VIDEO: Renovations at Poquatuck Hall in Orient

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Oysterponds Community Activities secretary Jane Smith in front of the historic Poquatuck Hall in Orient.

A volunteer group has found a way to entertain the public while raising funds to maintain a historic Orient building.

Poquatuck Hall has served as a meeting place since the 1870s and the board of Oysterponds Community Activities has been able to renovate it through donations, as well as proceeds from benefit concerts.

Volunteers are currently working on upgrading the backstage bathroom and once that work is completed hot water will run through those pipes for the first time.

Two other bathrooms, which already have running hot water, have received fresh coats of paint. High on the board’s wish list is replacing the oil burner with natural gas.

The hall is important to the community because “it’s a meeting place that isn’t a church,” said OCA board secretary Jane Smith.

“It’s owned and operated by the community,” she said. “We’re always looking for ways to make money and to bring people in here.”

Over the years, the board has created several events to benefit the hall. The “Song Swap” created by Gideon D’Arcangelo helped fund a floor renovation project. The Song Swap proved to be so much fun for musicians and the audience that it’s being carried forward as a way to raise money for the hall’s upkeep and the Oysterponds Community Activities fund.

The 3rd annual song swap is scheduled for Saturday, April 28.

In 2010, the dreary linoleum tiles were removed and the original yellow pine wide-plank floor boards were restored. Along the way, volunteers stumbled on a few surprises.

They found a shuffle board drawn on the floor and the words “Stanley’s blood” with a drawn arrow.
“Stanley is a mystery,” Ms. Smith said. “We don’t know who that was or what happened.”

In addition to renovating the floor, the organization purchased a 1923 Mason and Hamlin baby grand piano for $8,000 that is now being used for various concerts. The piano has allowed the board to host a higher level of concerts and chamber music performances, Ms. Smith said.

“This is a real baby of mine,” she said. “Everyone loves to play it.”

In 1873, Orient residents with names that still resonate in the community — Young, Rackett, King, Edwards — raised $2,075 to build the hall on the southwest corner of Village and Skipper’s lanes. Their aim was to provide both a home for their local theater company and a meeting place for the community. Builder James Young completed the job in 1874.

Through the years, Poquatuck has served as Orient’s unofficial village hall. Beyond plays and musical events, it has also served as a library and a school gymnasium.

OCA board president Linton Duell said the building’s upkeep is important because more people will want to visit if it’s kept in good shape.

“When you walk through the building, there are some parts of it that are in great shape and other areas still in need of attention,” Mr. Duell said. “Whether it’s going to be painting, new floors, new walls, new fixtures — those are all things that are our responsibility.”

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