History of the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House Building
The Plainfield Town Hall Opera House was originally constructed as the Universalist Church of the Restoration in 1841. After the congregation disbanded, the town of Plainfield acquired the building in 1911 for use as an Opera House and Town Hall at which time the building underwent major renovations. It retains its original Greek revival trim and embellishments on its exterior.
The building once had a steeple of telescoping towers creating a plinth and open belfry adorned with a spire. According to the Plainfield Pictorial History book, the spire was removed at the time of the town’s acquisition due to significant rot, but the belfry, which housed a Revere cast bell, was retained. The belfry has since been removed due to damage that was sustained during a hurricane in 1938 according to local residents.
The building occupies a footprint of 55 feet 9 inches along the eaves and 42 feet 4 inches across the gables with an additional two feet added in each direction at the soffits. The gable roof is set at a pitch of 6 inches per foot of run and features a full pediment with a large louvered panel set inside the plain of the tympanum. A typical Greek entablature runs below the soffits along both eaves and along the north gable beneath the pediment. The entablature wraps around to the north gable but terminates abruptly. The entablature is supported at all four corners by robustly capitaled pilasters. The pilasters terminate at a water table running at approximately 8 feet above the current basement level entrance. An additional pair of pilasters supports the entablature along the eaves in line with the queen post truss that once supported the steeple. The hall is clad in white clapboards with a reveal of four inches.
The original, large 20 over 20 sash windows were replaced when the building was converted to a Town Hall Opera House. One set was centered on the north gable and three sets along the eave walls spaced evenly from each other between the intermediate pilasters and south gable. The current windows appear to occupy the original window apertures and feature side by side pairs of tall 4 over 4 light windows beneath a four light transom with lights of the same size as those in the new sashes.
Prior to the town’s ownership of the hall, large granite steps spanned the north gable occupying the space where the basement level entrance is now located. The granite steps, along with the original doors that flanked both sides of the large central gable window have since been removed.
It is difficult to visualize the front steps rising to the second floor entries because, as part of the 1911-12 renovation, the building was jacked up two feet higher than it was originally in order to provide enough headroom in the basement for it to be used. The interior of basement level of the hall is sheathed in sheet rock with a modern poured concrete floor. The foundation and framing of the main floor are entirely concealed at the basement level.
The walls and ceiling of the main body of the hall had originally been covered with plaster and lath that now are concealed by elaborately embossed tin that was added when the building was converted into a performance and meeting space. The tin, which appears to be in excellent condition, conceals any evidence of the original interior trim details. The only place where we were able to observe original plaster and trim work is in the crawl space beneath the stage. There is one area along the north wall where the plaster can be seen terminating at a simple kick board located just below the level of the current stage. We presume that the kick board may indicate the level of a lower built stage at the front of the church as it is about eighteen inches above the main floor.
The main floor of the hall has hardwood flooring that appears to have been installed at the time of the halls renovation. It is unclear what kind of flooring the church originally had but it seems likely that the main floor is located at the original height based on the framing of the joists and sills. A gallery spans the north wall of the main body of the hall and is sheathed with tin in kind making it unclear as to whether or not the gallery was a new addition. We suspect that the gallery was new based on the metal hardware that suspends the gallery from the truss above dating to the early 1900’s. The hall also features two bathrooms at either side of the stage that appear to be in good order. There is also a functional elevator that goes from the basement floor to the main floor and appears to conform to ADA standards.
The building is of modest timber frame construction. All of the timbers that can be observed are made of tight grained, spruce with few knots and little in the way of spiral grain with the exception of some of the log rafters where the grain is contained in the round. The roof system is composed of simple tie beams and rafter sets spaced roughly 44 inches on center with a hewn, five sided ridge. The 8-inch diameter log rafters tendon into both the tie beams and the ridge. The hewn spruce tie beams measure 8 ½ inches square and cantilever past the plates by 2 feet to create the soffit overhang. The rafter plates are of 8" square hewn spruce and are supported by 3x6" studs between posts at 3' on center. Trusses are more typically used for such great spans but the original roof design made no provisions for extra support of the tie beams or use of purlin plates to prevent the rafters from deflecting.