HUDSON FALLS — The former Washington County Courthouse will be restored soon with state funding, creating what village officials hope will be a “catalyst” for economic development.
Hudson Falls officials celebrated the purchase of the building and a $500,000 state Main Street grant Monday night at the restaurant on the first floor of the former courthouse.
The money will be used to add an elevator to the second floor, which used to be the county courtroom.
The room is huge, with a 20-foot ceiling, and was used as a movie theater after the court moved in 1993.
The screen for the theater still hangs there. But village officials see great potential in the large space.
They want to restore the building and turn the space into a community room for conferences and other events.
Not only would that create a much-requested indoor gathering space, but it would also put to use what has been a large vacant building in the village’s downtown.
Already, the restaurant leasing the first floor — Forged — is doing well. Forged hosted Monday’s celebration and executive chef A.J. Richards eagerly led a tour of the building.
That included the basement, where the original holding cells and metal-frame beds for inmates still stand.
It would make a magnificent space for the restaurant, Richards said. He can’t use it yet because there’s only one exit, but another one could be built.
It has been used for TV shows, including the third season finale of Amazon’s “Welcome Home.”
Richards got to be an extra in the episode, which featured the characters being arrested.
“The scene was pretty funny,” he said.
He’d love to decorate the area and let the public in.
“We’re working with local authorities on permission to use the space,” he said. A window might have to be turned into an emergency exit.
On the second floor, historic restorers may be challenged by the intricate, three-dimensional border built on top of the plaster on the walls.
The border runs along the top of the walls, 20 feet up. It features fist-sized roses that are an inch thick and gold vines winding in circular patterns. But the plaster on which it was made is peeling away from the walls.
Richards hopes it can be saved.
“That’s what historical renovation people do, right? Someone must know how to fix this,” he said.
The plaster on the ceiling is also badly cracked. But the building is structurally sound.
Village Board member Robert Cook imagines weddings happening there, as well as big community events.
“That kind of presentation space is hard to come by,” he said.
They’ve already held some events, despite the need for renovations. At Halloween, they showed “Hocus Pocus,” with a shadow cast acting it out below the screen.
“It drove a lot of people here and it drove a lot of people downstairs (to the restaurant),” Richards said.
The space has a 200-seat capacity, although the seats currently are rows of old pews.
Much of the $500,000 state grant will be used to make the building handicapped-accessible.
The rest will be used to restore the second floor room and the balcony. While the village owns the building now, it is managed by Pheonix Rising, a group of residents dedicated to improving the village.
Village Board members are on board with the effort. Cook called Pheonix Rising a “forward-looking group.”
“The Village Board agreed it can become a catalyst for future economic growth in our community,” he said.
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner sponsored a $250,000 grant that allowed the village to buy the building. But more than that, Woerner encouraged them, Cook said.
“She gave us inspiration to move forward,” he said. “With her experience in historic preservation, she let us know we weren’t crazy, that it can be done, it should be done, and it would be a catalyst.”
Woerner said the members of Pheonix Rising and their supporters are the real heroes.
“Communities succeed because of the people that live in the community,” she said. “You are all invested in ensuring this community doesn’t just succeed, but thrive. It’s because of all of you: your vision and your passion and your late nights and early mornings and your willingness to take risks.”