In the beginning . . .
Nineteen members enrolled at the first meeting of the Public Hall Association in 1886. Membership dues were 25 cents. It was a time when community focus
was local — transportation was by horse and buggy if not by foot. The association’s objective was to raise funds to erect a place for social and community events. Membership interest grew and money was raised through various dinners, entertainments, and ice cream parties.
Site selection for the hall proved to be more problematic than the fund raising had been. Captain James Bill paid $200 for the land on which the Lyme Public Hall now stands and offered it to the association for $20. But, Captain Bill had favored the South in the Civil War and his political opinions were not embraced by all. A power struggle ensued. An alternate site was proposed.
Ultimately the location was put to a vote and both sides tried to stuff the ballot box by signing up new members, many of them out-of-towners. When the vote favored the location of the present Lyme Public Hall, some of the opposition withdrew from the association. Nevertheless, construction began and the main building was completed and dedicated on Thanksgiving in 1887.
For many years thereafter, the Public Hall, as it was named at the time, was a cultural and social hub in Lyme. Weekly dances were enjoyed by the young and old. Lectures and dinners were held. Musical and theatrical productions were staged – using both local and outside talents. And the Hall hosted graduation exercises for all of the town’s one room schools.
End of an era . . .
In 1952 the town, needing a place to house its fire equipment, signed a lease with the Association for use of the building. The hillside in front of the building was cut away and a basement dug out to provide garage space for fire trucks. Thus a major modification to the face of the building was made while creating Lyme’s first firehouse.
By 1958, cars and radio had become commonplace and TV was gaining a foothold in most households; the community had the means of looking elsewhere for entertainment. Facing declining use of the building, extensive repairs, and a mortgage, the Public Hall Association voted to disband. The building was sold to the town for $2766. The fire company continued to use the building until 1985 at which time it moved to the Safety Complex north of Tiffany Farm.
A new beginning . . .
As the fire company prepared to vacate in 1984, interest was generated in restoring the
building and putting it to use again as a community center. Over 200 people signed petitions in favor of this effort and a group was formed which ultimately became the current Lyme Public Hall Association. The town agreed to lease the building—then assessed at $80,000—on the condition that the association not receive or ask for town funding but instead rely on dues, donations and fund drives to support the venture. Largely
through the volunteer efforts of the membership, the building was repaired and refurbished.
Today’s Lyme Public Hall Association is an historical organization preserving the
history of the town and its lifeways in addition to being a community center. Towards
this end, a professionally managed historical archives operates from the lower level.
The Association sponsors programs, lectures, and dinners several times a year.
Additionally, the building is available as rental space for local community activities and private functions.