by Cheryl Luther Michaels, Community Journalist
EAST HARDWICK – On April 26, the East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization (EHNO) met with Gail and David O’Brien, owners of 30 River Street in East Hardwick, for a tour of the building known as River House. The EHNO board agreed to lease River House for two months this summer.
The EHNO board identified multiple uses for the building. The group is planning a cafe and library space with free WiFi to be open approximately three days a week, depending on volunteer availability. River House will also offer a selection of drinks and snacks during hours of operation and even a doggie water bowl. Free water bottle refills will be available to local and rail trail bikers and walkers. The group also discussed the possibility of serving hot beverages and operating a juice bar. According to EHNO Board Member David Gross, the summer will be a trial run where the organization will learn if the community can support the endeavor as a volunteer effort.
EHNO also plans to offer a small lending library which will include a collection of books donated by Jerina and John Page. They will seek additional donations of DVDs and board games for community members to borrow. In addition to book shelves, the inside space at River House will feature a small couch, comfortable chairs and cafe tables. An outside deck overlooking the river will offer additional seating.
The group discussed featuring programmed activities during cafe and library operating hours, such as bake sales, Friday pizza night, and a free basket of locally grown vegetables. The board also discussed offering local crafters and cottage industries an opportunity to sell their goods.
When the cafe is not open, River House will be made available for use by the community for small group activities, such as meetings, book discussions, crafting or art lessons. Use of the building will be limited by space and available parking.
The location of River House – on Main Street, near the River and the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail – makes it a convenient place to gather. Gail O’Brien said the building might have a history as a meeting place, as it once featured an outside stairway believed to have been the entry to a second level “town hall”.
Built in approximately 1880, River House overlooks the falls on the Lamoille River and was originally attached to a grist mill. Kenneth McIntyre wrote in the 1981 “Hazen Dispatch” that the building was built by his grandfather, Frances Eastman, and was used as a jewelry and clock repair shop. In 1900, Hardwick postmaster Bert Swett bought the building and, according to a Mutual Fire Insurance Map, by 1915 the building served as a post office. Rick Norcross, whose great-grandmother was married to Swett, said when Swett passed away in 1948 the post office moved directly across the street to the general store owned by Phil and Susie Eastman. That building is no longer standing but can be seen in old photographs of Main Street.
The East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve community and village life, deepen a sense of place, history, and architecture and to inspire community pride in East Hardwick Village. Community members who want to volunteer in the cafe and library or schedule the building for private or public use this summer should email .EHNeighborhood@gmail.com