A Dresden resident’s proposal to restore the 1904 Dresden Town Hall as a community center and seasonal restaurant has met with interest from the town.
Walter Loeman first approached the Dresden Board of Selectmen about his desire to restore the historic building Jan. 22. The selectmen asked Loeman for a written proposal, which they have since received. The selectmen discussed the proposal Monday, Feb. 12.
The selectmen discussed the formation of a committee to develop plans for the restoration.
Loeman sees the hall as “the home for community, farms, and food.”
“I personally found the proposal very interesting,” First Selectman Dale Hinote said. “I would like to see it fleshed out to see how to implement it.”
Loeman, in his proposal, said the hall has been “left alone for too long.” Once a Grange hall, it now sits largely vacant. Its only use comes as a meeting place for a local snowmobile club.
“It’s time to both revive and restore this building and the spirit of the Grange toward community importance and purpose,” Loeman said. His nonprofit, Farm Truck Institute, would like to do just that.
On Monday, Loeman told the selectmen the written proposal is not “meat and potatoes,” but rather his vision to develop a sense of community for Dresden that would extend beyond the building.
“At Farm Truck Institute, our mission is to strengthen the foundations of health through Maine’s organic farms and elementary schools, where childhood nutrition is so fundamental,” Loeman said in the statement. “Our 501(c)(3) doesn’t just gain us access to donations, but tells everyone we are transparent and generational.”
“A vital and productive society with a prosperous and sustainable future is built on the foundation of a healthy community,” he said.
Of the hall specifically, he said, “The ‘vintage’ look of the Grange hall evokes positive emotions of connection, optimism, and happiness.” The look needs to be preserved, but with the necessary improvements to modernize the building and ensure its viability, he said.
Calling the hall a “perfect home for Farm Truck Institute,” Loeman outlined his plans, including the repair and restoration of the building, and bringing it up to code.
For the main floor of the building, Loeman proposes a restaurant called Eastern River Kitchen as Dresden’s first farm-to-table eatery. As a chef for many years, he considers himself uniquely qualified for the venture.
The restaurant would bring several side benefits, including cooking presentations and a community kitchen.
“Baked goods, breads, jams, jellies, pickling, and preserving are of special interest to me personally,” he said.
Home bakers in the town and area will have an opportunity to be a part of the plans with an ongoing program Loeman called the Dresden Baking Society and Social.
“The key to this commercial kitchen and dining room is that it is used by the seasonal restaurant and the community year-round,” he said.
The second story has a stage and, as in the days of the Grange, could provide a space for concerts, lectures, talks, readings, and educational presentations, among other possibilities.
“There will be local art and classes of all kinds,” Loeman said. He enumerated some of the prospects for its use, such as participation in local food banks, solar and wind power for the hall, plant health lectures, and local production of tinctures, salves, essential oils, and soaps.
“We even have two members of the institute that want to start an organic baby food business that will serve the at-risk population, which may not have access to such products,” he said.
The selectmen invited residents to volunteer for a committee that would further develop a plan for the building.