By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
GREENVILLE — In the heart of Greenville sits a historic structure originally built as a church that is now is being revitalized as a community center.
Prevost Hall is a towering building at the center of the town. For over 200 years, the building was the Greenville Presbyterian Church, and was purchased by the town in 2000. The structure is now jointly maintained by the town and the not-for-profit organization Community Partners of Greenville.
At its May 9 meeting, the Greenville Local History Group joined with Community Partners for a presentation about the historic structure and current efforts to revitalize it.
Local historian Audrey Matott opened the discussion with a historical overview of the building now known as Prevost Hall.
“At the heart of Greenville are two acres of land adorned with the Greenville Public Library, Prevost Hall, the Scout Building, and a pond that not only represent the town’s iconic landscape, but they also anchor the community to its history and one of its founders that instituted that land with only two purposes — religion and education,” Matott said. “Among the three buildings there is what is today known as Prevost Hall, but for over 200 years prior it was the Greenville Presbyterian Church.”
The church was organized on May 19, 1790, and in 1793 built its first structure northwest of Prevost Hall, but that building was never completed, Matott said.
In 1800, Major Augustine Prevost gifted two acres of land to the town near the intersection of Routes 32 and 81 for “religious and educational use,” and that is where the Greenville Presbyterian Church was built. The church was dedicated on Sept. 18, 1801, Matott said.
The original church building burned down in a January 1859 fire, and the following year, 1860, a new church was built — and still stands today, she said.
Extensive repairs to the church were made throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including repointing of the foundation, repairing stained glass and restoring the aged building, and the steeple was repaired in 1991.
“Almost all of the damage to the steeple had been caused by years of pigeons nesting in the steeple,” Matott said.
With a dwindling congregation, the town of Greenville purchased the church in December 2000, for $32,500.
The building was originally used by All Arts Matter, a local not-for-profit organization that promoted the arts, for cultural events, including the annual visit from Santa Claus during Christmas.
“All Arts Matter hosted numerous arts, music and lecture events for many years until the disrepair of the building, particularly the deterioration of the ceiling, made it unsafe for public use for an extended period of time,” Matott said.
Now, the town and Community Partners are working to restore the building and put it to work as a general-use community center.
But there are more repairs to be done, and that is a pricey proposition for a two centuries’ old building.
“Over the past several years, Community Partners of Greenville has worked to get some grants,” Bill Von Atzingen, president of Community Partners, said. “We were able to get a grant through [former] state Sen. George Amedore to give us $50,000 to replace some of the stained-glass windows and do repair work on stabilization of the foundation structure. In the last year, we worked on putting in a public restroom, and we are working on stabilizing the bell tower, which last year we were very fortunate that Flach Construction Company came and they removed the bell.”
The group is now looking at how Prevost Hall can be used, and they are looking for community input into how residents would like to see the building used.
“We can open it up for community use, for lectures, for arts, for music,” Von Atzingen said. “We do have a summer concert series that plays at the gazebo and if the weather is too inclement, then we have the concerts in here. We do need a little work on our sound system, which is non-existent. We are working on trying to raise some funds for that.”
Repairs are also needed on the former church’s dome and the weathervane that is at the very top of the building, along with the bell tower, Von Atzingen said.
“Hopefully we will be able to do that over the next several months with the help of town funding and Community Partners,” he said.
The group has also installed an additional exit door so the building is up to code, Community Partners Co-treasurer Barbara Walter added.
Restoring the building to its former glory is important for the town, Walter said.
“We think the church is very important and Community Partners has a good history of the important buildings in the town,” Walter said. “I personally attached myself to this building because first of all, I think it is really important to maintain the building for its historical character, and I think it is the fundamental character of Greenville.”
“Can you imagine driving into Greenville and not seeing this beautiful building?” she added. “I think that is what Community Partners has done to help the town to maintain the building and work on the outside to preserve the beauty and the history of the building.”
The group is now embarking on the next phase of restoration — ensuring the safety of the structure, including the bell tower that soars above the town, Walter said. The historic bell was removed in 2021 because the wood holding it up was deteriorated, and is now being stored at a private property where it is being restored. The building had other problems, as well.
“That one-ton tower could have fallen down on people and we had problems with leaks that made the ceiling dangerous,” Walter said.
Those problems led to the building’s closure for some time, but the May 9 meeting of the history group was one of the first programs held inside the structure in years. Concerts last year that were held at the gazebo were moved indoors at Prevost Hall in inclement weather, but other than that, the building has been unused for some time.
The stained-glass windows at Prevost Hall — which are more than 100 years old — have also needed work. Five of the eight windows were repaired a couple of years ago largely paid for by the grant obtained through Amedore’s office, and three windows remain to be restored.
Restoring stained glass is pricey — the first five windows were repaired and re-leaded at a cost of roughly $80,000, Walter said.
Now, Community Partners is looking to the building’s future.
“Community Partners and the town want to encourage people to think about how they might make use of the building for the community and for their interests,” she said. “If we can find another group like All Arts Matter to bring theater to Greenville, and once we get some acoustics put up in the church — all churches have problems with acoustics — then it will be much better for music groups and theater and that sort of thing.”
To make the space multi-functional, Community Partners is planning to remove the old wooden pews and replace them with movable seating to make the room more adaptable for multiple uses, Walter said.
This summer, Prevost Hall will be used for a new purpose — a community art exhibition organized by local artist Natalie Boburka — and the goal is to put the building to use for many different kinds of events, Walter said.