City Hall History

Architectural History

In 1869, the City of Chicopee purchased from the Ames Manufacturing Company, land on which to build a City Hall. Mr. James Tyler Ames was chosen chairman of a building committee consisting of E.O. Carter, Eraszus Stebbins, Ezekiel Blake and Emerson Gaylord, pillar members of the community. The architectural design was done by Charles Edward Parker of Boston and has many similarities to the design of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy after which it was intentionally patterned. He is also reputed to have designed the Town Hall in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The work on Old City Hall began in early 1871 ("The Chicopee Herald," Centennial Issue, May 29, 1948). Bricks used in construction were made and furnished by Charles McClallan who also furnished the bricks for the 1830 Chicopee Dwight Mills still in existence today and originally built to process Southern grown cotton into textiles. The metal railings, hinges, fittings and the eagle weathervane used on the building were all cast at the Ames Manufacturing Co. famous for Ames Swords used during the Civil War. The original semi-circular steps at the front have been replaced. At the top of the steps in the spacious recessed entrance, memorial tablets of Chicopee's Civil War dead stand at each end. The building was completed in 1871 and dedicated on December 21, 1871. ("The Chicopee Herald," Centennial Issue, May 29, 1948).

The two-story brick building, sitting on a high granite basement, dominates Market Square where four streets converge for crossing the Chicopee River and Dwight Mills Canal. Two old hotels of similar vintage to Old City Hall and part of the original Dwight Mills are situated opposite on the same Square. The building originally had rows of chimneys along the two long eaves of the Ridge-Type roof above the exterior walls and between the main window bays, but they were removed at a later date when central heating was installed and the building was re-roofed. The gable-ended front façade exposes beautiful detailing of pilasters and dentil work done in brick as well as a large stained glass rose window and a three arched entrance portico whose columns are topped by capitals, no two of which are alike.

One of the great distinguishing features of the Chicopee City Hall is its 147 foot tower, patterned after that of the Palazzo Vecchio. Atop the tower, there is a gold eagle spreading its wings 7 feet from tip to tip and weighing 54 pounds. In the tower hangs a bell that was used on public occasions and as a fire alarm. The tower also houses a clock facing out on three sides, which was installed later in 1888. The clock is made up of wooden parts still in working condition.

A large hall on the second floor used to seat 900 persons, and is frescoed with stained glass windows. Originally, the Police Department and Courtroom occupied the basement of City Hall, but when the City Hall Annex was erected in 1929, this allowed these two facilities to move into new quarters. The Annex is attached to Old City Hall directly to the rear by a two storied, fully enclosed, brick bridge above a service driveway.

Old City Hall has, for many years, served as one of the major landmarks in the City of Chicopee. Former Massachusetts Governor Robinson was influential in selecting Architect Charles Edward Parker who intentionally patterned many design features of the building after the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, thereby giving it a uniqueness among the other Town Halls of the period.

For many years, the front steps and Portico were used as a place for the inauguration of the first Mayors of Chicopee.

It is more than likely that famous past residents of the City have strolled through the corridors of the building and participated at public functions in the old hall. For example, Charles Duryea, inventor of the first automobile built in this country (his home still stands two blocks away); Arthur MacArthur, father of General Douglas MacArthur; and noted philosopher and author, Edward Bellamy, whose homestead has recently been declared a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior. Opera singer, Mary Garden, made her first public appearance at the age of nine in the old hall.

In October of 1921, Evangeline Booth, daughter of William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army, spoke to a crowd of people in the shadow of the Old City Hall Tower.

Chicopee City Hall Dedication

When Chicopee dedicated its City Hall on December 21, 1871, the town's 72 young men who had died in the Civil War were foremost in the citizens' minds. The next day's paper described the ceremony and the building which it characterized as "in the Byzantine style of architecture," and reprinted the full texts of memorial tablets on the building-name, date and location of death and, occasionally, cause ("disease contracted in prison"). Although local tradition holds that Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke at the dedication, he is not mentioned in the newspaper. Other prominent persons known to have appeared in the second-floor auditorium on other occasions include Horace Mann, Charles Dickens and Frederick Douglass. The building, which faces the historic center of Chicopee, originally housed the police department and library, as well as city offices. Charles Parker, of Boston, designed other buildings in Chicopee as well as Easthampton Town Hall and Holyoke City Hall. The building's architectural style is a composite of High Victorian Gothic elements (for example, the pointed arches and polychromy) and Romanesque Revival elements (for example, the arcaded corbel table), and through the years it has been little altered. Original black walnut and butternut woodwork remains, as do the leaded stained-glass windows. A four-story rear annex was erected in 1927.

From:
Massachusetts Historical Commission, Building Survey