The Mohawk Valley Collective has obtained and is currently renovating Unity Hall, formerly known as Universalist Church, the tallest and most prominent building in Fort Plain.
Since 1896, Unity Hall has stood as a beacon of downtown Fort Plain, located at the corner of Mohawk and Center Streets. Our organization has succeeded in saving the building from imminent demolition. Our vision for Unity Hall is to restore the space, enhance its original and historic features, and ultimately convert the church into an arts-oriented community center entitled Unity Hall.
We envision Unity Hall as a beautiful, historic space that will serve the people of western Montgomery County in a variety of ways: as a concert hall, theater space, fine arts gallery space, educational center with classroom and workshop facilities, and more. We also plan to open an intimate café on the premises, thereby establishing Fort Plain and Unity Hall as an increasingly desirable locale for special events such as weddings and graduations, which will bring additional visitors and economic opportunities to the area.
This past year, we have replaced the collapsed foyer floor, repaired and sanded floors on the second story to ready rooms for use, worked with an architect to complete plans for adaptive reuse of the building, and completed critical masonry repairs. Unity Hall’s condemnation was rescinded and an official order of occupancy was granted. We had our first official event hosted as Part of 2012’s Last Night festivities as well as the Inaugural Summer Music Series in 2014 with monthly concerts of bands from around the Northeast.
Our goals for 2015 include continuing critical masonry repairs, beginning repairs to the 1878 Steer & Turner organ as well as difficult-to-reach roof and cornice repairs. We also plan on rehabilitating 3 stained glass windows.
Fort Plain, NY
The village of Fort Plain is located in western Montgomery County, New York. Settled in 1738 and incorporated in 1832, it was named after a fort built during the American Revolution. The opening of the Erie Canal brought prosperity to the village and it was a major center of industry for several decades. Like many small towns and villages in New York’s rust belt region, Fort Plain was greatly affected by the Great Depression and the subsequent loss of manufacturing jobs.
Architecture Preserved in Amber
Today Fort Plain is celebrating its past with an eye towards its future. Like the surrounding towns of Canajoharie, Nelliston and Palatine Bridge, many of its buildings were constructed in the late 19th Century and remain relatively untouched. That they have stood for so long is a testament to the skilled laborers that built them and the quality materials used in their construction. Back then it was all locally sourced!
Unity Hall Timeline
1879: The Clinton Liberal Institute, a Universalist Secondary School with notable attendees including President Grover Cleveland, moves from Clinton, NY to Fort Plain. It was located on the site of the current Fort Plain High School in a former women’s seminary.
1896: The present Universalist church building was built at the corner of Mohawk and Center Streets in Fort Plain.
1900: The Clinton Liberal Institute is destroyed by fire.
2011: The Mohawk Valley Collective, then known as Historic Fort Plain, rallies to try to save the church with the help of local contractor.
The Universalist Church of the Messiah has a long history in the village of Fort Plain. The Universalist Society of Minden was organized on April 6, 1833, and the first church dedicated on December 15, 1833. The first church was wooden, and was remodeled twice in 1855, and in 1874. The wooden church was then knocked down and replaced with the current building in 1896. The church can hold 450 people in the main auditorium and with Sunday school part another 350 people. Daniel Wright was the reverend when the current church was erected. The Clinton Liberal Institute during its tenure in Fort Plain was closely tied to the Universalist Church of the Messiah. The school was Universalist. Many students and teachers attended church services and social activities. Students were not required to attend Universalist services; they could attend any Christian religious service on Sunday. Many did choose to attend Universalist services though. Second President of CLI, Charles E. Burbank was also president of the Chapin Club of the Universalist Church. The church was built in the Romanesque revival style common for churches built during this period of history and in this part of New York state. The Church remained in Universalist hands till 1997, when it was transferred to the Southern Episcopal Church. The church was closed because of a decline in membership; in 1996, there were only 24 members of whom 10 were active.
One thing that sets the former church apart from other churches in Fort Plain is its stunning Romanesque Revival-style architecture and the Byzantine style ceiling in the nave. The building also boasts stunning stained glass windows which interestingly, aren’t religious in theme; they were created by the Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company, which has been making art glass, hand-blown glass and sheet glass since 1888.
The former Universalist Church, now Unity Hall, is the tallest and most prominent building in Fort Plain and has stood downtown at the corner of Mohawk and Center Streets since 1896. Our organization has succeeded in saving the building from demolition and now we want to make it an arts-oriented community center for people in Western Montgomery County, serving a multitude of purposes: concert hall, theater space, fine arts gallery space, educational center with classroom and workshop facilities and more. We also hope to open a small cafe or coffeehouse and create a space for special events such as weddings and graduations, all located in the heart of Fort Plain.