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Mechanics Hall

The initial steps toward organizing the association of Utica's mechanics were taken at a meeting in John King's Tavern on the corner of Washington and Liberty streets on May 19, 1827 and it was finally incorporated March 30, 1833. The association maintained a reading room and library on the third floor of the Law Building on Genesee street.

In August 1836, a building known as the “Clinton House” was demolished to clear the Site at Hotel and Liberty streets. The new building was designed by a Mr. Bourn of Utica and the builders were James McGregor and Abraham Culver. The ground floor was of cut stone and was intended to be rented for stores. The upper floors were constructed of brick, with pilasters of the Tuscan order extending to the cornice. The second floor contained a reading room and library. The whole of the third floor consisted of a hall, forty feet by sixty seven feet six inches, with a lofty ceiling. It was adapted for musical performances, lectures and public meetings.

From time to time, extensive alterations were made. In 1851, a gallery to seat three hundred persons was erected in the third floor hall. It was six feet wide and ten feet on the southern side facing the stage. The gallery was supported by a wrought iron bar, resting on iron brackets fastened firmly on the south side. The front of the gallery had an iron balustrade, all the work of Messrs. Dana & Lynch of Utica. In 1854, a lot on the north side of the building was purchased and the building enlarged and improved. In 1866, the small stage was enlarged.

For a long time the Association conducted annual fairs of manufactured products and conducted courses of lectures in the winter. The fairs were finally abandoned but the lectures continued until about 1880. The hall was also the scene of many political gatherings and conventions. The post office was located in Mechanic's Hall for many years prior to the erection of the Post Office on Broad street in the 1880s.

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Civil War Draft at Mechanic's Hall

The Civil War draft for the City of Utica was held at Mechanics Hall on August 28, 1863. With a detail of soldiers on hand to keep order, names were drawn from a box by Albert West, a blind man who was nevertheless blindfolded for good measure. There was no violent resistance to the draft, although a broadside was printed on October 24 listing the names of 68 men who had failed to report for duty. Utica's quota was 594 men.

By 1870, Mechanic's Hall had outlived its usefulness as the city grew. As operatic and dramatic productions became more elaborate, the demand for a first class theater with an auditorium large enough for political conventions and mass meetings became so urgent that the public spirited citizens came to the aid of the Association and money was raised to build an “Opera House” on the north side of Lafayette street, between Hotel and Washington streets.

In 1899, Mr. E. L. Wells reminisced: “Away back in the days of the Civil War the best hall of amusement Utica could grieve over was old Mechanic's Hall in Hotel street. It was about big enough to hold a fair-sized prayer meeting in, shaped like a dry goods box with narrow galleries hanging to three of its sides, a level floor, a diminutive stage without scenery, on which about the only interesting performances were furnished once a year by the Academy boys and girls, who paralyzed the natives with second-hand reproductions of the oratory of Webster, or Paine, Patrick Henry or Wendell Phillips or tortured the ghost of Hamlet with the immortal question ‘to be or not to be', while the leading lady in the cast, clad in a robe of spotless white, advancing to the footlights with timorous step an­nounced in a scarcely audible whisper, but with con­scious pride in her new gown, ‘I'm to be queen of the May' and for their Herculean efforts to please were showered by a worshipping audience with garlands in which the classic laurel was replaced by the modern burdock or thistle.”

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When the new Opera House was opened on Lafayette street, the Mechanic's Association then sold the old hall in 1871 to Harrison Gilmore, who owned it for a number of years prior to its purchase by the Herald-Dispatch Company for its newspaper production. In the 1920s it was purchased by Thomas J. Griffith's & Sons, publishers of 29 periodicals and newspapers, including “Y Drych”, the national Welsh language weekly. In December 1924, fire completely de­stroyed the upper part of the building with an estimated damage of upwards of $100,000. It was thereafter repaired. Photo at left shows Mechanic's Hall today which is still in use after 171 years.