June 29, 2022

Large Crowd Celebrates Reopening of Deep River Town Hall Auditorium

A full house for the official opening of the new Auditorium (photo by Jerome Wilson).

A full house for the official opening of the new Auditorium (photo by Jerome Wilson).

DEEP RIVER— More than 200 residents turned out Wednesday evening to celebrate the reopening of the second floor auditorium at the historic 1893 town hall after a renovation project that was brought to completion over the past year by a committee of volunteers.

Former Selectman Art Thompson, who chaired the Deep River Town Hall Auditorium Restoration Committee, welcomed the crowd to an event “that only happens once every 120 years.”  Thompson, who had pushed for completion of a restoration effort, served as master of ceremonies for a program that celebrated the role of the town hall auditorium in the town’s history.

Thompson introduced former First Selectman Joe Miezejeski as “honorary chairperson,” for the event. Miezejeski, who served four terms as first selectman through the 1980s, was a member of the Deep River Town Hall Restoration Association that began the restoration effort when it incorporated and began collecting donations for the project in 1979.

The association collected about $270,000 in donations and coordinated various improvements over the past 30 years, including installation of an elevator that was funded by the late Emma Marvin, a former selectwoman. But many improvements remained unfinished, including renovations needed to bring the auditorium in to compliance with current building codes to allow full use of the balcony.

 Looking down on it all, the Auditorium's new ceiling (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Looking down on it all, the Auditorium’s new ceiling (photo by Jerome Wilson)

At Thompson’s urging, the board of selectmen in 2011 appointed the new 11-member committee and gained control of the funds amassed by the former restoration association. The committee included four members of the association, Bruce Edgarton, Sally Carlson-Crowell, Frances Strukus and Kenneth Wood Jr. The new members included Claudia Epright, Janice Kmettz, Richard Nagot, Kim Olson, Linalynn Schmelzer, and Dennis Schultz. The committee used the $270,000 in available funds to complete the restoration project over the past 14 months.

Attending the program Wednesday were more than a dozen elderly graduates of the former Deep River High School, which closed when Valley Regional High School opened in 1952. The high school was located in a section of what is now Deep River Elementary School, but it lacked an auditorium. For more than 60 years, students used the town hall auditorium for group events that ranged from dances to the annual graduation ceremony. The construction and April 1893 dedication of the town hall was recounted by Dan Conners, a retired history teacher who was a member of the original faculty at Valley Regional High School and author of a book on the history of Deep River.

Wednesday’s program, which also featured music from the Deep River Junior Ancient Fife and  Drum Corps and the elementary school chorus and clarinet ensemble, opens a period of active use of the 279-seat auditorium. Over the next month there will be concerts, movies, and a May 31 dance. The new chairs on the main floor of the auditorium are movable, allowing for a return of dances to the historic facility.