Pride of Ticonderoga plans to rehab Knights of Columbus hall to add performing arts space downtown
By Tim Rowland
On Columbus Day 1921, President Warren Harding wrote the Ticonderoga Knights of Columbus, congratulating them for laying the cornerstone on a grand new three story social hall on Montcalm Street.
Who could even begin to imagine how many spaghetti dinners passed out of the K of C kitchen over the ensuing century, as the president’s framed, yellowing letter hung proudly on the Knights’ office wall.
Like most all fraternal organizations, trustee Tracy Smith said the Knights of Columbus Council 333 has felt the effects of declining and aging membership, and the high costs of maintaining a cavernous hall that had grown too large for its intended purpose.
But with community support that remains strong and the fortuitous timing at a $10 million downtown revitalization grant from the state, the Ticonderoga Knights of Columbus Hall, advocates hope, is about to receive an injection of money and vitality that will keep it going for the next 100 years as both a home for the Knights and as an Adirondack performing arts center.
In its day, the hall had been richly and tastefully appointed, its club rooms in colors of rose and gray, with leather chairs and fine paintings on the wall.
“This (billiards) room and the clubroom presented the most desirable features of club life,” Ticonderoga Supervisor Mark Wright wrote in a history of the hall. “An alcove off the billiard room was used for a resting room, and this, too furnished with comfortable leather chairs, couch, and table, was a most inviting spot for those seeking to read in comfort and quiet.”
Despite headwinds, the Ticonderoga Knights of Columbus have persevered, and the hall is still home to a constant parade of gatherings and events. “It’s really the hub of community activity in Ticonderoga,” said Nicole Justice Green, executive director of PRIDE of Ticonderoga, a community housing and commerce advocate.
Without an elevator, the Knights had retrenched on the building’s first floor, leaving empty second floor lounge and office space and a grand third-floor stage and ballroom that at one time held up to 1,000 Knights, but has not been used in years.
“Too many of our unique structures have fallen victim to either neglect or fire,” Wright said. “Repurposing and revitalizing this building including the projects for the upper floor through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative will ensure Knights can continue their mission of giving and serving for ages to come while opening up new venues for our community.”
Knights member Mickey Fitzgerald said membership now stands at about 270, although it’s rebounding of late. The Knights still host fish fries for St. Mary’s Catholic Church, membership drives, children’s programs with the Ticonderoga Festival Guild and other civic activities.
That catering and philanthropic work will continue on the first floor of the reimagined hall, Green said. The second floor will be home to We Are Instrumental, an organization that collects and refurbishes band instruments for kids who otherwise would not be able to afford them.
The space will also be home to a digital recording studio and small-performance venue.
It’s the third floor, frozen in time, that “took my breath away,” Green said. For much of the last century, “this is where people got married, where they saw live performances,” she said.
Smaller than a concert hall but bigger than coffee-house or nightclub stages, it’s the only one of its kind between Schenectady and Montreal, and would be an important stop for artists on a northern tour, Green said.
Just as important for Ticonderoga, it would be a place to expose young people to the arts and a downtown destination that’s open after 7 p.m. That’s crucial for attracting a younger demographic, not just to visit but to live.
“Places that roll up the sidewalks early are not conducive to a younger population,” Green said. The center will help create a nightlife in Ticonderoga and be a draw for crowds of tourists from Fort Ticonderoga.
Despite being only two miles from the downtown, the fort’s visitors and the town’s business district have largely remained in their separate universes. “This would be a place for them to come after the fort closes,” Green said.
The project will need a final sign-off from the state, and will cost an estimated $2.3 million ($1 million of which is for an elevator), a bargain compared to building new, said Green. PRIDE will own the building, with the Knights receiving a hundred-year lease on the first floor to continue their philanthropic mission.
“This will allow us to focus on our core values,” Smith said. “Just maintaining this building had gotten very expensive. There’s a lot of work to do, but we’re excited.”