Montgomery County

Glen Conservancy Hall means music for Montgomery County

John Davidson will give first concert
Artistic director Byron Nilsson and Ron Burch, president of the Glen Conservancy Hall.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Artistic director Byron Nilsson and Ron Burch, president of the Glen Conservancy Hall.

Categories: Entertainment

In days past, sheets of plastic have covered the wooden pews in the Glen Conservancy Hall.

“We tend to get birds,” said Ron Burch, president of the Glen Conservancy, the not-for-profit preservation group that owns the former church hall at 1538 Mill Point Road in the rolling hills of Montgomery County.

“We don’t know where or how they get in,” Burch added. “I think maybe when they first start to mate and nest in the early spring … of course, they get in and they don’t know how to get out. Hence, the plastic covering on the pews.”

Birds and plastic will both be out of the hall Saturday, and people will be in. Broadway and television personality John Davidson will give the first concert in the new Glen Conservancy Hall, and kick off the venue’s inaugural spring and summer concert series.

There’s enough light in the place during the day. Six 15-foot-tall windows with rounded tops accommodate illumination in the wide open space, which measures about 45 feet long and 40 feet wide. The original floor, wide-plank boards now painted a light tan, will be covered with folding wooden chairs on concert nights.

There has been music — hymns — in the space before. Construction on the white, wooden building on Mill Point, also known as State Highway 161, began in 1830. A Dutch Reformed Church splinter group — the True Dutch Reformed Church of Glen and Charleston — commissioned the meeting house and raised $1,200 for materials and labor.

The building was used for church business into the 1930s. It was then sold to the local Dutch Reformed church, which maintained the hall until 2014.

“They had pancake suppers,” said Burch, who lives just down the street from the hall and is the former curator of art and architecture at the New York State Museum. “If you can believe it, they had a sort of screen they put up and they played basketball. The windows must have been screaming in fright.”

The ceiling presented another fright. In 2014, several years of water seepage through the roof caused a ceiling collapse. About two-thirds of the ceiling hit the floor, with the remaining third still secure above the rear section of the hall.

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Church representatives eventually contacted the conservancy and inquired about the group taking over ownership and maintenance of the building.

“This is one of the main contributing structures to the historic district,” Burch said. “Glen is on the National Register of Historic Districts. I said, ‘Well, let me see.’ I approached the conservancy, one thing led to another and for $1, we got the building.”

That was 2014. Some maintenance was needed — broken plaster and lumber from the dropped ceiling was job one. Conservancy member Lee Smith knew several members of the area’s Amish community, and a team of workers accepted the challenge.

“In return for us feeding them a substantial mid-day meal, four men and 10 teenagers ranging in age from 13,14 15, all males, showed up at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning and by 12:30, it was cleared,” Burch said. “We had a dumpster beside the building, they took two of the lower window frames out and just threw stuff into the dumpster.”

Both Burch and hall artistic director Byron Nilsson knew they wanted to put people on stage on Mill Point Road.

“We had presented some concerts in this space many years before, in the ’90s, under the auspices of the church’s non-profit, but that petered out,” said Nilsson, a local writer. “It just seemed to be nice to resuscitate that.”

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The revival begins with Davidson, who brings his “Roots, Roles and Rhymes” show to the hall at 7:30 p.m. He’s been on television — as an actor, game show contestant and game show host — in the movies and on stage.

Admission is free, although a $10 donation is encouraged.

Five other shows will be held, all funded through a community arts grant funded by the New York State Council on the Arts.

“We’ve always been interested in local performers,” Nilsson said, “and to kick things off, Ron and I are going to be part of two different performance events. But we’d like to get other people out of the woodwork, too.”

Nilsson built the stage himself, and his wife Susan Brickman sewed the skirt that will cover parts of the wood. Stage lights are in place in the balcony; so are floor lamps that will give the hall an ambient atmosphere. The kitchen, in the front of the building, is still operational.

If Saturday is chilly, Burch said, the hall’s furnace could be turned on for temperature adjustment. But the unit probably would not provide much heat in the middle of January, so Conservancy Hall will remain a seasonal space.

Without most of the ceiling, the wooden rafters are visible and gives the venue a wide open feel. An engineer has not looked over the place, but Burch said veteran farmers who have built barns for decades have made their own inspections.

“They said it’s a barn, it’s not going anywhere,” Burch said. “A couple of us have crawled around in the crawlspace underneath the flooring. The joists are like 2-by-12s, straight as a board and dry. It’s simply not going to fall down.”

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Both men believe Glen needs a performance space, aside from the occasional concert inside a church basement. Nilsson is hoping jazz, folk and traditional musicians, actors and artists all take advantage of the new stage.

“This is such an incredible building that it needs to be preserved and used in Glen,” Burch said. “So what better way to do that than a space for performances? These area of upstate has a lot of talented people and I don’t see a lot of potential competition among even the venues that may be within driving distance. There are a lot of people who can do a lot of wonderful things.”

“It’s always been a place that’s brought the community together,” said Wanda Burch, who will perform at the hall on June 16. “We have a lot of talent in this area and that talent would like to be part of the larger community and the smaller community.”

The new performance spot could also spark more interest in the Glen Conservancy.

“Up until now, membership has been fairly small,” Burch said. “Hopefully, this will start generating more membership, more participation, more membership dues.

“You have to beware of what you pray for sometimes,” Burch added. “The group went along for over a decade and then this building became available. “Somebody had to step up and make sure it wasn’t going to be destroyed.”

And because local musicians will be encouraged to perform, Burch and Nilsson would both welcome Glen’s Sawyer Fredericks — the star singer from “The Voice” and concert fame.

MORE INFO

In addition to John Davidson, who will perform the first concert in the new Glen Conservancy Hall on Saturday,  other shows scheduled for the inaugural season at 1538 Mill Point Road (State Highway 161) in the town of Glen are:

  • The Musicians of Ma’alwyck, Saturday, June 10, 7:30 p.m.
  • “Home Voices: The American Civil War Experience Through Words and Music,” with Wanda Burch, John Kenosian and Gisella Montanez-Case, Friday, June 16, 7:30 p.m.
  • “Songs to Amuse,” with Byron Nilsson and Malcolm Kogut, Saturday, July 1, 7:30 p.m.
  • “Song Soup,” Daryl Kosinski & Friends, Saturday, Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m.
  • The 77th New York Regimental Balladeers, Saturday, Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter.

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