WESTPORT — It was a community effort that turned an old church into the Westport Heritage House and Visitor Center.
“A lot of energy went into this building,” Lindsay Pontius said at a recent open house held to show off the improvements to building and grounds.
She applauded the Heritage House Committee that led the charge.
The event celebrated the restoration and promoted what Building Manager Nancy Decker — often called Queen of Heritage House — described as “our thriving Visitor Center.”
And it kicked off a campaign to let people know the center is available for use at numerous functions, including dances, film screenings and even birthday parties.
Heritage House, located at 6459 Main St., is also home to the Westport Chamber of Commerce and has office space available for rent.
SPIRIT OF PLACE
The facility’s mission, says the website, is to be “a place that links Westport to the history, arts, and culture of the region … A center that connects multiple generations and interests to foster a dynamic community … A house to welcome visitors to Westport where they can discover and experience its spirit of place.”
Heritage House was first a Baptist church, built at a cost of $2,500. It rose from the ashes of one erected in about 1830 and razed during the “Great Fire of Westport” on Aug. 16, 1876, which also destroyed a large part of the business district. The new structure, built in the “cottage style” with a slate roof and mostly ash interior, could accommodate as many as 225 people.
Its chapel still offers acoustics that lend themselves to musical events such as chamber recitals.
In 1936, the Baptist and Methodist churches of Westport merged and formed the Federated Church. The church still owns the property, Decker said, but has leased it to the town. Westport, in turn, rents it to the Chamber of Commerce.
“We want you to see the efforts that have gone into this by the people of Westport, Decker told the crowd at the open house. “The volunteerism in this community is amazing.”
Her leadership follows the legacy of George Maffey, the original proponent of Heritage House.
Westport Town Supervisor Dan Connell said he was “absolutely delighted to see the turnout for this (open house), and to see the improvements. I hope the community will continue to use the building and that someone will rent the office space.”
An outdoor bluegrass concert featuring cast members from the current Depot Theater production of “Careless Love” kicked off the open house, followed by the Key Winds Trio in the former chapel.
A slide show of the Westport area created by Allison Sherman was screened continually throughout the event. Mary Heald demonstrated and explained the history and art of spinning.
A reception followed in the Community Room with the refinished floor funded by the Make It Shine raffle.
Appetizers and desserts were provided by Westport eateries and committee members.
The renovation of Heritage House proved more difficult and costly than anticipated due underlying damage discovered during the effort.
In all, more than $400,000 has been expended, with most of the funding coming from grants.
“There is so much that has been done that you cannot see,” Decker said.
An annual summer Westport festival was initiated in 2000 to assist in the funding of the facility. In addition, grants from Lakes to Locks and the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial covered some of the cost the interpretive displays and other improvements.
Local stained glass artist Kip Trienens has created Adirondack chairs incorporating his work, which have been used for raffles.
There are around 30 volunteer ambassadors who assist visitors to the community who stop in for information.
Heritage House’s intent is to offer a variety of activities, among them Zumba and yoga.
Depending on its use, the hall’s capacity is between 60 and 130; the chapel space seats 113.
The price to use the facilities depend on the event.
On Thursday, July 19, from 5 to 7 p.m., Heritage House will host an opening reception for the “Spirit of Place Plein Air” art show, which will feature artwork created outdoors in the Westport area .
A silent auction begins that day, too, running until 3 p.m. Aug. 4, with proceeds benefiting the artists and also Heritage House.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 14, artists invite visitors to their studios for tours and to see them at work. Maps for the tours can be picked up at Heritage House or by calling 962-4590.
The Westport Visitor Center is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays through Labor Day. On Labor Day, Sept. 3, and Columbus Day, Oct. 8, hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For additional information and to inquire about holding an activity at Heritage House, contact Decker at 962-4805.
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