For 70 years, it had stoically stood as a landmark in village history, its brick faded from the caresses of the sun that had warmed its exterior. Chips had sloughed off its white framework that made its front resemble a Grecian palace. It was nothing like the structure quickly put up in 1903 for the sum of $3,500.
The original building was first built as a fire hall and was financed by bonding the Despatch Fire District for the sum of $5,800. The extra amount was used for equipment. The booming community wanted to have a building to house its firefighting equipment as well as a place to conduct its social activities. Through the years, the Municipal Building was just that. It was the fire hall and municipal building.
The years have been kind to the staid old structure. When its health was deteriorating back in 1936, the government of the USA stepped in and allocated funds to have the building renovated. Its simple structural design was altered to give it a fresh look. Its front square design was changed with tall pillars of white painted wood. The top was a sweeping arch.
Through the years, the building became the heart of the village. The upstairs was once the community library, and was nursed along by the presence of one librarian and a few unpaid assistants. She was Laura Whittleton, a kindly matriarch, who was paid the sum of $800 annually for her efforts. Today, the library costs over $170,000 to keep its books flowing and the lights glowing.
When Mrs. Burton J. Fryatt gave the village her sedate old home on Main and West Ivy Street for a library in 1955, the building was remodeled. The village offices moved to where the library was situated for years. Other rooms were created; the major change was to establish a village board meeting place. The longtime American Legion Post 1917 retained its meeting room established as far back as 1924 when the local organization gained its charter.
The police station also increased its force and muscles. The village gained acclaim as a place where a two-cell jail was excellently kept. Police records indicated a happy history for years until the force suffered discretionary spells after the retirement of Police Chief Hamilton C. Connors. When the firemen moved to their new quarters across the street, in came the village volunteer ambulance corps. Also located there was the Civil Defense organization.
Within its rooms, village government leaders that changed the direction of the community rendered historic decisions. The main changes were to begin as early as 1906 when it was approved to change the name of the bustling village from Despatch to East Rochester, and the last one in 1969 when it was decided to redevelop the downtown with a new business section. Then, under the anxious leadership of new members, the building was declared inadequate and a fire hazard, forcing the village to bow to the demands for a new hall that cost nearly 200 times more than the original.
Many decisions were applauded and many earned the anger of the voters. All this drama occurred in a building that tried to survive change but failed. So like the old adage that everything comes to an end … so did the 70-year-old Municipal Building in 1973.
Jim Burlingame is historian for the town/village of East Rochester.