Description of Historic Place
The building at 466 Dundas Street, known as Woodstock Town Hall, is situated at the southeast corner of Dundas and Finkle Streets in the City of Woodstock. The two-storey buff brick building was designed in the Neoclassical Style by architect Antoine Grobl and constructed in 1853.
In 1955, the Woodstock Town Hall was designated as a National Historic Site, and currently serves as the Woodstock Museum. The building's exterior and select elements of its interior are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust heritage conservation easement. The property is also designated by the City of Woodstock under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law No. 5254-76).
Located at 466 Dundas Street in the centre of downtown Woodstock, the Town Hall is fronted by a historic landscaped garden featuring bisecting paths and a central fountain. Originally, this open space, and that surrounding it, served the dual purpose of showcasing the building and facilitating the building's market function, serving as an adjunct commercial space. The prominence and importance of the Town Hall location influenced the placement of other public and commercial structures which greatly influenced the overall development pattern of downtown Woodstock.
Woodstock Town Hall is associated with the political and social life of Oxford County. Built in 1853, two years after the Town of Woodstock was created, the Woodstock Town Hall was designed to house both the town hall and market. Originally divided into vendors' stalls, the first floor functioned as a market until 1870. In addition to housing activities of the local government, such as council meetings, the second floor of the building, known as the upper hall, was used for concerts, dances, plays and other social activities. During this period, the upper hall hosted visits by Sir John A. MacDonald, Oscar Wilde and Sir Wilfred Laurier, and in 1890 was the scene of the famous Birchall murder trial which attracted worldwide attention. As responsibilities of the municipality evolved so did the use of the building, functioning as the first police office, jail and fire hall. In 1871, the first floor was converted to council chambers and municipal offices and it functioned as Woodstock's Town Hall until 1968 when the offices of the local government were relocated. Recalling the era when the building served as the town hall, the front doors are riddled with nail holes from the posting of public notices. The Royal Coat of Arms, placed above the entrance, symbolizes the strong historic ties to the British monarchy. The Woodstock Museum, which had occupied a portion of the building since 1947, has made the building its permanent headquarters.
Woodstock Town Hall is architecturally a fine example of a colonial adaptation of a British town hall. Like many British precedents adapted to rural, mid-19th century Ontario, the tall, two-storey, multi-function building is Neoclassical in style, with strong English Palladian influences. Constructed of buff brick with subtle stone detailing, the Town Hall exhibits a temple form with pedimented front gable, entrance fanlights and cupola. Plans for the structure were drawn by competition winner Antoine Grobl, a local designer and executed by David White, William P. Dixon and William McKay under the supervision of Francis Schofield. The building has retained a high degree of integrity, including its interior spaces, differentiating it from other similar Ontario town halls. The building's first floor contains the council chambers dating from the 1871 renovation with original period fittings, while the second floor is comprised of a large open hall restored to its 1889 appearance. Though enlarged with rear additions, one of which has heritage value itself (built 1865-70), the exterior of the original portion of the Town Hall retains its original appearance.
Source: OHT Easement Files
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Woodstock Town Hall include its:
- relationship and setback to the square
- surrounding open space
- original placement in the centre of downtown Woodstock
- the many nail holes on the front door from the posting of public notices and proclamations
- use as a performance, meeting and lecture space
- Royal Coat of Arms at the front entrance, symbolizing the community's British roots
- regular, rectangular, and symmetrical two-storey massing
- front gable roof with cedar shingle cladding
- rubble stone foundation
- buff brick construction with moulded cornices, quoining, belt course, and window mouldings
- sandstone detailing of the window lintels, pediment style window crowns, keystones and moulding stops (on round headed mouldings)
- windows with 6 over 6, double-hung, wood sashes and round headed windows with 6 over 9, double-hung, wood sashes and multi-pane transom lights
- Neoclassical detailing which includes a pedimented gable containing a round window, louvered cupola with dome and miniature Tuscan columns
- main doorways, each with wooden, panelled, double doors and multi-pane fanlights
- council chambers with authentic fittings, cast-iron support columns, brass gasoliers and adjacent vaults
- tongue-and-groove wainscot panelling, wide plaster ceiling cornices, unfinished pine wide-board floors, panelled doors (some with box locks), wide door and window casings
- foyer with its two reverse-flight staircases, each with a thick, turned, newel post and turned balusters
- upper hall with its open plan, balcony, proscenium stage, maple flooring, brass chandeliers and wallpapered walls and ceiling
- large front gardens with bisecting paths and central fountain which forms a civic square