The hall was built in 1873 as the administrative centre for the township of Thurlow, now part of the City of Belleville. Gerry Boyce has found the following snippet recording the progress of the building in the Daily Intelligencer of August 26th, 1873:
TOWN AND VICINITY
The Township Clerk of Thurlow writes us that the new Town Hall in that Township is rapidly approaching completion, and that the work is very substantial and neat, and gives very general satisfaction.
The shield-shaped plaque on the front of the building notes that it was built by J.A. Northcott. John Northcott was born in Lapford, Devon, England in around 1805. He was a carpenter who came to Canada in 1853 and settled in Belleville, where he entered into partnership in with fellow Devonian, Walter Alford. They worked on a number of houses and other buildings in the town up to 1876, when Northcott retired. He died on December 26th, 1881 and the Daily Intelligencer obituary noted that he
was a true type of the better order of Englishman – outspoken, independent, yet concealing a heart as tender as that of a woman under a bluff exterior, and withal as honest as the day.
With amalgamation of the City of Belleville and the Township of Thurlow on January 1st, 1998, the building became available for use as the headquarters of the Hastings County Historical Society.
A plan of the building was drawn up in October 1998 by Gerry and Susie Boyce, with the help of Carson Cross. This item has recently been donated to the Community Archives as part of the extensive Gerry Boyce fonds it carries an intriguing section labelled ‘Mystery Area’.
Gerry tells us that this area was identified by the difference in measurements between the inside and outside walls of the building. Belleville’s Mayor of the time, Mary-Anne Sills, used a hammer to open up the wall and investigate the space. Blue duct tape remains on the wall as evidence of her handiwork.
This is not the first time that the internal walls of the building have been under attack: in February 1961 the wall of the vault was broken through by burglars looking for cash in the vault. The Ontario Intelligencer reported on the crime on February 7th, with photographs of the damage caused.
Ironically, the robbers could have saved themselves some work, as the vault was not locked at the time. Nor did it contain any cash, according to the Intelligencer’s report.
From an archivist’s point of view, it soon becomes apparent that the old building is far from ideal as a store for the unique materials which have been collected over the years by the Hastings County Historical Society. Signs around the place alert the occupants to some of the hazards:
The other key problem with the building is the space available to the Community Archives: the building has no barrier-free access and the shelves are all full-to-overflowing. We are not quite as knee-deep in records as the clerk was in 1961, but it feels like it, sometimes. In September we had to empty the former Irish Hall of records when that building was sold. Our colleagues at the Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives came to the rescue, taking in over 50 boxes of material temporarily until we can move them into the new purpose-built archival storage in the Belleville Public Library.
The move will be of tremendous benefit to the collections and to those who make use of the materials. The next few months are going to be very exciting!