Homer, N.Y.:  A Town and its Hall

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            Break out the confetti!  It’s time to celebrate!  And for more than one reason!  While Cortland County celebrates its bicentennial this year, the Town Hall for the Town of Homer is observing its centennial celebration. Truth be told, there would be no Hall without the Town, and there would be no County without the Town, for the origins of the Town of Homer predates the origins of the County of Cortland by fourteen years. And what an interesting story it is of the Town of Homer , and of its historic Hall at 31 North Main Street in the village of Homer.

            The first residents of what would become Cortland County were the first residents of what would become the Township of Homer . Their names were Joseph and Rhoda Todd Beebe and her brother, Amos Todd. Originally from New Haven , Connecticut , they journeyed up the Tioughnioga River to take possession of Lot No. 42 in the dense forests of New York State ’s Military Tract, which was already home to the Onundagaono members of the Haudenosaunee, or “people of the long house.” Arriving in the autumn of 1791, it is believed that these three hardy pioneers built a temporary shelter near the spot now marked by a large boulder and plaque erected in 1924 at the intersection of Hooker Avenue and Route 11 at the north end of the village of Homer . 

            Like any fledgling culture trying to survive, the citizens of the newly independent Republic knew the importance of organization and government at the grassroots level.  In 1794, Onondaga County broke off from Herkimer County . On March 5th of that year, Homer (derived from the name of the Greek poet) was organized as a huge township of Onondaga County and included what is now Cortlandville, Solon, Cincinnatus, Virgil, Harford, Lapeer, Taylor, and the southern halves of Truxton and Cuyler.  The few residents of this 300 square mile township were to be served by town officers appointed by three Onondaga County judges.

            On April 5, 1795, these town officers met at the home of “Squire” John Miller.  The next year, the first election of a Homer Town Board was held.  Only white males who owned property were legally eligible to vote, and the property qualification would remain until the new state Constitution of 1822.  The “Squire” was elected the first supervisor of the Town of Homer .  John Keep was “judge,” Amos Todd was the first “collector,” and Peter Ingersoll was the first town clerk.  The clerk position continued to be an elected post until 1963 when it became an appointed position and has remained so.  Today, the Town Clerk is responsible for maintaining town records, maintaining a record of local laws, issuing licenses and permits (such as marriage licenses, dog licenses, and conservation licenses), collecting town and county taxes, and taking the minutes at all Board meetings.

            Annual board meetings were held at board members’ homes until Tuesday, April 7, 1801.  That meeting was held “at the meeting house in Homer” which was also “the school house on Lot No.45.” Lot No. 45 was the “Commons,” or what would become the “Village Green.”  The same edifice was used for both worship and schooling.  Buildings were multi-functional even then. 

In the year 1808, an event occurred which is the cause for the biggest of this year’s celebrations. Cortland County , of which the Town of Homer was a part, separated from Onondaga County .  By act of the State Legislature, Cortland County was born on April 8, 1808.

            The Minutes for April 16, 1833, show that the location of Town Meetings changed. They would be held in “the Basement Story of the Episcopal Meeting House.” That church had just been built the year before and still stands to this day on the Homer Green.  The same site would be referred to as the “Town Hall” in 1849.  In 1835, Andrew D. White, born in Homer, was baptized in this church, not knowing he was destined to become the first President of Cornell University in nearby Ithaca .   

            By 1835, a community within the township, also named after the Greek poet, was expanding around a “Commons” lined with churches and the Academy.  In that year, the Village of Homer was incorporated.  Today, with a population of 3,230, it is the largest community in the Township.  The hamlets of East Homer and Little York are also included in the Town.

            Former town historian, Josephine Brown, has noted that during the 1830s, “it appeared that the town supervisor changed about every year  --  as the tax levy increased a supervisor was out of a job.”  Such has been the nature of the relationship between the elected official and the electorate.

            In 1878 the Town Board approached the Officers of the Episcopal Society about the possibility of purchasing the Episcopal meeting house (in the basement of which the Board had been holding meetings for 43 years) for the Town’s purposes. The Minutes for February 20, 1883, show that negotiations had been abandoned.  The next year, the Board held a public vote and moved to relinquish all claims to the basement of the church as soon as the Town, with or without participation of the Village, could secure a site and construct a building to serve as a firehouse and with “a large room to be situated on the first floor, fronting the street, to be used jointly by Town and Village, for town caucuses, Town meetings, corporation meetings or other public meetings….”   In the 1890s, Board meetings were held at the First National Bank on Main Street , and annual town meetings were conducted at different locations:  the Murray Building , the Porter Block, the “vacant store” in the First National Bank building, and the Hakes Block.  Clearly, one permanent location to conduct the town’s business was needed.

The first two decades of the new twentieth century witnessed the “progressive movement.”  Americans were eager to correct economic, social, and political ills, and that desire for progress was keen in Homer, too.  At the biennial town meeting of February 19, 1907, Fire Chief E. C. Darby and the Fire Council of the Homer Fire Department offered a resolution “in regard to a joint Village and Town Building” to be erected “upon the plot of ground formerly occupied by the National Hotel in North Main Street….”  These reasons were cited for such a building:  office space for Town and Village officials; safe repository of town and village documents; storage of “voting pharphanalia [sic]”; a jail “with better facilities for handling criminals;” “a suitable auditorium where public meetings can be held without the expense of paying rent, the lack of such a hall being felt most keenly in both village and town life”; “more capacious and easily accessible quarters for the companies of the local Fire Department;” and “a place for holding political caucuses, party meetings, and elections.”  The eighth reason clearly shows the spirit of the times:  “…Homer should have such a building to maintain its reputation as a progressive community [italics added], and to hold its own with other towns of similar size in this and neighboring counties….”   A motion was made and carried “that the Town Board appoint a Committee of Five to look into the matter of a joint building.”  M. J. Pratt, the Town Supervisor, along with George Klock, W. H. Foster, George A. Brockway, and Harry Hull comprised the Building Committee, as appointed on February 23, 1907. They thought it best to combine an engine house (fire station) with the Hall and to build it south of the Union Building (the lot where the David Perfetti residence now stands).  They secured an option to buy for $3000.

The site the Fire Department wanted was selected, but plans would not include an engine house.  For ninety years this site had been occupied by a hotel built by Enos Stimson.  As of 1894, the village had three hotels to accommodate travelers passing through central New York State .  Through the years, under changing management, each hotel had changed names and had experienced fires at different times, causing great confusion decades later for those trying to correctly identify photos and postcards of the fires.  A “lower hotel” (only one balcony across the front) stood where the present fire station stands; it was destroyed by fire in 1934.  The “upper hotel” (with a balcony along two sides) was known as the National at the time of its fire in November, 1904.  On the northeast corner of Main Street and Water Street and at the eastern end of Clinton Street , the National had boasted of 52 rooms, a stable to accommodate 100 horses, and one flush toilet.  According to the late Anna Hilton of The Landmark Society, during the 1904 fire, “the crockery was thrown from the windows” while the feather beds were “carried down the ladders.”   At an estimated loss of $12,000, it is this hotel fire that opened up a space in which the Town Hall could be constructed.

The owner of this piece of property was Burdette H. Griffin, who had served the town as a justice of the peace from 1901 until his resignation was accepted on May 1, 1906.  The Fire Council’s petition, also, stated that Griffin “has publicly announced his deep interest in this proposition and is willing to give the sum of $500.00 toward purchasing the site,” the value to be determined by a representative of the town, a representative of the village, and a third to be named by the other two.

On June 11, 1907, a special village election was held to decide the question of purchasing the proposed site, constructing an edifice for joint town and village use, and furnishing it, with the Town picking up 35% of the cost and the Village 65%.

On January 28, 1908, at a special town meeting held in the Porter Block on Main Street, eligible voters got to determine if the Board should be authorized to issue bonds not to exceed $22,000 and to add to the assessment roll for the year 1908 $1,000, making a total of $23,000 for the purpose of purchasing the Griffin property, erecting a Town Hall, and furnishing same.  376 ballots were cast.  291 were “Yes,” 77 were “No,” and 8 were “Spoiled and Mutilated Ballots.”  Two weeks later, five individuals were appointed to supervise the construction project:  F. M. Briggs, W. H. Foster, W. A. Coon, S. F. Andrews, and D. N. Hitchcock.  

At the same meeting, a resolution was carried calling for the appropriation of $100 “to assist said town in celebrating the One Hundredth anniversary of the formation of Cortland County .”  Cortland County had reached the centennial mark, and Homer was to have a new Town Hall.

            Sixty year old Charles F. Colton of Syracuse was the architect selected, beating out the plans submitted by four other architects from Elmira, Binghamton, New York, and Syracuse.  He was a prominent designer whose buildings in Syracuse still stand, including City Hall.  According to the Homer Republican, the contract for the construction was awarded on April 25 to William L. Hoag of Tully, who trumped eight others with the low bid of $20,983.  Separate contracts were awarded for excavation, masonry, carpentry, heating and plumbing, electrical, and interior finishing.  

               Ground for the foundation was broken on May 20, 1908.  The basement walls were of concrete.  The basement story above grade is ten feet and was constructed of rock-faced “Miracle” cement blocks.  The story above the basement is seventeen feet to the cornice and was made of smooth-faced “Miracle” cement blocks.  The blocks were cast in Syracuse by the “Miracle” Cement Block Manufacturing Company.  The blocks are two feet long by eight inches high and ventilated, having 30% air space.  The blocks were stained brown in color with a soft, light gray block for trimming, which, supposedly, was to provide the effect of brown stone and granite.  

  The plans called for a 57x52 foot assembly hall in the basement, and an auditorium and stage on the upper floor. No doubt, this was to compensate for the recently closed Keator Opera House on Main Street.  The 60x53 foot auditorium was to have removable chairs and a seating capacity of 504.  A balcony with a capacity of 194 more seats made a total capacity of 698 seats.   The vestibule at the west end was to have a short flight of stairs leading to the auditorium, with a ticket office at the lower level and two office spaces, one in the north corner and one in the south corner, at the upper level.  The stage at the east end was to have an opening of 30 feet and a depth of 27 feet, with a dressing room in the basement and a stairway leading to the northeast corner of the stage above.  At the rear of the basement and beneath the stage would be the lock-up with three cells, an office for police court, the heating plant, and coal bins.   The lock-up was to be fire proof and noise proof.  A kitchen, pantry, storage room, offices, closets, and two toilet rooms with flush closets and lavatories were to be at the front end of the basement.

  By October, 1908, the roofing was nearly completed, but it was determined that the dome planned for the new Town Hall “be covered with copper instead of tin” for an extra $100.  In addition, 752 chairs were to be purchased from Briggs Bros. Furniture store on James Street, Homer.  The old jail cell was to be sold to Contractor Hoag for $75, and three jail cells were to be purchased from Pauly Jail Building Company for $645.  The Village put in a six-foot cement walk in front of the Hall.  By mid-November, the Lane Plumbing & Heating Company of Cortland was installing the steam heating plant.  Plastering was completed and most of the wainscoting was done.  The anticipated completion date was December 15th.  As the current Town Clerk has observed, to build with the date “1908” carved in stone over the entrance reveals a contractor constructing “with confidence.”  The actual completion was only off by ten days but still within the calendar year still visible over the front entrance.

  On Christmas Eve day, 1908, the building committee made a final inspection, and the Town Board accepted the building “with the exception of the plumbing, which will be accepted when certain necessary changes are made.”   The Homer Republican proclaimed the building to be “beautiful” and “a credit to the architect,… the contractor, the building and town committees, and to the town which caused it to be constructed.”   Someone had the presence of mind and a Conley folding plate camera to photographically document the phases of construction.  In October of 2007, the seven glass negatives, owned by Patricia Gray Jackson, were conveyed to the town historian by Frances Armstrong, and they were developed for the Town into seven remarkable 8x10 prints by Industrial Color Labs of Syracuse.  

On Wednesday, January 13, 1909, the scenery for the stage, from the Chicago firm of Sosman & Landis Co., was delivered.  Thomas Knobel of Homer, who had the contract for stage settings in the auditorium and was busily installing the fittings for the various curtains, was pleased with the scenery representing woodlands, a grand parlor, a kitchen, and a prison.  Knobel had hand-painted the scene of the Village Green on the drop curtain, the same curtain that had originally been used for Dr. G. A. Tompkins’ drama, “The Village Green,” that had been presented at the Keator Opera House.  Now, it is clear how Homer teacher, Rona Knobel, comes by her interest in art and drama.

According to the Homer Republican of January 28, 1909, the new Town Hall was officially opened to the public on Tuesday, January 26, 1909.  All afternoon, it was reported, throngs of visitors were greeted and escorted through the building by Town Supervisor Melvin J. Pratt, Town Clerk Lewis M. Austin, and President of the Village [mayor] Dr. L. W. Potter, along with members of the village board, the town board, the building committee, and their wives.   Mrs. W. H. Foster played the piano that had been purchased from R. J. McElheny for $290 (it still exists but not in good condition), and C. D. Dillenbeck, the electrical contractor, operated the stage lighting switchboard to show off the possible lighting effects.  A reception was, also, held that evening, during which musical selections were provided by Alvord’s eight-piece orchestra.  At 7:30 PM the curtain was raised and the town and village officers took their seats upon the stage presided over by Dr. Potter, President of the Village.  A rendition of “Annie Laurie” was performed by a glee club consisting of Rev. Albert Broadhurst, Fred T. Newcomb, R. J. McElheny, Carl E. Bates, Charles F. Fisher, Ralph S. Bennett, and Fred J. Nixon.  The audience responded by clamorously calling for more.  The club responded twice to encores, “singing popular college airs with fine effect.”  The orchestra then played while Thomas Knobel exhibited the stage curtains, scenery, stage settings, and stage equipment.  The general satisfaction expressed by all that day with the building was “most gratifying, and especially so to… the building committee and town board.”  Today, a door near the Board room leads to a short flight of stairs that takes one up onto the old stage.  Sadly, the curtains and equipment of that first day are either tattered or gone.

The price for entertainments in the new Hall was set in 1909.  Local parties would be charged $20 per night and outside entertainments would be charged $25 per night. Rehearsals would cost a dollar an hour.  The first public entertainment ever given there was a benefit concert on the evening after the official opening.  Proceeds were to go toward buying furnishings for the hall.  The program consisted of local talent presenting recitations, orchestral selections, and several solos by voice, violin, piano, and cello.  The newspaper claimed that the most pleasing were the soprano solos by Miss Marsh of the Cortland Conservatory of Music.  The acoustic properties of the hall were deemed to be “excellent.”  Home talent again took the stage as Triumph Hose [Firefighting] Company presented the comic opera, “The Sleeping Princess,” on February 9th and the farcical comedy, “Charley’s Aunt,” on February 10th.  Both fundraising performances played to a packed house.

 The municipal offices were first occupied in December, 1908, and in January of 1909 a motion was made and carried “that the assembly room of Town Hall be designated as polling place of Town Meeting to be held Feb. 16th 1909.”  The Hospital Aid Society was given use of the Hall’s basement.  The upper room on the southwest corner of the Hall was to be outfitted for use for Town Board meetings and as the office of the Town Clerk, and the northwest corner room would be used for Village Board meetings.  Today, one room is used by both groups for their meetings.  In 1912, the position of Deputy Town Clerk was created, and it has been filled ever since.

In 1914, the Dillon Brothers, managers of The New Cortland Theater (site of “picture shows” and live vaudeville entertainment in Cortland), requested use of the Town Hall for a “picture show”  --  a foreshadowing of the adaptability of the edifice that would come in twenty-four years.  Movies in the “silent film” era were shown on weekends in the Briggs Building (or Union Building; now the branch office of First Niagara Bank) on Main Street, Homer, for ten cents.  The films came with sheet music for the young pianist, Florence Foster Durkee, to provide the only background sound.  Dialogue was printed on the silver screen. 

That same year, bids were accepted for the painting of the Hall, and a flag was purchased to go on the Hall. 

Town records make no mention that the United States was involved in the Great War (World War I ) from 1917 to 1918, other than permitting the Red Cross to use the Hall free of charge and noting that it was “impossible to buy stone on account of the war.”  On February 11, 1919, the board was authorized to purchase a “Soldiers Honor Roll Register” and “to register all returning soldiers and sailors as requested by the War Dept. at Washington.”

This mandated list was to be compiled by a newly mandated position.  Every city, town, and village in the state was required to appoint an historian.  Mabel B. Hyatt was the first to hold the appointed post of Homer Town Historian. There was a long period of time when no one filled the post at all.  Interest renewed in 1974. Since then, the post has been held by Miss Ella Perry, Mrs. Josephine Brown, and Mr. Martin Sweeney. In the 1920s, Frank Kinney was contracted to build a vault with a steel door and frame in the northwest room in the basement of the Hall “to store the Town Research at a cost of $285.”  The Town archives are stored there today, and the Village has a separate vault in the same room. Town historians operated out of their own homes until 2007 when shared space was provided in the Town Clerk’s Office at the Town Hall.

“Doughboys” returning from “Over There” may have thought the Town Hall would be a fine post-war site of entertainment.  After all, the Homer Academy’s Centennial Ball was held there on the evening of June 27, 1919.  In December of 1919 the Homer Band was permitted to rent the assembly room for roller skating and dancing.  However, the next month the skating was terminated because “the skates were splintering the floor.”

Once women in New York State finally got the right to vote in 1917 and across the nation in1920 upon the ratification of the 19th Amendment, women in Homer started holding such positions as poll inspector, tax collector, and overseer of the poor.  However, no woman sat at the Board table as “councilman” until the year 2000.  Mrs. Frances K. Armstrong holds that distinction.  She was appointed January 5, 2000, to fill the post vacated by Donald Ferris upon his election as County Treasurer, and then she became the first woman to be elected to the Board.  She is still active in civic-minded organizations today.

The 1926 Senior Class of Homer Academy left its mark on the Town Hall  --  literally.  A three-act play, “The Mummy and the Mumps,” was performed there on April 22 and 23.  The cast left their names on the stage walls where they still remain, along with the graffiti of other townsfolk of a bygone era, making a rather interesting archaeological artifact.

One matter taken up in the ‘20s included repair of the ceiling of the Town Hall.  The interior was to be re-varnished and redecorated and the exterior repainted. Two 2 & one-half gallon fire extinguishers were bought, and the exits were marked with red lights.  The allowed capacity was set at 336 persons, a number determined by the width of the existing exits. 

            A Special Meeting of the Board was called on April 26, 1938.  This was for the purpose of hearing a lengthy presentation by William M. Priven of Staten Island.  He proposed to rent the Town Hall for a motion picture theatre.  At a meeting on May 10th, the Board unanimously rejected Mr. Priven’s proposal.  Present at the same meeting, however, was a Mr. Shay of the Corona Theater of Groton who made his pitch for using the Town Hall for a motion picture theater.  On May 16th, the Board traveled to Groton to meet with the proprietors of the Corona Theater.  They looked over the theater arrangement, discussed the possibilities of changing the Town Hall into a movie theater, and returned to Homer  --   but not until after they had taken in the show, of course.

  Next, they decided it would be best to bring the matter before the Chamber of Commerce, in hopes of ascertaining public opinion as to the desirability of a theater.  On July 14th, the Chamber presented a petition signed by 103 persons, “including nearly 100% of the business men of the village,” calling for the leasing of the Hall for use as a movie theater.  It needs to be recalled that the motion picture industry fared quite well economically during the 1930s, because for 25 cents and through the cinematic magic of Hollywood one could escape from the travails of the Great Depression.  Thus, on August 18, 1938, the Board entered into “an agreement with the Townhall Homer Theatre Corporation” to lease the auditorium, the stage, and the main entrance for a theater.  Thus, the Capitol Theater came into being.  No doubt, the dome on the Hall was reminiscent of the one on the nation’s Capitol, and so the theater derived its name.  With a marquee over the front entrance, it would remain for eighteen years.  

            Other changes to the Hall came in the fall of 1939.  The old Board Room on the ground floor in the rear of the Town Hall was rented to Leonard Denison as a radio service shop for $10 per month or $100 if rented by the year.  The shop remained there until January, 1948.

            On December 8, 1941, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States entered the Second World War.  The next month, the Board made the Hall’s basement available to the Post Office Department “in event the local office was burned or destroyed by enemy action during the present emergency.”  In the rear, the jail cell block was removed, and in the front, Murray Briskin, theater manager, had new front doors installed.  That Christmas season, the Newton Line Company and its president, Ed O’Connell, hosted a party in the theater for its employees and their children, complete with party hats for the children and a visit from Santa upon the festively decorated stage.

            During the war years, the Capitol (telephone no. 255), with its concession stand offering popcorn and candies,  had two complete shows nightly at 7 and 9 PM., with a newsreel first.  There was a Saturday matinee at 2 PM and continuous shows Sundays and holidays from 2 to 11 PM.  Some senior citizens today can recall going to the “very nice” Capitol as youngsters.  They can tell you that Jane Fellows was either a ticket-taker or a ticket seller.  They can even name the projectionists:  Carlton Niederhofer, Jim Hawley, Leonard Denison, Harold “Jack” LeRoy, and Floyd Hamilton. In 1942, the price of admission was as follows:  25 cents for adults in the balcony, 30 cents for adults in orchestra seats, and children were “always 11 cents.”  Tax was included.  On October 14 through 16, 1942, the featured film, appropriately enough, was “To the Shores of Tripoli,” starring John Payne, Randolph Scott, and Maureen O’Hara. 

By 1946, admission for adults had increased to 40 cents and to 12 cents for children.  A movie calendar for March and April had advertisements for A. B. Brown & Son on the Cortland-Homer Road (Tel.222) and Jackson’s Meats & Groceries on 42 James Street, with “free delivery every day” (Tel.77).  Sunday through Monday had a double feature, “all in Technicolor”:  Comedians Abbott and Costello starred in “In Hollywood,” and James Craig and Ava Gardner could be seen in “She Went to the Races.”  On Wednesday and Thursday, “The Princess and the Pirate” was featured, with the legendary Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Virginia Mayo.  April started off with Judy Garland and Ray Bolger in “The Harvey Girls.”

  Saturday matinees found the youth of the village coming to see the latest Hopalong Cassidy or Roy Rogers western.  Before the main feature, there would be cartoons and a Flash Gordon or Rin Tin Tin serial.  The space adventurer or the clever canine would get into some thrilling “cliffhanger” situation, but the moviegoer would have to return the next Saturday to see how it all played out.

            On the evening of January 26, 1945, fire ravaged the elementary section of the Homer Academy on the Green (School District No. 1), and classes had to be housed at various places around the village -- St. Margaret’s Church on Copeland Avenue, upstairs in the fire station, Phillips Free Library  --   until a new addition was ready in 1951.  The basement of the Town Hall was used, too, for grade three classes.  The auditorium/theater had frequently been used through the years for school plays and even commencement exercises. 

In January of 1948, it was the Hall’s turn to experience a fire.  Insurance of $7,363.41 covered the repairs, and fire insurance was increased from $16,400 to $51,400.  The recently centralized school districts, known as Homer Central School, gave up occupancy of the Hall in 1951.  In lieu of rent, the Town accepted all permanent modifications the school had made to the building and the school would paint the interior as desired by the Board.

            The 1950s saw the advent of television, and the new technology was starting to adversely affect movie theaters by offering competition.  The Capitol was no exception.  In early 1952, Murray Briskin closed one night a week because of “the drop in attendance,” and the Town reduced his monthly rent from $85 to $75.  A request to rent a portion of the Hall for a “photographic studio” was denied.  A public complaint was lodged concerning a smoke nuisance from the chimney of the Hall, and the matter was referred to Mr. Briskin, since he owned and operated the heating system.  The theater lease came up for renewal in 1953, but only “after several months of bickering between lawyers” was an acceptable agreement reached, and the next year the rent was reduced to $60 and then to $50. On June 7, 1955, Mr. Briskin informed the Board that he was terminating the lease and closing down the Capitol Theater.  As of July 3, 1956, the Capitol Theater officially ceased to be.  The marquee on the front of the Hall was removed in 1959, but remnants inside are visible today.  There is the ticket booth, the original carpeting and seats in the balcony, the projection booth, the original four carbon rods needed to project images, and the graffiti upon the walls of the stage.  There, one finds, scrawled among the names of townsfolk, the title of one film, “The Talk of the Town,” a 1942 release starring Cary Grant as an unlawfully imprisoned activist.   Upon entering the Hall today, visitors are greeted by two movie posters from the 1930s, and for a brief moment one is transported back to an earlier era.

            In 1955, the decision was made to replace the old flat roof of the Town Hall with “a Flintcote specification, 20 year smooth surface built-up roof including flashings.”  The $499 bid was granted to Burden Roofing Company of Homer.  The next year, the dome structure and roof were repainted with paint specifically to come “from local dealers.”  The local Lions Club requested permission to use the Hall for motion pictures, and it was granted “at $10.00 per night.” 

            With the movie theater gone, the 1960s began with a discussion of possible uses of the Town Hall.  Alterations were suggested, and alterations were made. Office space for the Town Supervisor, Town Clerk, Tax Collector, and Assessors was provided.  The possibility of selling the Town Hall to the Cortland County Extension Service for its County headquarters was considered.  Local dentist, Dr. Lloyd Haverly, representing the Homer Recreation Commission, pursued the possible use of the basement for a Youth Recreational Center.  The Cortland-Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) expressed interest in renting office space in the Hall, and ground floor office space was provided.  A small, renovated room at the back of the Hall was provided the Village for a police office for $300 annual rent, and Virgil Moffitt was allowed to use the auditorium for “Sunday Night Musical Entertainments on a trial basis, for $20.00 per night.”   Apparently, the trial run was not satisfactory; a later request by Mr. Moffitt for the Sertoma Club to rent the auditorium on a Sunday night for a Western Jamboree fundraiser was denied.

The matter of renting the auditorium became a moot point in 1969. The auditorium space was renovated for BOCES to use.  Carpeted office space with two toilets was installed and used until the McEvoy Center in Cortlandville was completed in 1971.  The transformation work was done by students enrolled in BOCES’ building trades program to give them a real life, on-the-job construction experience. Today, standing on the stage or in the balcony, one can see the handiwork, including heating and ventilation ducts, nestled into a space once filled with rows of chairs -- a veritable symbol of adaptability.  When BOCES vacated the Hall, the Village offices moved from James Street to the office spaces in the Hall.  In 1971, facing a space crunch, the Homer Central School rented administrative office space in the basement of the Hall until a new Junior High School was annexed to the Intermediate School in 1974, thus allowing the administration to return to the south wing of the High School, where it is today.  

            By the summer of 1975, the United States had experienced two “wounds”:  a protracted war in Vietnam that had just ended and the resignation of a President after a scandal called “Watergate.”  “Healing” for the nation came in the form of preparations for its bicentennial and a chance to celebrate what was good about our past. The appearance of the Town Hall needed sprucing up in time for the occasion. Paint applied to the blocks had peeled off after only two years. A bicentennial parade made its way down Main Street on July 3, 1976, and members of the Board participated.   It was about this time, too, that the Cortland County Nutrition Program took up residence in the basement of the Town Hall.  The program still exists and seeks to provide nutritious meals for senior citizens.  It is known as the David Harum Senior Citizens Center.             

            In 1983 some twenty residents attended a Town Board meeting.  They were there to protest the colors being used in the painting of the Town Hall.  The dome was to be a copper color, but when the paint was applied, a pink tone appeared, which, Josephine Brown recalled, prompted some rather colorful descriptions of what the dome looked like that “could not be printed in a family newspaper.”

            On October 19, 1991, the bicentennial of the first settlement of the Town was celebrated.  A program of speakers and a skit on David Harum was held at the high school auditorium, captured on video for posterity, and made part of the Town’s archives.  At this time of celebration, the much respected William Wright was into his sixth term as Town Supervisor, and Town Attorney, Robert Jones, had been offering legal counsel for three decades.         

1994 saw the issue of consolidation of town and village services raised as a cost-saving measure, but neither the town nor the village indicated too much excitement about the prospects. The issue of controversy in 1996 was the proposed construction of a Pennfield Corporation feed mill in Little York, where residents felt it threatened the quality of their life.  In 1998, the Village Recreation office in the Hall became the Assessor’s office, and the Recreation department moved to the present site south of the fire station on Main Street.

            It was liability concerns, aesthetics, and an appreciation of history that prompted the Board to start renovating the Town Hall, from the top down. As the building entered into the 21st century, its interior had offices with all the technology of the age --  computers, faxes, printers, calculators, and copiers  -- but its exterior showed signs of deterioration.  The removal and repair of the cupola atop the dome began in November of 2003.  After 95 years of exposure to pigeons and the elements, the wooden structure was crumbling and hanging precariously from its post.  Woodford Brothers Inc. of Tully used a cherry picker and a crane to bring it safely to the ground and take it to Tully for restoration.  Eight months later, a refurbished cupola with a new gleaming copper top was reattached.

   The Woodford Brothers had used, in 2002, two orange and white steel supports, drilled into the sidewalk, to hold up a roof over the front entrance.  This was required because the weight of the four Roman-style columns (originally built in Syracuse) to support the roof was starting to wear on the block foundation.  The dome, front steps, and the windows were sorely in need of repair, and handicap accessibility needed to be addressed to be in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.  An application for a $350,000 state grant to fix the building was denied. Surplus funds were then dedicated to the task of restoring the front portico, completely redoing the town court, and installing a wheelchair-accessible elevator.  A Syracuse architectural firm, Crawford and Stearns, was hired for the project of bringing the landmark back to life.  In June of 2006 the Board approved a resolution to purchase a vacant house immediately north of the Town Hall (No. 33 North Main Street).  Previously owned by Randy Thomas, the house was bought from the county for $34,220 in back taxes.  The site was eyed by the Board for a possible parking lot for the restored Hall.  A public hearing on the subject showed division.  Half the speakers supported razing the house and creating 20 to 30 parking spaces.  The other half deplored the loss of property tax money for the town.  Discussion also focused on which of four locations to use for the installation of the elevator.  In the end, the Board voted to put in a parking lot and to install the elevator at the northeast corner of the Hall after the renovations to the courtroom were made, according to designs by preservation architect, Randy Crawford  --  all for a cost of close to $700,000.

Paul Yaman Construction started work on the front portico in the summer of 2006, with December 8, 2006, as the deadline date. After months of costly delays, partly due to winter and to poor casting work by Steps Plus of Syracuse, the front entrance did not open to the public again until August 1, 2007.  Paul Yaman Construction had to pay the Town $6,900 for 69 “late days”. Putting in the front sidewalks and moving the flagpole to the north side of the entrance was done by Homer contractor, Tom Kile. 

At this time, renovation of the century-old landmark situated in the Homer Historic District proceeds.  As it celebrates its centennial, the Homer Town Hall is still adapting.  It is a symbol of the 6,424 townspeople it serves in a 50.37 square mile area-- a people mindful of the past and yet trying to adapt to the requirements of the future.

Through the years, the names of the public officials working in the Town Hall have changed, and so, too, have the functions of the Hall.  Like a versatile actor, the building has taken on many roles:  center for municipal services, jail, courthouse, movie theater, dance hall, roller-skating rink, newspaper office, radio repair shop, classroom, school business office, senior citizens center, and, yes, even home to a colorfully painted cigar store Indian princess who will greet you in the front foyer!  Stop in!  She will silently bid you to toss the celebratory confetti and to ponder the possible roles the Homer Town Hall may be asked to play in its next 100 years.