BRATTLEBORO >> The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) is throwing a "birthday party" to the public for the building that has stood 100 years.
This Friday evening during gallery walk BMAC will celebrate its historic home, Brattleboro's Union Station, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Free and open to the public, festivities will include live music on the museum's front lawn, art activities, exhibit tours, and a train-shaped birthday cake. While the museum opened in 1972, Union Station opened its doors back in 1916. However, much of the architecture and layout of the building remains the same as it did 100 years ago.
"In the 1960s when this building was going to be torn down, a group of people felt strongly that the building represented an important part of the town's history, architecture and identity and something would be lost if it were torn down, and I think they were right," said BMAC Director Danny Lichtenfield.
The 100th birthday party will include performances by Brattleboro-area bands Jazzberry Jam at 5:30 p.m., The Bluebird Orchestra at 7 p.m., and Nomad vs. Settler at 8:30 p.m. Birthday cake will be served at 6:30 p.m., and art activities and exhibit tours will take place throughout the evening. Journalist and Brattleboro native Kevin O'Connor, who co-curated the exhibit "Union Station: Gateway to the World," will be on hand to discuss the history of the building.
Constructed of stone mined across the Connecticut River on Mt. Wantastiquet, Union Station officially opened to the public on August 12, 1916. For 50 years Union Station connected Brattleboro and the surrounding towns to New York, Boston, Montreal, and beyond. "By the mid-1960s, however, commercial air travel and the development of the interstate highway system rendered passenger train service obsolete," stated a press release from BMAC. "Union Station was boarded up and soon fell into disrepair."
While it does not function as a station anymore, most of the original features still remain and have been preserved or restored, such as the floors, doors and handles. There is currently a window that overlooks the Connecticut River and New Hampshire, and that used to be an elevated walkway over the train tracks. Travellers would walk down this flight of stairs to reach their train, but this feature was torn down in the 1960s. In fact, the entire building was threatened to be torn down, but a group of individuals rallied to keep it standing.
"Coming out on Friday night is a nice way to honor the efforts of those people over the years who are the ones responsible for this building still being here," said Lichtenfield.
The rooms inside the building were transformed into galleries for the art museum, which mainly involved cosmetic improvements according to Lichtenfield.
"The layout is pretty much as it was when it opened 100 years ago," Lichtenfield added.
In addition, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, which meant its owners became responsible for certain guidelines with updating and renovations. Architectural details are not to be damaged or removed, and must be left visible so visitors can have a clue as to what the original function was. Guests can still see stenciled letters of "Tickets" or "Baggage and Parcels" detailed around building.
There are six galleries on the upper level, and each had a different function for the train station when it was open: the lobby, ticket office, men's smoking lounge, women's waiting room and the baggage lane, which is now divided into two spaces.
Lichtenfield notes that because of the occasion there is a history exhibit up at the museum, including some of the original architectural drawings of when the building was built along with photographs of the building under construction, in operation as a train station, when it was closed, when the walkway was being torn down and then the restoration part.
The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center presents rotating exhibits of contemporary art, complemented by lectures, artist talks, film screenings, and other public programs. The museum's exhibits and gift shop are open every day except Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regular admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $4 for students. Members and children 18 and under are admitted free of charge. Admission is free to all on Thursdays after 2 p.m. Located in historic Union Station in downtown Brattleboro, at the intersection of Main Street and Routes 119 and 142, the museum is wheelchair accessible. For more information, call 802-257-0124 or visit www.brattleboromuseum.org.
Major support for BMAC is provided by its members and C&S Wholesale Grocers, Sam's Outdoor Outfitters, People's United Bank, David F. Walter Goldsmith & Platinumsmith, Whetstone Station Restaurant & Brewery, and Allen Brothers Oil.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254- 2311 ext 275