way back to 1937, and believe it or not, that was the very first town hall in the community of Easton!
Okay, to be fair, Easton didn’t become its own entity until 1845 when we split from Weston and formed our own government. But no town hall until 1937? Ninety-two years with no formal seat of local government? Blame it on the frugal nature of Easton’s native farmers. Even by the time the town voted to approve the construction of its very first town hall, the only full-time employees of the Town of Easton were the school teachers, the town nurse, a single paid fireman – he drove the truck – and the chief of police. The town clerk and tax collector were part-time occupations that were paid through a percentage of the fees and taxes collected. The first selectman made a whopping $125 per annum, with the second and third selectmen pulling in $100 and $75 respectively.
While it’s difficult to determine the exact impetus that finally convinced the town’s residents a town hall was needed, it might go back to a fire at the home of tax collector Fred Silliman several years earlier. While the records he kept in his house were spared, the town elders finally came to the recognition that perhaps a permanent, fire-proof home for tax records, land transfer deeds, and other important town documents was needed.
As an added incentive – very large incentive at that – two generous private benefactors stepped forward to commit a total of $32,500 to the town hall building fund. Judge John F. MacLane contributed $17,500, with businessman Gustavus A. Pfeiffer adding another $15,000. The entire building would cost $40,180 exclusive of equipment and furnishings, and in the end, the net cost to the taxpayers of Easton ran just under $7,500.
Frederick Dixon of Bridgeport was hired to design the new building. He was tasked with making it harmonize with the recently completed Samuel Staples School that sat on Morehouse Road behind it. No doubt another attractive incentive for the taxpayer was the fact that the town already owned the land as part of the school property. The main building measured 48 feet in width and 37 feet in depth with a 10-foot wide wing on either side. Two stories in height, the upper floor consisted of separate offices for the town clerk, the tax assessor, the town doctor and nurse, and a combined office for the selectman, assessor, finance board and treasurer. There was also a fire-proof vault for town records. The rear half of that floor consisted of one large courtroom that could eventually be divided into future offices. The lower level of the building held something completely new to Easton, a library! But, also on that level were two holding cells for prisoners – remember, Easton had one full-time police officer, with no office, but they now had a place to accommodate two prisoners!!!
So, while a little late to the party, by the spring of 1938, Easton finally had its town hall, and while the building has greatly expanded over the ensuing years, it is still in use and maintains a look that is congruous with its original design.