A hall built on the foundation of community helping community
The Northampton Recreation Centre sits on a slight grade, proudly overlooking Route 105 as an example of what can be achieved when community supports community.
As it begins to celebrate its 35th anniversary, the Northampton Rec Council reflects on memories built over three and half decades. It plans to create new memories with meals, events and a return of the Northampton Strawberry Festival.
Long-time council members sat at the community hall in early February, sharing memories with the River Valley Sun. Council president Dave Neal, Bert Connell, Janice Bull, Joan McKinley and Keith Bull shared personal memories of why and when the council began and where it hopes to go.
They all stressed they are but a few of the many residents who made the council a long-running success and the hall a thriving facility.
Neal said seeds for the hall project date back to the late 80s when local residents hosted meetings and community social gatherings in their homes.
As he recounted the beginnings and consequential success of the Northampton Rec Council, Neal named the many people, groups and businesses who supported it. He acknowledged the list is so long he feared missing essential names.
Neal recalled attending such a social gathering where he mentioned the need for a community hall to Earl Myers.
It proved a vital conversation as Myers was a man of action who knew how to catch the ear of government officials.
“He went to the government for help with this,” Neal said.
With Myers doing most of the talking to receptive government officials, area residents held a meeting. With the establishment of the Northampton Recreation Council in 1987, efforts began to raise money, get government support and find a suitable piece of land.
With a site secured, the newly formed council arranged for a $1 per year lease and began plans to build the centre. The council eventually purchased the land.
Neal said support rolled in quickly. He and the others began naming the long list of donors.
Ralph Bull provided the required wood, which Wesley Stockford sawed into lumber. Keenans poured the foundation. Bert and John Connell provided the plumbing, and Milton Bull helped build the cupboards.
While residents threw their support behind the council representing an area of Northampton from Parker Road to the county line, help rolled in from well beyond those borders. Some people had ties to the community, and others wanted to help the efforts of an invigorated group of volunteers.
A government grant helped complete the hall and keep it operating over the coming years.
Joan McKinley recalled the well-attended parades, which helped raise funds and boost community spirits.
The Northampton Community Hall officially opened on Sept. 7, 1991. It has been the hub of community activity since.
“It’s been the site of a lot of social gatherings,” said Keith Bull.
The hall hosted craft and bake sales at no cost to the sellers. It provided the setting for numerous benefit suppers over the years, as well as funeral and wedding receptions.
People travel from far outside Northampton to attend the council’s famous monthly breakfasts on the first Saturday of every month. Keith Bull explained before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the popular event for more than a year, the breakfasts regularly welcomed between 180 to 190 hungry diners.
He said the numbers began to climb again since they reintroduced the Saturday morning tradition several months ago.
Keith Bull said Northampton breakfast demonstrates community dedication.
He said volunteers begin Friday afternoon with prep work. Another crew arrives at 5:30 a.m. Saturday to begin preparations. The main team arrives at 7 p.m. Afterwards, a clean-up crew goes to work.
The Northampton Strawberry Festival was one of the council’s premiere events for several years. Neal said their excited to bring it back to its full glory this summer.
This month, besides the breakfast, the Northampton Rec Council celebrated maple season on March 18 with a pancake supper from 4 to 7 p.m.
After establishing and building the hall in the late 80s and early 90s, the Northampton Rec Council hasn’t sat on its laurels over the subsequent three-plus decades.
The building and surrounding grounds underwent three expansions, including adding a covered deck and picnic shelters.
While the main floor offers space for meals, social gatherings and events, the building’s basement is home to a games room, ideal for card and board games, darts and more.
Over the years, the council hosted summer student programs and events for children. Janice Bull said the council wants the residents, especially children, to use the facility and surrounding property overlooking the St. John River to enhance community spirit.
“We encourage people to get to know it and children to get to know each other,” she said.
McKinley said the centre and hall served as an essential asset for several generations of Northampton families and is doing the same for new families and businesses in the community.
Neil noted the nearby Jolly Farmers operation is a dedicated supporter.
“They do all our plowing,” he said.
Neil said the hall remains vibrant because of support from community residents.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” he said.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun