Historic fort bandstand restored

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This historic bandstand in Fort Ethan Allen is undergoing a restoration two years after unsafe structures forced officials to close it off to the public. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

A historic bandstand in Fort Ethan Allen is undergoing a full restoration after failing infrastructure kept it closed for the last two years.

Essex parks and recreation department director Ally Vile said the gazebo-like building is a significant landmark in the area, likely built as early as 1897, and will provide a much-needed resting spot in the shade once construction is completed.

According to a note from local historian William Parkinson, two U.S. presidents — William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt — visited the fort and may well have addressed the troops stationed there from the bandstand itself.

The bandstand appears to have been repaired at least once since it was first built, but Vile said some foundational materials might be original. A metallic red roof curled up at the edges is perhaps the bandstand’s most unique exterior feature.

“It’s really fun to know that it all happened right here,” Vile said. “The bones of it are really good.”

Though technically on Essex property, Vile said Colchester officials have been active in bandstand repair discussions, as the two towns co-manage the park. After sourcing cost estimates, Essex decided to budget for the renovation this year.

Kevin McKegney, owner of the Burlington-based Fairbanks Construction, has taken the lead on the project, working for the past month to make fixes that are in line with the original design — a task far more difficult than building from new, he said.

“It takes longer,” McKegney said. “We’re just putting it back the way it was and making it safe again.”

Vile said the project ultimately did not have to follow the strict historical preservation guidelines, but noted the contractors chose to take precautions and aim for historic accuracy anyway.

Quoting a final budget is a challenge, too, McKegney added, noting it’s difficult to predict what might lie beneath the aged surfaces until the project is well underway.

Some elements of this structure required total replacement, like the wood used to frame all eight sides and benches mounted around the interior. Parts of the decking could be saved, though, patched up seamlessly with identical flooring.

On Monday morning, McKegney and one other employee were working to repair the distinct latticework encircling the bandstand. The rainy weather has made some progress slow going, but work is wrapping up quickly, they said.

Fort resident Mike Madigan was asked to repaint the finished product and said he’s excited to have the neighborhood feature open to the public again. Both Madigan and McKegney frequently work on buildings in the fort.

“It’s been years since it’s been usable,” Madigan said. “Obviously there are priorities, but it’s great that they’re getting it done now.”

Vile said she appreciated residents’ patience and hopes the bandstand will be open to visitors within the coming week.

The historic Fort Ethan Allen bandstand likely hosted former U.S. presidents and was built before 1900. The gazebo-like structure is currently being renovated in its original style. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)