Historical society votes to offer Yosemite Firehouse to Town of Chester

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The Yosemite Fire House. Chester Telegraph photo

The Yosemite Fire House. Chester Telegraph photo

The membership of the Chester Historical Society voted on Thursday night to give the Yosemite Firehouse to the Town of Chester.

Organization President Ron Patch told the April meeting at the Academy Building that he thought most people would be pleased with the proposal for disposing of the firehouse that its board had arrived at.

“What we’ve decided,” said Patch, “is to offer the building to the Town of Chester, whatever contents are in it now, whether they are town property or historical society property, to avoid any confusion, those contents go with the building.” Patch also said the board proposed to give the town the $2,904.28 in its firehouse restoration fund.

“That’s our decision,” said Patch.

The Yosemite Firehouse, located just north of Town Hall on Route 103, was built in the 1870s. The land under the firehouse was given to Fire District No. 2 for as long as it was used as a fire station. It was used by Fire District No. 2 until the merger of the town and village in the mid-20th century.

In 2003, the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Freeman Foundation gave the historical society $35,000 “to repair the firehouse roof and towers, repair exterior woodwork, paint the building, and conserve some of the windows” with a goal of opening a fire museum.

“It’s hard to overstate the value of this building,” Preservation Trust Executive Director Paul Bruhn said at the time. “It’s a very unusual building, one of the most important — if not the most important firehouse — in the state.”

Chris Curran, former president of the organization, asked how the confusion surrounding the deed had been resolved. This involves a right of reversion that gives the landowner the right to take the building and land back if the organization is no longer using it as a museum. This comes from the original deed for the firehouse dating to 1880 and was exercised by Pember and Gertrude Hazen in 1976 in taking the property back from the Town of Chester and giving it to the Chester Historical Society.

Patch told the meeting that the town could ask the current owner of the Hazen property for a quitclaim deed.

Doug Somerville asked what would happen if the town decided not to take the property. Patch said if that did happen, the organization would address it at the time.

“And they would take over the insurance?” asked Mariette Bock. “That $1,200 would go away,” said Patch referring to the insurance premiums paid by the society.

Board member Harry Goodell noted that it would cost the town about $3,000 per year to store the equipment at a storage facility — a figure that came from a discussion at the last Select Board meeting.

Patch said that he had not discussed the proposal with anyone from town government.

He added that while there is historical society property in the building — a saw for cutting ice, for example — the organization would not claim it. “For us to go in there and remove anything is just going to start that baloney all over again so let’s give it to them,” said, Patch referring to questions that arose from the removal of objects from the building in late August.

The proposal was approved unanimously by the approximately 35 members present, after which society board member Danny Clemons said, “That only took 16 months.” Patch first broached the idea of the town taking the building at a society meeting in January 2015.

The Select Board will be hearing from Patch about the proposal at its meeting on Wednesday.

*Shawn Cunningham and Cynthia Prairie of The Chester Telegraph are members of the Chester Historical Society.

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