Historic Assembly Hall restored to former glory

Bruce Wicks has been busy bringing the Old Assembly Hall back to life. The historic main street building will house the Australian Pen Museum.

Gundagai residents have been watching with interest the transformation of 216 Sheridan Street, better known historically as the Old Assembly Hall, for some time and now the grand old building’s façade is complete.

In February 2016, Bruce and Rhoda Wicks purchased the Old Assembly Hall which in most recent times was known as Wells Plumbing and Appliances and then CEO Electrical. 

Bruce and Rhoda purchased the building to house the Australian Pen Museum however, serious engineering shortfalls had to be addressed before this could occur. 

Bruce also had the ambition to restore the building close to its original form when it was constructed in 1881, 140 years previous. 

Past owners had modified the facade as far back as 1910. By 1924, the script 1881 and ASSEMBLY HALL had been removed to make way for their own commercial advertising.

“This was very understandable as any business exists to be profitable,” Bruce said.

“The building still has the roller door attached which replaced the original timber barn door which may have only lasted 30 years due to the heat of full summer’s sun taking its toll.” 

A 1910 photo confirms its absence.

“This caused the necessity to install a typical entrance door on the left of the building which has been recovered and will be put into further use,” Bruce said. 

“By 1943, the right-side window had been removed and the wall was bricked up completely.” 

This situation remained on the right-side of the building until after 1966 when it was re-engineered, and a large plate glass window was installed. It remained in place until Bruce recently removed it. 

“The date is confirmed by a 10 cent coin which the builder placed under the original wooden frame,” Bruce said.

Due to work required on the roof, access through the loft was constructed. 

“It was very awkward stepping between ceiling joists; a simple mistake and you are through the cedar boards and five metres to the floor below,” Bruce said. 

“Because access was difficult, when some of the original light fittings were removed, this is where they were stored.” 

Two of the wall lights have survived along with two wall candle sconces. All of the ceiling porcelain light fittings are still left in place and glass spheres of suitable dimensions have been purchased for their complete restoration.

“I’m not sure when Fry’s sold the Assembly Hall. Irwin’s owned it around 1924 as a car dealership until it was sold to Winnett in 1946. Winnett carried on as a car dealer until 1975,” Bruce said.

“Tom Sommerville purchased it and was leased to Garry Churchin and used as a freight depot at the rear and had been used as a produce store, with a hairdresser thrown in. It has also been used as a church and different functions such as weddings and balls occurred at various stages. 

“Tom and Joanie Wells bought the building in 1990, but Joanie should feel free to correct me on that. 

“This brings us up to 2016 when we bought the building from Joanie.”

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