Woodmont firehouse turns to borough hall: Project nearly complete

The old Woodmont safe hadn’t been opened since 1973.

The mechanism on the safe, which was built in the 1800s and which contained some of the artifacts for the Borough of Woodmont, was so worn it wouldn’t open.

Last year, Charms locksmith was called, and after a half hour got it open.

“I had been trying to do it myself for about 15 years,” said Borough Warden Ed Bonessi.

Inside they found the original charter and other historic documents.

Its contents reflect the history of this borough within Milford: In 1901, residents formed the Woodmont Association, a community improvement organization. Two years later the association was granted a charter by the Connecticut legislature, and Woodmont became an official borough within the town of Milford on June 18, 1903.

Inside the old safe there are old ledger books. The first annual meeting, held Aug. 29, 1903, is recorded here.

The old safe is now at home in the new Woodmont Borough Hall on Kings Highway.

This latest journey for the safe is the culmination of several years of conversation with the City of Milford to let the borough use the old Kings Highway Firehouse for a new borough hall. Following fundraising and more than a year of renovations, the old firehouse is almost done being transformed into the borough hall.
Borough halls
“This is the second time that a Woodmont firehouse has housed the borough hall,” said Katherine Krauss Murphy, author of the book Woodmont on the Sound.

“That’s what makes the story so cool,” added Bonessi.

Years ago, the Woodmont warden and Board of Burgesses used to meet on the second floor of Little’s barn, which was donated to the Woodmont Fire Company in 1896 and located on Dixon Street, then called Center Street.

That building was used as the borough hall until 1967 when the Milford Board of Education renovated the Woodmont School, now known as the Fannie E. Beach Memorial Woodmont School, and needed to demolish the old firehouse and borough hall for their parking lot.

The city then donated a 1940-era portable classroom building, and the borough had it moved around the corner to 31 Clinton Street and made it the new borough hall. It remained the borough hall until last year, when the hall moved into the old Kings Highway firehouse, which the city sold to the borough in 2014 for $1.
Firehouse to borough hall
Turning an old firehouse into a borough hall took money and planning: a $500,000 state STEAP grant made the job a lot easier. But when bids came in for the estimated $500,000 renovation project the lowest was $741,000, so some adjustments had to be made to the renovation plans. Central air conditioning was scratched, as was a patio out back. And instead of exposed ductwork to dramatize the interior, there’s a drop ceiling.

Bonessi said the bulk of the work is done: Last month workers were focusing on the details.

A post and beam garage was recently constructed out back to house the borough’s police car, barricades and various equipment needed for this municipality within a municipality.

Inside the completed borough hall, a painted timeline and a borough flag hand-stitched by Kraus will decorate the walls.

The new borough hall will hold about 238 people, compared to the 100 people that could fit in the old one-room schoolhouse, which was sold for $190,000 and knocked down by the new owner.

In addition to housing the old safe and other artifacts, and serving as the center for borough business, the new hall will be an emergency shelter and a point of distribution for water, ready-to-eat meals and tarps during emergencies. With a backup generator, it can also can be a temporary shelter.
A new look
Bonessi said effort was made to create a different look at the new borough hall — something that doesn’t really look like an old firehouse.

He credits Kit Schmeisser, a member of the Board of Burgesses, with taking a lead on the design. Schmeisser said the idea was to mirror the facade of the nearby Fannie Beach Library so that someone walking up Dixon Street would see the library on the their right and look down the street to see similar architecture at the the new borough hall. This was accomplished by the use of columns alongside large sliding glass doors that replaced the former firehouse doors.

Also, a new terrace was recently completed, and an anchor will be placed out front.

“I think the look captures what we were trying to do,” Schmeisser said.
Buy a brick
People who want to be a part of this new bit of Woodmont history still have time to order a brick, which will become part of the landscaping in the front of the new borough hall. The deadline is Dec. 1.

Cost is $50 for one memorial brick, five bricks for $200, with no more than three lines of writing using only 13 characters and/or spaces per line. The form and instructions can be picked up at the new borough hall or by contacting Beautification Chair Pat Del Vecchio at delvecchiop@msn.com.