The concept of Unity Hall as a performing arts center began almost two centuries ago. In the mid 1800’s the Unitarian Church of Barneveld held all it’s functions either in the church or in the homes of the members of its congregation. That arrangement seemed to work well for a while, but some events were so well attended that neither the church nor peoples’ homes were large enough to accommodate everyone in comfortable fashion. It was at this time that the ladies of the church decided another building was necessary if they were to continue to hold these popular functions. And so - the idea of this wonderful building turned into a massive undertaking – one that would come to fruition in 1896 – the year Unity Hall opened its doors to the public. It was a glorious building for its time, and of course it’s still a glorious building – no expense was spared. Final cost to build the Hall in 1896 was just about $1700. The ladies of the Unitarian Church paid about $4.70 per square foot to build the Hall.
As a tribute to these five remarkable individuals the Unity Hall Foundation recently dedicated a room to honor each one of them. We now have the Hinge Room, The Landecker Auditorium, The Mack Kitchen, and The Ferris Classroom.
In 1995, just prior to the Hall’s 100th anniversary, the Unity Hall Foundation signed a twenty-five-year lease on the building. The church owns the building, and the Foundation is responsible for the day to day – and season to season – activities. We’ve had several upgrades along the way. One of the first projects by the Foundation was the installation of a heating system. The kitchen has been upgraded with industrial grade appliances. We recently added our technology equipment as well. Our latest endeavor includes full insulation, new storm windows, and new heating boilers.
Unity Hall in the early 1900's
Unity Hall as it appears today
The Foundation offers a summer music series – hosting acts ranging from Grammy Award winners and other international performers to popular regional acts as well as aspiring local musicians. We also offer live stage presentations, lectures, art exhibitions, and other cultural events. The Hall is also available for both public and private events.
It was at this time that a few local folks began to shine their light on Unity Hall. George Landecker had the very strong belief that this building was worth saving. It was - after all- a community gem. In 1993 Barneveld celebrated its bicentennial. George went to the group sponsoring this event and tried to pitch the idea of that organization assuming responsibility for Unity Hall – there was no interest. Then he approached the village of Barneveld with the same concept. The village had no interest either. Finally – he went to the Town of Trenton – surely they wouldn’t want to see this glorious building fall into ruin – again – a negative response. George then did the only thing left to do – he took the matter into his own hands. He went with his friend Ed Hinge to the Barneveld Free Library and met there with another visionary – a local lady named Betsy Mack. By the time that meeting was over the concept of the Unity Hall Foundation had been established. Within a very short time Becky Ferris and Bill Hinge volunteered their skills and ambition, and the Unity Hall Foundation had its original Board of Directors.
Unity Hall was built to be used as a performing arts venue, a place for private and public meetings, parties, and other gatherings. We are proud to say that after all these years the mission statement of the Unity Hall Foundation still includes the phrase “a not-for-profit organization dedicated to maintaining the Hall as a home for the arts and community activities” In other words – the spirit of this building’s function has remained the same.
Unity Hall became a cultural and community center shared by the church with other groups from Barneveld and its surrounding villages. And things went along fairly smoothly until the mid 1950’s – when the public’s need for Unity Hall began to diminish. Some blamed it on the advent of television – technology changing peoples’ habits and passtimes – just as it does today. Without the revenue generated by some of the activities, the Hall began to be a financial burden to the Church, and by the early 1990’s the outlook for keeping the Hall open, or even keeping the building within the church – looked bleak. The Hall was becoming a liability.
Original Unity Hall Foundation board members Betsy Mack and Becky Ferris
The entirety of Unity Hall is adorned with original accompaniments and has been fully restored to its period beauty.
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