Self-Guided Tours — Westmeath

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Westmeath Town Hall

By Patti Desjardins


Westmeath Town Hall, built in 1895Years ago there was a baseball team which yielded hammers as well as bats. When Westmeath residents wanted a recreational building, the baseball team launched a fund-raising campaign and built the barn-size structure. The team folded after the 1906 season but their building still stands at 1880 Gore Line.

The first annual general meeting for the hall was in 1895. Records from 1899 show expenses for drawing stone, quarrying, and sheet iron, so presumably construction began soon after. For over 70 years, it was the heart of village social life, often with several events per week. By 1971 its future was no longer tenable. Plans were underway to build a new arena with a community centre and progress eclipsed the old town hall.

A wide variety of political and social events were held there. In 1896 a coroner’s inquest met to probe a local death not clearly resulting from natural causes. Over the years, there were many political meetings, elections, referendums, and plebiscite votes. Even traveling medicine men hawked their wares.

There was also arts and culture with concerts, dances, and plays such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In 1908 a Mooving Picture Show (that’s the spelling) was held and for the next four decades, movies were shown, often weekly. There were many other activities for young people such as badminton games from 1936 to 1944.

In 1902 there was the first of many Temperance lectures. The temperance movement held sway in the township until 1978 when, with a ‘wet’ vote, the sale of alcohol was finally permitted. For its duration, the town hall stayed afloat without proceeds from alcohol, which is not to say that spirits were never carried into the building or onto its grounds.

All these activities meant wear-and-tear, repair, and cleaning. The Women’s Institute, with its formidable fund-raising and organizational skills, was largely responsible for keeping the hall operational for many years.

The hall never had a septic system or running water but great parties still occurred. Many couples held their wedding receptions there. Villagers celebrated the end of WWI with a banquet and welcomed soldiers home. Village dances were held for all returning WWII soldiers. There were many hockey banquets, especially when teams won trophies.

The Westmeath Town Hall is a monument to volunteerism, good times, and village spirit. Although its doors were closed many years ago, it nourished a sense of community which was reincarnated in the new facility nearby. Those baseball players built more than just a building.