Two Sisters’ Dreams Come Together at River House

courtesy photo
Cheryl Michaels, East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization chair, hangs the “OPEN” flag for the first time on Sunday, July 24, at River House.

by Cheryl Luther Michaels, Community Journalist
EAST HARDWICK – The little yellow house sitting on the Lamoille River near the bridge in East Hardwick Village has long been a curiosity as locals and passers-by alike wondered why such a unique and historic building would sit vacant for years. Gail O’Brien, like many who live near East Hardwick, always dreamed of having a little shop in the building.
Since its formation in 2019, the East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization (EHNO) identified a library and community center as a priority project for East Hardwick. O’Brien’s sister, Cheryl Michaels, is one of the founders of the Neighborhood Organization and, along with others in East Hardwick, her dream was to have a gathering place for community.Originally, the EHNO identified the abandoned library and fire house building on 111 Main Street and worked to save and restore it.  According to Gary Michaels, the restoration committee chair, “After the fire district agreed to lease the building, we worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Hardwick zoning administrator, the state licensing board, Patrick Kane (architect), Paul Davis Restoration, Jeff Montgomery Contracting and Mario Fradette to secure the building and evaluate the feasibility of moving forward with a full restoration. We approached the neighbors with an offer to purchase land to facilitate parking and accessibility and attempted to work with the Congregational Church to lease land onto which the building could be moved. None of these options worked out, and with no viable option for access and accessibility we decided to abandon the project and search for alternative space.”
When a “For Sale” sign appeared in front of the little yellow house on the river, an offer was immediately made. After several weeks, that offer was withdrawn once the prospective buyer discovered that the property had several problems, including water service, inoperable septic, a dispute with neighbors about right-of-way to the abutting land owned by the East Hardwick Fire District (EHFD#1), and the need for state flood zone permits. Concerned the building would continue to deteriorate, Gail and David O’Brien, who live across the street, purchased the building. They were able to work with the Hardwick Zoning Commission and a floodplain engineer to obtain the necessary permits and with the EHFD#1 to locate and repair the septic and water issues. A written agreement for parking was required for zoning approval and was obtained from the EHFD#1.
According to Gail O’Brien “We decided to purchase the building to save it and help protect the integrity of our neighborhood. My husband, David, has experience working on older houses and we knew we could do much of the restoration work ourselves.”
As the work on the downstairs portion of the building was progressing nicely, the O’Briens approached the East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization (EHNO) with their idea of using River House for a community center and library for a few weeks this summer. The EHNO board decided to give it a try and leased River House for six weeks. According to the EHNO, these weeks will provide a trial run and act as proof-of-concept as well as provide information about usage and costs so the organization can evaluate the feasibility of continuing this project in the future.
The EHNO’s River House Project opened on the corner of Main and River Streets on July 24, and will remain open until August 30. It includes a self-serve coffee and snack shop, lending library, wi-fi service and space for community events.  The library-cafe hours are Friday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

River House Completes First Week 

by Cheryl Luther Michaels, Community Journalist

EAST HARDWICK – River House, a small library, WiFi hot spot, snack shop and community center, has just completed its first week of operation.

The center opened on July 24 in East Hardwick Village at 30 River Street.  The grand opening included music by Maia and Kellon Menucci of Walden and was attended by 40 guests.

In its first week of operation, River House hosted a group of local youth who enjoyed rock painting and games, a ukulele jam session and summer tutoring.  Linda Mae Clow hosted a pop-up store and sold her jams, jellies and note cards.  

For the month of August, regular library and snack shop hours will be Friday 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Upcoming community events include Sunday bake sales in the cafe, crafts for children, “Stitch and Bitch” including knitting instruction, ukulele group jam, a community quilting group, and card and game nights.

Several special events are planned for the month of August, including musical concerts, author talks, a night for closet poets and a talk by Lucas Whitaker about his year in Bosnia as an exchange student.

The East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization can be reached through email at EHNeighborhood@gmail.com.