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Volunteers ‘numb’ after car crashes into historic hall days after restoration work

·5 min read

A good deal of the historic Vaughn Library Hall renovation was finished when a car crashed into a corner of the building last week on the Key Peninsula.

“Everybody is devastated,” Barton Wolfe, who sits on the board of Key Peninsula Historical Society and is the project manager for the restoration, told The Gateway. “It’s so many hours of hard work, and in addition it is decades and decades of history that have been destroyed in just this one corner of the building.”

Most of the exterior was either finished or in the process of being finished, Wolfe said.

“We’ll get through it,” he said. “We can fix this. We can fix this.”

Neighbors heard a large crash sometime between 10-11 p.m. Nov. 30, and a neighbor who left for work about 4:30 a.m. the next day “saw this car planted into the corner of the hall,” Wolfe said.

A car crashed into the corner of the Vaughn Library Hall Nov. 30, 2021, days after volunteers finished part of the ongoing restoration of the building, which was built in 1893.
A car crashed into the corner of the Vaughn Library Hall Nov. 30, 2021, days after volunteers finished part of the ongoing restoration of the building, which was built in 1893.

No one was inside the vehicle. The Sheriff’s Department is investigating.

He said the car was going fast enough that it “knocked the walls off the foundation and did an extensive amount of damage to a lot of the fancy finishes and the historically accurate finishes we put in.”

Their general contractor has looked at the damage, and a structural engineer will also be out.

It’s too soon to say what it’ll cost to fix the damage, Wolfe said, but he thinks it’ll be in the ballpark of $10,000. Until they can get some of the debris removed, they can’t really see the extent of the damage.

“We are a nonprofit with very, very limited resources,” he said.

One of the windows that broke cost $2,000 to put in a year and a half ago, funded by a Pierce County grant. It’s historically accurate and custom made.

“Whether it can be repaired or not, we don’t know,” he said.

They also put in about $2,500 worth of cedar siding that looks like it’ll have to be replaced, he said.

Wolfe and other volunteers finished installing that just days before the crash, and he said they were shocked and “numb,” after seeing what happened.

The hall is on the Pierce County Register of Historic Places, has state historic designation, and Wolfe said they’re hoping it’ll make the National Register of Historic Places when some of the renovations are complete.

Built in 1893, it’s the only remaining meeting hall on the Key Peninsula. Each community in the area had its own at the time. The buildings were where town meetings happened, but also school, weddings, dances and other gatherings. They hosted Christmas parties and church services — almost anything that involved more than two families, Wolfe said.

“Slowly, over time, every meeting hall was either burned down or knocked down,” Wolfe said. “This is the only original meeting hall that still stands.”

The hall also housed Vaughn’s library, after the collection outgrew its home in the corner of the general store.

After an addition with a stage in 1910, the high school down the road used the building for its larger events. The school itself couldn’t afford a stage or a gym.

“For about 20 plus years, they kept trooping on down to the Vaughn Library Hall to put on their dances and their plays,” Wolfe said.

There’s graffiti in part of the hall from the class of 1937.

“It’s just a wonderful building with a great history to it,” he said.

It’s structurally sound for a building that predates today’s building codes, Wolfe said.

However, some of the foundations were originally tree stumps, and “125 years later they were not in the best condition,” Wolfe said.

The finishes weren’t in good condition, either.

All the windows and exterior siding had to be replaced.

The Vaughn Library Hall with its new windows, awaiting siding. (July, 2020)
The Vaughn Library Hall with its new windows, awaiting siding. (July, 2020)

Before the wreck, he said, they got a $100,000 grant from the state to finish the outside of the building and start on some of the interior work.

“This will set us back, but it’s not going to stop us by any means,” he said about the crash.

They’ve spent about $200,000 on the project so far, and Wolfe’s rough estimate is that the total cost will end up being about $350,000 to $400,000 “if construction prices don’t increase inordinately over the next couple years.”

The work “kind of goes in fits and starts,” he said, as they get grants for something specific, then try to find funding for the next piece.

“It takes us a while sometimes to raise the money,” he said.

They’re on a small side street on the Key Peninsula and are up against many other projects, sometimes in more prominent locations.

“Grants are sometimes hard to get,” he said. “We’re competing with an awful lot of worthy projects.”

They’re hoping to finish the renovations by January 2024.

It’ll be a space for public and private functions with as many as 200 people, and they’ll display information about the hall’s history.

It’s been heartening, Wolfe said, how many people driving past the hall have stopped since the wreck. They roll down the window, say things like: “You guys have been making such wonderful progress, this is so terrible,” and ask what they can do to help.

The Historical Society is raising funds for the repairs online at bit.ly/3EyPTtW.

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